Volume V, No. IV April 2020
Table of Contents
Industry Trends and Analysis: (pg. 3)
Patee Sarasin, former CEO of Nok Air:
"Unlocking the Riches of In-flight Wi-Fi" (pg. 4)
David Bruner, former V.P. Panasonic Avionics:
"Buckle Up! :Turbulence Ahead in Airline Connectiviy Markets"
"The Promise of the New Iridium and Aireon Services: Big Advancements in Air Traffic Management on the Horizon" (pg. 26)
Ernst Peter Hovinga, CEO Hiber: "Disrupting the Satellite IoT Connectivity Market: The Promise of Hiber" (p.31)
"Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events"
Speedcast Update Inside!
Highlighting Disruptive, New, Mobility-Focused Satellite Ventures and Technologies
Editorially Speaking: "Doomed from the Start: OneWeb Declares Bankruptcy"
Feature: "How Kymeta Reinvented its Future"
"Saturn Satellite Networks and the New World of Small GEOs"
New Product Review: Datadragon "Taking Network Management to the Next Level"
"RigNet Brings New IoT Solutions the Oilfield and Industry"
"Flat Panel ESAs vs. ThinKom's VICTS - Challenge in the Air"
Satellite mobility World
In This Issue...
Welcome to the April 2020 issue of Satellite Mobility World. While the effects of the Corona Virus are severe, thankfully, our industry has suffered only minimal disrutption.
In our editorial segment, "Doomed from the Start: OneWeb Declares Bankruptcy," we're focused on the real reasons for the bankruptcy, which has very little to do with the Virus.
In a happier note, we feature Kymeta and focus on its progress in an interview with Bill Marks, Chief Strategy Officer. The company's next-generation antenna is much improved, and in first responder, and military markets it's been well received.
Another bright spot in the industry is Tom Choi's Saturn Satellite Networks. As always, Tom takes pleasure in disrupting the established order with innovative solutions, and Saturn is no exception. Using small, low-cost GEOs, he aims to penetrate regional satellite markets.
This month, we're also covering Isotropic's new Datadragon network management plaform. It's a program that combines Artificial Intelligence and deep analytical capabilities. We've seen a lot of these programs, and we think it is an exciting leap forward in network management.
IoT is also a hot topic, and nowhere is its use more intense than in the oilfield. To find out how the Energy Industry is using it and what platforms are in use, we turned to RigNet's V.P. Danielle Edwards. Lastly, we focus on ThinKom, and its often misunderstood VICTIS antenna. We think you will be surprised how their antenna compares to a conventional flat panel ESA. In a highly informative article CTO Bill Milroy takes the issues down to the technical level Enjoy!
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Table of Contents...
"Hot News and Commentary" (pg.3)
"SmallSat News and Ventures" (pg. 4)
Editorially Speaking:"Doomed from the Start: OneWeb Declares Bankruptcy" (pg. 6)
Feature: "How Kymeta Reinvented Itself" With Bill Marks, Chief Strategy Officer (pg. 11)
"Saturn Satellite Networks and the New World of Small GEOs" with CEO, Tom Choi (pg. 18)
New Product Review: "Datadragon: Taking Network Management to the Next Level" (pg. 29)
"RigNet Brings New IoT Solutions to the Oilfield and Industry" with Danielle Edwards, V.P. (pg. 36)
"Flat Panel ESAs vs. ThinKom's VICTIS - Challenge in the Air" with CTO Bill Milroy (pg. 45)
Recommended Upcoming Industry Events
SATELLITE MOBILITY WORLD
Breaking News from the Editor:
Speedcast Signs Forbearance Agreement with Lenders and Aims for Recapitalization
Company’s Fate in Question as Management Negotiates for a Bridge Loan
After an extremely difficult 2019, to clean up its balance sheet and prepare for a recapitalize the company, management wrote down $413.8 (U.S.) million in asset value. Although Speedcast breached its loan covenants in 2019, it has secured a Forbearance Agreement on April 1 that remains in effect through April 17, allowing time to arrange a bridge loan and attempt an equity-based recapitalization.
While suffering from an excessive debt load, in 2019, Speedcast generated $722 million in revenue and $120 million in EBITDA. That was 2019. 2020 will be different. While the company has thousands of users around the world, its revenue stream and EBITA will take substantial hits in 2020. It's major cruise customers, Carnival, and Royal Caribbean, have curtailed passenger sailings. No amount of discounts is going to get passengers on these ships until a cure is found or a vaccine is developed. Cornia Virus is not Norovirus. It kills people. Given the most optimistic timeline, a vaccine won't be available until January 2020, which means cruise operations might not return to normal until the summer of 2021.
Through April and May, cruise ship bandwidth reductions are not likely. The need to keep the ships maintained and the inability of Carnival to repatriate foreign crew will keep the crews on board and mitigate the revenue impact on the company. However, afterward, bandwidth will likely be reduced by 50% or even more. Considering that the Carnival and Royal Caribbean contracts are over $100 million annually, the effect on Speedcast revenue could be substantial. Fortunately, the company's Energy business should fare better.
Speedcast generates 70% of its energy revenue from deep offshore drilling, and the effect of the collapse of oil prices on the segment is likely to be minimal. According to Mark Slaughter, CEO of oil patch communications company, Infrastructure Networks and former CEO of RigNet, deep offshore drilling, unlike onshore and shale production, is predicated on the long-term price expectation for oil, not the current price. So, the number of active offshore rigs is likely to remain stable.
Turning to the cargo shipping segment, reduction in global trade will have an impact. Less demand for goods means idle containerships and will result in additional revenue loss. Due to the oversupply of oil, Tankers will be moored and used for storage tanks and, given the small crews, might rely on cellular to communicate. That leaves Enterprise and Government, which would likely be least affected.
Ultimately, Speedcast could lose $100 million or more in revenue from its Cruise and shipping segments, which would wipe any EBITDA. Under these circumstances, any lender supporting a bailout would insist on a super senior position, drastic cuts in expenses, debt to equity conversion for existing debt, and an equity position. Given the need to negotiate with multiple parties, the impending expiration of the Forbearance Agreement, and the complexity involved in negotating multiple transactions, avoiding bankruptcy will be challenging.
OneWeb Files for Chapter 11 Restructuring to Execute Sale Process
LONDON, UK, March 27, 2020 – OneWeb (“OneWeb,” “the Company”), the global communications company with a mission to bring connectivity to everyone everywhere, announced today that the Company and certain of its controlled affiliates have voluntarily filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. The Company intends to use these proceedings to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company.
To date, the Company has successfully launched 74 satellites as part of its constellation, secured valuable global spectrum, begun development on a range of user terminals for a variety of customer markets, has half of its 44 ground stations completed or in development, and performed successful demonstrations of its system with broadband speeds in excess of 400 Mbps and latency of 32 ms. In addition, OneWeb’s commercial team has seen significant early global demand for OneWeb’s high-speed, low-latency connectivity services from governments and leaders in the automotive, maritime, enterprise, and aviation industries.
This demand for connectivity delivered from low Earth orbiting satellite constellations underscores the tremendous need for high-quality connectivity, especially for rural and under-connected communities worldwide. The OneWeb ecosystem has transformed the satellite industry introducing innovative new technologies and operational advances. These developments have fundamentally changed the economics of satellite communications, opening up new markets such as cellular backhaul and connectivity on the move.
Since the beginning of the year, OneWeb had been engaged in advanced negotiations regarding investment that would fully fund the Company through its deployment and commercial launch. While the Company was close to obtaining financing, the process did not progress because of the financial impact and market turbulence related to the spread of COVID-19.
Today, the Company has filed a number of customary motions with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court seeking authorization to support its ongoing operations during the Chapter 11 process, including approval for the consensual use of its existing cash collateral to continue to fund the business. In addition, OneWeb is actively negotiating debtor-in-possession financing, which, if acquired and approved by the Bankruptcy Court, will ensure OneWeb is able to fund additional financial commitments as it conducts a sale process under Section 363 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. Together, these actions will allow OneWeb to meet post-petition obligations to its remaining employees and certain vendors in the ordinary course.
Adrian Steckel, Chief Executive Officer of OneWeb, stated, “OneWeb has been building a truly global communications network to provide high-speed low latency broadband everywhere. Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere. Today is a difficult day for us at OneWeb. So many people have dedicated so much energy, effort, and passion to this company and our mission. Our hope is that this process will allow us to carve a path forward that leads to the completion of our mission, building on the years of effort and the billions of invested capital. It is with a very heavy heart that we have been forced to reduce our workforce and enter the Chapter 11 process while the Company’s remaining employees are focused on responsibly managing our nascent constellation and working with the Court and investors.
Isotropic Provides Unrivaled Certainty for Superyacht Sector with iDirect iQ LTE technology
Herndon, Va., March 31, 2020 – ST Engineering iDirect, a company of ST Engineering North America, today announced that Isotropic Networks, a trusted provider of global Internet services, has selected the iDirect iQ LTE technology to serve customers in the superyacht sector. This follows the successful early testing of the iQ LTE modem that demonstrated high reliability and performance over a hybrid network.
The superyacht market requires strong and reliable connectivity at sea with high expectations from owners and guests for access to the full range of digital applications ranging from video conferencing to social media and streaming services, with no outages. Satellite provides superyachts with a high level of reliability due to its availability in any location, unlike terrestrial connectivity, which is only accessible near the shore.
iQ LTE combines an iDirect satellite modem with an integrated Cradlepoint LTE cellular router to create a powerful converged solution that delivers persistent communications across a wide range of use cases. With this single-box solution, end-users will receive reliable connectivity from a single provider in a single bill, whilst using a smaller footprint and reducing operational management.
“Isotropic has a reputation for staying well ahead of the technological curve and seeking out cutting-edge technologies to push new boundaries. As our long-term partner, we were very excited when they decided to run the iQ LTE through its paces – and that it passed the tests. This will give Isotropic the opportunity to extend its services to their clients and we are confident that the iQ LTE solution will provide the failsafe connectivity which is particularly critical for the superyacht sector,” said Darren Ludington, VP Sales, ST Engineering iDirect.
During the tests, Isotropic achieved 200Mbps over layer 2 and successfully tested the switchover capability from VSAT to LTE to automatically connect to the best performing and lowest cost network.
Combined with Datadragon™, Isotropic’s award-winning intuitive bandwidth management and service platform, Isotropic will be able to offer superyacht customers an extremely reliable solution with assurance that the high level of bandwidth required to run any application will always be available. Datadragon enables optimization, personalization, and application-level transparency that was not possible before across any single or hybrid network. The power of Datadragon in tandem with iQ LTE’s ability to make changes on the fly will ensure that service level agreements are met for every application required by guests on board.
“If it was not for ST Engineering iDirect and their commitment to innovation over the years, we would not have been able to provide the unrivaled certainty that we do for customers each and every day,” said James Boden, Chief Satellite Scientist, Isotropic. “With the iQ LTE, we can deliver a converged LTE and satellite network solution that provides our superyacht customers with the persistent coverage and additional bandwidth they demand, no matter where they travel to. As we integrate the iQ LTE into our own technology strategy, it will help us grow in current markets and get a foot in the door of new markets such as the wider maritime and first response markets and the oil and gas sector.”
The iQ LTE Series is available on iDirect Evolution and Velocity.
Lynk Connects Satellite Directly to Standard Mobile Phones on Earth
Startup Achieves Technical Breakthrough Many Thought Was Impossible
Falls Church, VA – March 18, 2020 – Lynk (Lynk Global, Inc.) today announced that it has successfully connected a satellite in low-Earth orbit to an ordinary mobile phone on Earth. The technical breakthrough enabled Lynk to send the world’s first ever text message from space to a mobile phone. This milestone, witnessed by independent third-party observers, represents the critical, industry-first next step for Lynk’s ultimate vision to use satellites to provide broadband services directly to over five billion mobile phones on the planet, everywhere.
“This is a game changer for the billions of people who own a mobile phone, for the billions who do not have affordable connectivity, and for the entire mobile communications industry. Lynk makes the impossible possible. In the near future, you will stay connected everywhere. All the time,” said Charles Miller, Co-founder and CEO of Lynk.
Lynk’s historic test took place on February 24, 2020, using the firm’s patented “cell tower in space” technology — low-Earth orbit nanosatellites that connect directly to unmodified mobile phones. Lynk has successfully repeated the test multiple times, including with independent observers.
This milestone is the culmination of over a year of satellite-to-phone-on-the-ground testing involving multiple payloads in space. Tyghe Speidel, Co-founder and Vice President of Technology of Lynk and the inventor of the core breakthrough technology stated, “This is a critical verification of our revolutionary radio access network technology’s ability to compensate for the effects of placing the cell tower in orbit, which mobile standards were not designed for.”
This breakthrough represents a key step in advancing Lynk’s vision to provide universal broadband connectivity to the over five billion people who have mobile phones but cannot access wireless signals everywhere. Lynk has solved what was widely considered an impossible problem in a one trillion-dollar-a-year global industry — how to provide connectivity to mobile phones across the planet, when it is cost-prohibitive to build and operate cell towers everywhere, especially in less populated areas. Lynk's technology solves this problem of providing mobile broadband coverage everywhere on Earth, a $300-400 billion a year opportunity.
“In collaboration with nearly 30 mobile network operator partners, Lynk is actively working to deploy the first commercial product,” said Miller, a 30-year space industry veteran and serial space entrepreneur who previously held senior positions at NASA, including as the agency’s senior advisor for commercial space. “With the permission of regulators, we are confident that we can bring a world-first solution to the market to tens-of-millions of people by the end of 2020.”
The successful tests also prove that Lynk’s Everyone Everywhere Emergency alerts are feasible using Lynk’s orbiting satellites. The startup’s now proven technology will enable people everywhere to get potentially life-saving alerts — from the farthest parts of the ocean, to rural areas, and to the most remote islands — of impending natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, and tsunamis. Lynk’s breakthrough will provide emergency responders with assured mission-critical communications during natural disasters when traditional ground-based cellular networks are down.
Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL and Chairman and CEO of the DC-based investment firm Revolution (an investor in Lynk via Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund), said, “Connectivity changes lives and saves lives. Lynk’s successful test brings the company one step closer to providing the 2+ billion people around the world who live and work in rural communities with affordable connectivity and the immeasurable social and economic benefits that come with it.”
Mark Foster, the inventor of cell phone number portability and a Founding Partner at Blazar Ventures, an investor in Lynk, stated, “Blazar is proud of Lynk’s revolutionary and industry-transformative accomplishment. Lynk will touch the lives of billions – by connecting directly to their standard mobile phones from satellites in orbit – and provide a desperately needed alternative to conventional terrestrial towers for mobile network operators to extend coverage everywhere. Lynk’s rapid prototyping and innovative space access strategies are a key part of their success, and we look forward to Lynk’s introduction of the world’s-first satellite-to-standard mobile phone service to tens-of-millions of people by the end of 2020.”
Lynk has already launched its fourth “cell tower in space” spacecraft on the SpaceX’s CRS-20 mission on March 6th. This spacecraft, which is named Lynk The World, will allow the company to expand testing in the Summer of 2020 to additional countries and partners.
SatixFy Announces World’s First 1 GHz LEO/GEO Modem Chip
Sx3099 Supports 1 to 8 Modems Aggregated to 1GHz, Full Beam Hopping and Throughput Exceeding 5 Gbps in both Forward and Return Directions, over two 10 GigE ports
March 9, 2020: Manchester, UK – SatixFy Space System, a provider of chips and space systems, today announced a new modem chip to be used over LEO, MEO and GEO systems, with appropriate doppler and fade profile performance. The Sx3099 hosts 1 to 8 modems with aggregated throughput of 1 Gsymb/sec in both Tx and Rx directions. A single Sx3099 chip provides a single 1 Gsymb/sec carrier 2 X 500 Msymb/sec “make before break” handover in LEO aero connectivity, 8 X 125 Msymb/sec or any combination of channels aggregated to 1 Gsymb/sec.
This is the first chip to fully support the entire DVB-S2X standard including all Beam Hopping modes as defined in the 2019 revision annex E. On top of previously defined formats, the chip includes all the new Super-frame format types 5, 6 and 7 (“point and shoot” Beam Hopping). Sx3099 includes native support for DVB-RCS2 400MHz transmission as well as complete Software Defined Radio (SDR) for any other waveform.
Employing state of the art demodulation techniques, Sx3099 exhibits best in class FER performance (0-0.3 dB away from DVB-S2X guidelines on all modcods). Due to the advanced silicon process, it has low power consumption and several power saving modes.
The chip connects with SatixFy’s ESMA antennas over high speed SerDes lines. As an example – any type of SatixFy’s electronically steered antenna can operate 8 beams simultaneously over a single Sx3099 through a single Ethernet port, for both data and control.
The chip operates in VLSNR modes down to -10db SNR and proprietary ELSNR modes (Extremely Low SNR) down to -20db SNR.
“The Sx3099 chip is first of its kind supporting LEO/GEO orbits with multiple modems capable of very high throughput,” stated Yoel Gat, SatixFy Space System CEO. “It has provisions for both fixed and mobile applications and can serve as a baseline for future broadband satellite communication applications.”
Sx3099 is provided in a compact 17x17mm fcBGA 625 balls package. Samples and Evaluation Boards will be available in September 2020. SatixFy is building a ToM (Terminal on Module) that includes the Sx3099 chip as well as up to 4GB LPDDR4, up to 1GB Flash, 64GB eMMC memory, Ethernet PHY, all relevant power rails, clocks, and interface connectors supporting all external interfaces including analog SerDes lines – all in a size not much bigger than a quarter coin.
Intellian’s Next Generation Maritime Tri-band Antenna Earns Type Approval from SES
11 March 2020 – Intellian, globally renowned as a pioneering force in the design and manufacture of mobile satellite communication systems, has achieved further success with the news that its recently launched 2.4m v240MT Gen-II antenna has achieved type approval from SES, the leader in global content connectivity solutions.
Intellian’s v240MT Gen-I was the world’s first 2.4m tri-band and multi-orbit antenna, winning Via Satellite’s inaugural Satellite Technology of the Year Award in 2019. The v240MT Gen-II delivers enhanced performance across C, Ku and Ka bands, providing customers with access to higher throughput and offering improved network efficiency to the operator. These advances were proven in partnership with SES, with the new system producing exceptional results during testing and sea trials.
In addition to the enhanced performance of the v240MT Gen-II, the new model offers greater flexibility and more features than ever before. Paired with the innovative new Intelligent Mediator solution, customers are now able to manage up to 8 antennas simultaneously. This allows for seamless connectivity and the ability to maximize performance and throughput from the systems on board. Customers and partners also benefit from the capability to manage and control systems both on-board and remotely, allowing for cost savings through monitoring and maintenance.
“As SES operates the industry’s only multi-orbit satellite fleet, with a GEO and MEO constellation, we believe that the v240MT Gen-II antenna system, with its tri-band and multi-orbit flexibility, constitutes a perfect fit,” says Eric Sung, CEO of Intellian. “Both companies are focused on delivering innovative solutions to customers in terms of performance, reliability, flexibility and all-round user experience. It’s exciting to know that we are forging a new path for maritime satellite communications with our valued partners
Speedcast Launches Global Standardized SD-WAN Solution
SYDNEY — March 6, 2020 — Speedcast International Limited (ASX: SDA), the world’s most trusted communications and IT services provider, has launched an advanced software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) solution that seamlessly blends satellite, LTE, wireless, and fiber technologies. Designed for onshore and offshore users, the solution provides customers with high performance and dynamic access to applications across networks, with greater ease of use and lower cost than traditional network management systems.
As networks and satellite connections grow, network management becomes crucial to ensure seamless business operations. Our customers require mission-critical communications combining different WAN link technologies to maximize their available bandwidth and application uptime while streamlining costs. Speedcast has simplified link management by introducing a best-in-class SD-WAN solution. With all disparate WAN links configured inside a secure conduit, Speedcast SD-WAN simplifies routing through a single, end-to-end solution that dynamically routes traffic across the best available links and aggregates the bandwidth to maximize throughput. It offers the highest uptime availability and allows users to maintain a high quality of experience even at over 90% link bandwidth utilization.
“Having a modern, reliable network is critical for our offshore and onshore customers’ operations and digital transformation strategies,” said Tim Bailey, Executive Vice President, Products, Marketing and Business Development, Speedcast. “Speedcast SD-WAN is the ideal solution for increasing the availability, stability, and bandwidth of our customers’ remote site connectivity, while delivering a better end-user experience and improved operational efficiencies. The launch significantly strengthens Speedcast’s capability to deploy and manage innovative solutions that address our customer’s needs.”
Speedcast’s SD-WAN solution is offered as a standardized solution with shared HUB infrastructure or a customized solution with dedicated equipment. For more information, download the brochure or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hot News and Commentary
ICEYE Unveils 25 cm SAR Imaging Capability with Current SAR Satellite Constellation
Helsinki, FINLAND – March 26th, 2020 – Finnish New Space leader ICEYE unveiled today its latest capability of 25 cm resolution imaging with synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) small satellites, utilizing the company’s current commercial SAR satellite constellation in-orbit. With this very high resolution imaging capability, ICEYE SAR data achieves the same resolution class provided by larger, conventional commercial SAR satellites operating at their highest performance.
ICEYE successfully launched its first SAR satellite in January 2018, ICEYE-X1, which achieved 10x10 meter resolution data capabilities, while also becoming the World's first SAR satellite mission under 100 kilograms (220 pounds) in launch mass. With the company's latest development of 25 cm imaging from its current commercial SAR satellite constellation of 3 spacecraft, ICEYE data achieves the finest classification of resolution in the commercial SAR market.
“Before, these resolutions have been exclusively reserved for the larger, traditional SAR spacecraft,” said Pekka Laurila, CSO & Co-founder, ICEYE. “This resolution is operationally expected to be available for ICEYE customers already mid-2020 from the current in-orbit constellation.”
Following standard industry definitions, the native slant plane resolution of the newly unveiled SAR data is 25 cm in the azimuth direction, and 50 cm in the range direction, before ground-plane adjustments are applied. The finest resolution data will be provided to customers in ICEYE's standard product formats that are accessible with standard Geographic Information System (GIS) tools.
“Site activity monitoring based on very high resolution SAR data enables our customers to unlock new insights in virtually all use cases that utilize ICEYE's current 1-meter resolution imaging.”, said Dr. Mark Matossian, CEO of the US subsidiary of ICEYE. “25 cm resolution SAR imaging is ground-breaking to come from the world’s smallest SAR satellites. Commercial and government SAR customers will be able to achieve very detailed change detection, perform improved object classification, and track ever smaller objects from orbit.”
Rocket Lab has Postponed the Launch of its Next Mission in Response to the COVID-19 Situation
Auckland, New Zealand - March 24, 2020: In response to the evolving COVID-19 situation, we have paused launch preparations for our next mission to protect the health and safety of Rocket Lab team members, our families, and the wider community.
The mission was scheduled to lift off from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on 30 March UTC. Launch preparations have been paused, however, following the New Zealand Government’s announcement on 23 March NZDT to implement the Level 4 COVID-19 response which requires most businesses to close and instructs people to stay at home. We commend the government for taking this drastic but necessary step to limit the spread of COVID-19.
We have the full support of our customers in pausing operations and we are grateful for their understanding in these challenging times. We are working with the government, health officials, and our customers to determine when launch operations can resume. The launch vehicle and ground systems will remain in a state of readiness for launch as the evolving situation allows it. The majority of our team is working from home with the exception of a few essential personnel who are monitoring and maintaining critical systems.
In recent years, we have placed an increased emphasis on delivering responsive launch capability for our customers, which means having launch vehicles and pads ready for rapid call-up launch capability. As a result of this approach, we’re fortunate to have enough launch vehicles ready that we can effectively manage a pause in production and still have vehicles available for launch as soon as conditions allow.
In the days, weeks, and months to come, we’ll be following the advice of the government and health authorities to protect our teams in the United States and New Zealand.
Our deepest thanks go to the medical professionals, scientists and researchers, supermarket workers, and all those providing essential services in these trying times. We are grateful for all that you do.
Be safe and look out for each other.
Sinclair Interplanetary Acquired by Rocket Lab
March 17, 2020: Stamford, Connecticut - Near Earth LLC announced today that its client Sinclair Interplanetary has entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by Rocket Lab, Inc. Near Earth LLC acted as the exclusive financial advisor to Sinclair Interplanetary in this transaction.
Hoyt Davidson, Managing Partner of Near Earth's satellite and space practice, remarked "This transaction brings together a long-standing leader in the design and manufacture of critical components for small satellites with the world's leading provider of dedicated smallsat launch and its highly innovative Photon satellite platform. We are expecting many exciting synergies from this powerful combination." Doug Sinclair, Founder and CEO of Sinclair Interplanetary added "Rocket Lab has played a pivotal role in making it easy for small satellites to access space. By operating as one company, we now have the opportunity to do the same for satellite manufacturing and make our hardware available to more customers globally. I look forward to working with Peter Beck and the Rocket Lab team as we move into an exciting new era for Sinclair Interplanetary." Rocket Lab Founder and Chief Executive, Peter Beck, said that "by combining the experience and capabilities of both companies, Rocket Lab will deliver reliable and flexible satellite and launch solutions that enable customers to do more, spend less and reach orbit faster."
Kymeta & Kepler Communications announce MOU to promote the delivery of Kepler LEO Satellite Services using the new Kymeta™ u8 Electronically Steered Antenna
March 11, 2020: Washington D.C. - Kymeta, the communications company that is completing the connectivity fabric for everything, everywhere, and Kepler Communications, a pioneer of software defined satellite communications, today announced at Satellite 2020 that they have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to integrate Kepler’s Global Data Service into the just-announced Kymeta™ u8 Terminal and Kymeta Connect™ offering.
This product collaboration envisions Kymeta combining the value proposition of Kepler’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite service with the best aspects of traditional (Geostationary) satellite communications and 4G/LTE communications networks. The relationship builds upon the successful integration work announced by Kepler in mid-2019, when Kepler demonstrated compatibility between its LEO satellites and the Kymeta™ u7 electronically steered antenna (ESA), becoming the first LEO operator to do so.
Kepler’s Global Data Services offers high-capacity data backhaul to areas beyond traditional satellite and communication network coverage at a more favorable rate than traditional providers globally due to the economics of Kepler’s LEO satellite network.
“We are extremely excited about the collaboration with Kepler as it finally brings to market the promise of LEO capacity to deliver connectivity to the mobility markets,” said David Harrower, Senior Vice President of Global Sales at Kymeta. “By adopting the latest and best technical capabilities, we believe we deliver what the market has demanded in terms of mobile connectivity and have done so by bringing flexible and commercially viable service offerings made possible by each party's technical advancements.”
“By expanding the capabilities of their Kymeta Connect™ product with our high-capacity data backhaul service, Kymeta is delivering on an ask we often hear from users – ‘How do I access all available communications technologies to serve my requirements?’” said Mina Mitry, Chief Executive Officer at Kepler. “Customers want solutions that are ready to go and easy to deploy. Kymeta Connect™, with the Kymeta u8 Terminal, tick both those boxes. By deploying Kepler’s Global Data Service with Kymeta Connect™, the offering becomes much more powerful and able to address the requirements of a greater range of users that traditional providers are unable to accommodate.”
Kepler’s Global Data Service (GDS) covers every part of the globe, from pole to pole, and allows the movement of gigabytes of data to and from the user’s location at economic rates. Currently enabled with Kepler’s first two satellites on orbit, the capabilities of GDS will expand significantly over the course of 2020 with Kepler’s previously announced vertical integration and launch procurements. Commercial availability of GDS within the Kymeta Connect™ offering is targeted to align with market availability of the Kymeta™ u8 Terminal as well as Kepler’s expanded constellation later this year, with key customer trials supporting the development effort. To express an interest in participating, connect with your Kymeta or Kepler representative.
Sternula, Denmark's First Commerical Satellite Operator to Launch 50 MicroSatellites to Aid Navigation
March 26, 2020: Small low-orbit satellites shall ensure that vessels in difficult waters will have better onboard communications options. This will save the vessels thousands of miles of travel time and increase the level of safety to the crew. A new partnership project aims to develop a solution for Denmark’s firsts commercial satellite operator, Sternula, to launch the first out of 50 satellites for distribution of ice charts and other maritime digital services in 2022.
The new research project, which is named MARIOT (Maritime Internet-of-Things), will demonstrate that micro satellites in low orbit can provide cheap data exchange for maritime safety and navigational services even in difficult waters. Initially, the project will focus on Arctic demands because the diminishing sea ice around the North Pole opens for new sea routes saving thousands of miles of sailing compared to the traditional inter-continental routes.
The next step will be common safety and navigational services such as maritime safety information and coastal surveyance. In the long term, the system will provide connectivity for a range of industrial services including e.g. preventive monitoring of ship engines and critical systems onboard.
The project is based on the new VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) which is the 2nd generation of the popular AIS standard. AIS is a system that enables ships to exchange small messages containing ship position, course, and speed with other ships and coastal radio networks over the VHF antenna. It is installed in more than 200,000 vessels today. AIS is limited by the terrestrial range of VHF radio of around 30 nautical miles.
VDES offers a more efficient exchange of many more types of data, and adds satellite connectivity. The project will exploit that in November 2019, dedicated radio spectrum was allocated globally for satellite-based VDES. This means that there is currently a window-of-opportunity for the first global VDES network.
It will be three Danish “New Space” companies, GateHouse, Space Inventor, and Satlab, who will develop the technical components in the project. Aalborg University shall contribute with technological knowhow from its many “CubeSat” missions over the past 20 years. The Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) participates based on concrete maritime services to be adapted in the project for VDES. The project is headed by newly-established satellite operator, Sternula.
Lars Moltsen, Founder and CEO of Sternula said, “This project will help us in achieving our goal of becoming Denmark's first commercial satellite operator and bring a range of new digital services to the maritime sector. We have selected a number of highly competent partners to work with us over the next 3 years. It will be very interesting and hopefully also a lot of fun!”.
The MARIOT project is partly funded by Innovation Fund Denmark by 20 million kr. (2.7 million Euro) and will significantly strengthen the Danish maritime ICT sector and space industry. On top of the development of a technical solution in the form of a satellite and its underlying network, the partners want to develop a scalable platform to enable service providers to offer new innovative solutions. Denmark has the World’s 5th largest merchant fleet and a leading position in maritime ICT, which will be a great asset for this type of project.
Smallsat News and Ventures
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OneWeb is bankrupt. After writing off $450 million of its initial investment, Softbank didn't jump in to save the company. The bankruptcy isn’t about the Corona Virus as OneWeb management would have us believe. The Softbank write-down took place long before the Virus.
The failure was predictable. Any venture capital professional could have seen it coming. From the very beginning, OneWeb was a business that struggled to find a target market. It had a business plan built on unverified assumptions,and a vaguely defined target market. OneWeb was a venture that broke every venture capital rule. I watched with alarm as the company attempted to replay O3b's failed vision of ubiquitous global connectivity, only at a much higher cost.
I have written about the company many times, and like many top executives in the industry, I was skeptical from the very start. While many had doubts, few wanted to air them publicly. When visionaries like Steve Collar and Tom Choi raised their voices, others remained mute, muffled in many cases, by the contracts they received.
In our September 2018 editorial, The Unspoken Risks of OneWeb and the Mega-LEOs, I detailed the extreme challenges faced by the mega LEOs. Again, in December of 2019, in my editorial, 2020 and Beyond, Satellite Broadband Winners and Losers, I warned that Softbank's shift from an emphasis on growth to profitability would put an end to their financial support of OneWeb.
Unfortunately, implications of the failure are grave and extend beyond OneWeb to SpaceX and maybe even Telesat. In an insightful blog post, a well-known industry consultant, Tim Farrar, detailed SpaceX's need for cash.
No doubt, OneWeb’s demise will almost certainly affect SpaceX's ability to raise funding - at least at a favorable valuation. Selling investors on Musk's cash-gobbling mega vision will not be easy. Unless SpaceX is prepared to raise cash in the public market at a steep discount to its valuation, it may need to secure a substantial amount of aid from the government in the form of advance payments from DOD or ultimately, the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Given the current estimated cash burn of $100 million/per month, time may not be on its side.
The problem is that except for more powerful satellites, the business plans of the OneWeb and Starlink are remarkably alike. Like OneWeb, Starlink is also a constellation without a well-defined target market. It was designed to serve everybody, and everybody can’t afford it.
Besides, because Starlink's infrastructure is consumer, not enterprise focused, it's not a good fit for the cash-rich enterprise market.
In that market, it's easily outclassed by Telesat, mPower, and high-power GEO satellite constellations like Epic. Instead of attracting enterprise customers, it will be forced to compete against Hughes and ViaSat in the U.S. satellite-to-home Internet market. That's a tough road.
Even more concerning is the fact that Starlink has been unable to incorporate optical links into its first-generation constellation, which means it is going to need a lot of ground stations. The cost of constructing teleports and the fiber to connect them could be crippling.
Home installations will also be a problem. If Musk thinks that massive numbers of consumers are going to install his antennas themselves, he better think again. Whether the terminal is a flat panel or dish, it’s going to require cabling or power or both. If you don’t have a clear view of the sky from your backyard - and few do - you'll need to climb up on your roof to install Elon’s antenna. I'm not installing my antenna. I don’t have an extension ladder, and it’s a long way down from the roof to the garden. Self-install is just a bad idea.
Direct TV tried it before, and it was a disaster. While upfront it resulted in a big jump in subscribers, the company ultimately had to hire thousands of installers to fix bad installations. Musk will need the same, not to mention administrative staff and tons of money for advertising – think Verizon, ViaSat, and HNS.
The need for business infrastructure is undeniable. If Starlink goes global, it will need the same corporate and service infrastructure everywhere, and that could raise the cost to astronomical levels.
What is amazing OneWeb is that so many supposedly satellite industry senior executives, mesmerized by the vision of global satellite connectivity and in OneWeb’s case, the lure of lucrative contracts to build the network, ignored the risks, and jumped blindly on OneWeb's bandwagon.
It's a sad story, especially for the many talented satellite industry professional who lost their jobs. Unfortunately, OneWeb teaches a lesson that years into the future, the satellite industry may be doomed to repeat.
- Alan Gottlieb
Can Starlink Be Far Behind?
Doomed from the Start: OneWeb Declares Bankruptcy
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"What is amazing about these mega LEO ventures is that so many supposedly sophisticated investors, mesmerized by the vision of global satellite connectivity and in OneWeb’s case, the lure of lucrative contracts to build the network, ignored exorbitant risks and jumped blindly on OneWeb's bandwagon."
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Eighteen months ago, Kymeta's CEO, Nathan Kundtz, resigned, and their first generation antenna, the U7, needed improvement. Now, after a management reorganization and two years of research and development, Kymeta has a new direction and an improved product.
Kymeta's next-generation antenna, the U8, is much more efficient and temperature resistant than the original antenna. The company has also developed a new version, a very clever hybrid Ku-Band/LTE antenna.
Together the U8 and its hybrid version opened up new market opportunities for the company, especially in the first responder and military markets. While yet to release an ultra -low cost, mass-market antenna, the new and improved antenna is a significant step forward. To find out more about its new products and market strategy, we met with Bill Marks, Kymeta's Chief Strategy Officer.
SMW: The original Kymeta Antenna, released in 2017, had some major performance issues. What have you done to improve the product?
Bill Marks: We launched the first truly electronic scanning flat panel antenna, the U7, in late 2017. After two years of real-world deployments, we learned that while the product needed improvements, customers liked the unique mobile connectivity that we enabled. At that point, we knew we had a market, but to capture it, we had to improve the product.
We reevaluated the design, and together with our engineers, we focused on improving the efficiency of the antenna, making it more resistant to temperature change, and creating a hybrid satellite/cellular capability. As a result, we have made four major improvements in our next generation product – the U8.
The antenna can now address the full two GHz of Ku receive spectrum, and that makes it capable of global roaming.
The gain has significantly improved.
Operation is now possible at extreme temperatures, both hot and cold.
The antenna can now accommodate both a satellite and a cellular modem, making possible a unique, hybrid product offering.
SMW: I understand that Kymeta does not have a CEO? Why is that, and can you update us on the management structure?
Bill Marks: We have a structure set up that works for Kymeta. Doug Hutcheson is our Executive Chairman, and Walter Berger is our President and COO.
SMW: The original 70 cm Kymeta antenna, based on its G/T, was equivalent to a 28 cm dish bore site on. Given the 3 Db improvement, the new antennas is equivalent to what size parabolic antenna?
Bill Marks: The antenna is equivalent to a 45cm mechanically-steered parabolic gimbled dish, outside our network. In our network, which is designed to meet the unique needs of flat panel antennas, it is competitive with networks built around 60cm dishes
However, we believe it is misleading to compare dish technology with flat panel electronically steered antennas, primarily because a parabolic antenna isn’t, and cannot be, a viable solution for land mobility customers.
Instead, Kymeta is making land mobile connectivity easy, agile, and affordable for customers. To do so, we've combined our antenna with a variety of satellite or satellite-cellular airtime broadband packages designed to eliminate upfront capital investment.
You mentioned that the antenna is available bundled with connectivity. Can you describe the offering?
Bill Marks: We are now offering our U8 hardware and our broadband connectivity bundled together in a monthly subscription, thereby eliminating the need for initial capital investment.
Instead, you can buy a monthly subscription package. If you sign up for thirty-six-months with the one gigabyte/per month plan, the cost is $999 per/month. Of course, like a cellular plan, the fee increases with the data volume.
Capacity can also be shared among a fleet of vehicles or first responders, and we also have a pooling and occasional use plan. When you compare our offerings to others in the market, they are quite competitive.
SMW: You have also developed a hybrid Ku-Band/LTE antenna. Can you describe that product?
Bill Marks: Yes. We offer both Ku-Band and LTE connectivity in a single terminal. We have enabled customer-defined “least- cost routing” or “best performance routing,” allowing automatic and seamless switching between satellite and cellular networks. In addition, we have partnered with cellular connectivity platform provider, Cubic Telecom, to offer cellular across the globe.
SMW: What are your target markets for the new antenna?
Our first global target markets are first responders and military and intelligence communities.
In the first responder market, the antenna is used on fire trucks, ambulances, and on vehicles that service natural disasters. There are studies showing data transmission from an ambulance on a patient’s condition en route to a hospital allow triage time to be reduced.
On ambulances, our bundled offering is popular, since no capital investment is required. In the Middle East, we have a deal where one country is putting the terminal on three hundred ambulances.
For the military, Kymeta’s products have enabled connectivity for platforms that were previously unserviceable with existing antenna technology. On inflatable rafts and all terrane vehicles, our antennas have locked on to satellites and maintained connectivity despite rough seas and difficult terrane. Even at high speeds, we're able to maintain connectivity.
SMW: Previously, Kymeta integrated two antennas together to achieve higher bandwidth capacity and targeted the yacht market. Given the enhanced efficiency of the new antenna, are you still deploying the dual antenna configuration on yachts? Can you update us on your efforts to penetrate this market?
Bill Marks: As effective as our latest technology is, there is an insatiable demand for bandwidth, and we are developing new innovative ways to configure our antennas for the needs of specific markets.
Some of the unique capabilities of Kymeta’s U8 terminal will open up more of the maritime market. In particular, we can now offer significant throughput without the need to combine to antennas.
For example, in the past, yacht passengers and crew lost connectivity when transferring to shore in a smaller vessel. Now, using a U8 antenna, they can take satellite and cellular connectivity with them as they venture to and from shore.
SMW: Can you give us an idea of the total number of antennas you have deployed so far?
Bill Marks: To date, we have deployed just under a thousand antennas and terminals in 28 countries.
Some are deployed on fire trucks, police vehicles, and ambulances in the US, Europe, and the Middle East.
Our antennas have also been used in many recent disaster areas to aid in recovery efforts and various military and government applications. Numerous systems are deployed on various types of maritime craft, from some of the world’s largest yachts to the smallest boats ever to be served.
Because we have an antenna capable of both cellular and satellite communication, we are supporting vehicles transiting in and out of cellular and satellite coverage, such as oil and gas service trucks. We also are on trains, inter-city busses, and are currently conducting trials in hybrid satellite-cellular markets in Latin America.
SMW: A major thrust of your business is your work with Toyota? You have been working with them for a long time. When will we see Kymeta antennas installed on Toyota vehicles, and on which types of vehicles?
Bill Marks: Kymeta is committed to opening the automotive market and we have a terrific partner in Toyota. The time to market entry for OEMs with new technology takes a long time. Scaled market adoption is dependent on continued cost reduction for the solution. As with most new technologies, we presume OEMs will start in higher-end vehicles.
SMW: A major reason for investment in Kymeta was the prospect of very high volume, low-cost consumer antennas. Yet, to date, it appears that you are focused on high-value enterprise markets, and sales volumes are still relatively low. What progress has been made toward producing an antenna that can sell for hundreds vs. tens of thousands of dollars?
Is this still an achievable goal, and are there other markets besides Toyota that you are pursuing? Doesn’t the future of the company depend on producing a low-cost antenna and selling it in large volumes?
Bill Marks: We are redesigning the U8 for scalability and cost reduction. At the core of this effort is to integrate our diplexer, LNB BUC, and modem into the antenna, thereby eliminating the need for off-the-shelf components.
This October, the iDirect IQ 200 satellite router card will be incorporated in the antenna, and by late 2021 the other components will be fully integrated as well. These improvements combined with significantly larger volume production should allow us to lower the per-unit cost in steps, ultimately allowing to reach a sub $1,000 price point in volumes of 1-2 M units per year.
Even now, the U8 is by far the lowest cost flat panel technology on the market. As we drive up adoption, we will continue to drive down costs and enlarge the market.
From that perspective, the key is fitting into the budgets of the target markets and solving their problems. The typical customer doesn’t want to think about the complexity of satellite communications. With the breakthroughs we’ve made, we’re rapidly opening markets that were previously unserved or underserved.
With Bill Marks - Kymeta's Chief Strategy Officer
How Kymeta Reinvented its Future
About Bill Marks:
Bill, a founder and senior executive in the satellite and cable TV industries for over 25 years, is also an active investor in mobile platform technology and software as a service company.
Prior to that, he was the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Maritime Telecommunications Network (MTN), which provides satellite connectivity and content to remote locations around the world.
MTN's customer segments include cruise lines, yachts, oil and gas, news agencies, aviation and the government and military. In 2007, Bill won the prestigious Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his role there.
Earlier in his career, he was involved with DIRECTV by founding a national sales and installation company that helped DIRECTV to become the fastest growing consumer electronic company in the US at that time. Before getting involved with satellite, he held several executive roles in cable TV, including as a multiple system owner and operator.
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With Saturn Board Chairman, Tom Choi
Saturn Satellite Networks and the New World of Small GEOs
Historically, the satellite industry has relied on large and expensive GEO satellites.
HTS satellites now cover the globe. To buy, build, and launch these spacecraft, satellite operators have incurred huge levels of debt. Capacity is exploding far beyond demand levels, and bandwidth prices are crashing.
Apart from applications like maritime and aero mobility that require global coverage, to prosper, the industry needs to turn to smaller, highly efficient satellites that focus on high demand markets. That's what former ABS CEO and Industry veteran, Tom Choi is doing. He's building small GEOs called Nationsats, and his company is called Saturn. In a one-on-one with Satellite Mobility World, he told us his story.
SMW: I understand that Saturn has developed a unique, module-based approach to satellite construction. Could you describe the architecture employed and its advantages?
Thomas Choi: We call our satellites Nationsats. Each Nationsat is composed of 16 identical HISats or modules, has 4 kilowatts of payload power, and has the functionality of a complete mini-satellite.
Each HISat has all the components of a larger satellite, including a computer that manages the flight dynamics, batteries, and a multi-function reaction wheel, which when deployed in three HISats, can be deployed as a gyro to stabilize the satellite. The HISat could also be deployed as a SADA, a motor to point the solar panels towards the sun. Our modular approach is a substantial advancement in satellite build and design.
Usually, the satellite manufacturer designs the bus, and it is up to the customer to define the payload that fits within the size and power constraints of the bus. In our model, we size the bus to fit the power requirements of the payload. The more power the payload requires, the more HISats we use to make the bus.
SMW: The are other manufacturers of small GEOs. How are you different?
Thomas Choi: Because each HISat has all the functionality of a larger satellite, a satellite composed of multiple HISats is redundant and highly reliable. There is no other small GEO with a similar multiple bus architecture. If one or more busses fail, the others continue to continue to operate. That means our Nationsats are incredibly reliable as well as being cost-effective. We can also change the shape of our satellites to fit larger payloads. Our competitors do not have this flexibility.
SMW: How are your satellites different than conventional GEOs?
The major differentiator between our satellites and traditional GEOS is that the GEOs have a bus with a fixed design. It’s either a small, medium or large. That means you have to design your payload to fit into whatever bus is available.
So, with a conventional satellite, if your payload is only 500 Watts, you might still have to buy a 3000-kilowatt bus, even though your payload needs only 500 Watts. With a Nationsat, if the customer requires a two-kilowatt BUS, we make a two-kilowatt bus. Regardless of the number of HISats required, our software manages the power requirement.
Furthermore, because the HISats are all the same, they can be mass-manufactured at a low cost – a huge economic advantage. That's why the Nationsat is 50% to 70% more affordable than other GEOs. Our competitors do not achive a price of $1M per Gbps, unless they buy a satellite that costs $200 to $300M.
SMW: Will the Nationsats incorporate a software-defined architecture, and steerable beams?
We have two types of Nationsat satellites, a wide beam satellite, and an HTS satellite. In the wide beam satellite, we have what’s called a Digital Transponder. It’s a traditional satellite with a software-defined radio.
We can make it receive any frequency in C, Ku, or Ka-Band and can configure a transponder to any size up to 108 MHz. Our Digital Mixer Transceiver allows a normal bent pipe transponder to be assigned to any frequency from 8 to 108 MHz.
For example, we can change the configuration on the fly. If a customer wants to do a video broadcast, we make a 36 MHz transponder. If alternatively, the customer wants to do broadband data, we can size the transponder to 108 MHz.
Even if the satellite operator wants to move the satellite to another location, the uplink frequency can be changed. So, whether the satellite is C, Ku, or Ka, it can use any frequency within its pre-configured frequency band.
Our beams are also steerable, although the shape of the beams cannot be changed. Thus, we offer the satellite operator incredible flexibility. We also have an HTS satellite.
With our HTS satellite, we can generate 48 spot beams, 6 gateway beams, and deliver 80 to 100 Gbps of capacity for roughly $100 million. If you are doing video or DTH, you would use the wide beam configuration. If you are doing data, then you want to do the HTS configuration.
SMW: 3 D printing is becoming very popular in satellite production. Many manufacturers are already incoporating 3 D printed antennas and other components. Will you utilize this technique in the construction of your satellites? If so, what components will be 3 D printed?
Thomas Choi: There are and can be 3D printing elements of our bus, but it’s not a big benefit because our architecture is very simple.
Because the cost of the HISat is a tiny component of the overall cost, there is not a lot to be saved through the use of 3D printing.
There is nothing complicated about what we do. The payload, the launch, and insurance cost are the bulk of the cost.
If we ever win a large constellation project, we will invest in robotic manufacturing for the building of critical components, assembly and testing. This will dramatically lower manufacturing costs.
SMW: We have written a lot about Curvalux. Are you actively marketing a combination SSN/Curvalux solution?
Thomas Choi: Curvalux and Saturn solutions can exist independently of each other, or they can be combined. In rural areas, Curvalux requires satellite backbone, and HTS satellites require more efficient means to deliver their capacity to end-users. Here, Curvalux and Saturn satellites can converge, but these technologies are mutually exclusive.
Some customers have asked for a combination of the technologies, and we are responding to them, still Curvalux and Saturn are different companies with different CEOs, and they have different markets.
SMW: Could SSN satellites enable mobility-focused integrators to reduce their dependence on conventional GEO satellites.
Thomas Choi: We are not targeting the mobility market from GEO. Our satellites are designed to provide a lot of capacity in a highly efficient manner for a nation or a small region.
We’re not designing satellites to cover the earth like ViaSat 3 or Intelsat Epic. Those large coverage satellites need high power – more than 10 kilowatts. We want to stay below five kilowatts. We don’t want to be in that space because there are many players like Boeing, Loral, Lockheed, and Thales in it. It just does not make sense to compete against those companies.
SMW: What would be an ideal market for a Nationsat?
Thomas Choi: We could do a country as large as Indonesia or Australia or even the U.S. but not larger.
SMW: Will you ever move beyond manufacturing to become a satellite operator?
Thomas Choi: In general, we don’t have any plans to become a satellite operator. However, at some point, if there is an opportunity is attractive enough, we might do a JV with an existing operator if they can bring customers to the market. However, we will never go direct to end-users on our own.
SMW: To date, have you sold any Nationsats? Do you have any deals in the process that you can discuss?
Thomas Choi: We signed our first customer in late 2018, and it’s a 2 ½ year program. The satellite has passed the Preliminary Design Review and the bus has successfully completed radiation testing, qualifying it for GEO operation.
Once the customer decides where to place it, we will finish the satellite and launch it. This year, we have several other contracts in progress and expect to sign them soon.
SMW: Outside of the regional broadband communications market, do you see potential for small GEOs displacing conventional GEOs? Will small GEOs make large GEOs obsolete? If not, what applications will still require conventional GEOs?
Thomas Choi: In the past, all GEO satellites were large, and satellite operators bought them because satellite manufacturers didn't sell a small GEO. Most available satellite busses were 7 kilowatts and above, and they cost too much money. Today, Many of the satellite operators are struggling with a huge debt because they bought too many of these large, expensive satellites.
So now, everybody is fighting to dump the excess capacity that they should never have purchased in the first place. That’s why the satellite market is depressed and why the market for large GEOS will decline, and small GEOs will fill the gap.
In the future, a traditional large GEO will only be used when you want to cover an entire hemisphere with all the beams. The market for large GEOs will still exist but it will decline over time.
At Saturn, we understand the market. The small GEO strategy reduces operator risk and capital expenditure, the debt, and the number of customers they need to make a satellite project economical. With Saturn you only build what you need, no more, no less. That's why we took the risk of investing in an optimized small GEO system.
Ultimately, the use of more small GEOs will allow us to have a healthier GEO FSS industry. That’s why we're building a small GEO. I want to help everyone and stop the waste and carnage.
"Instead of customizing the payload for the bus, we customize the bus for the payload. Regardless of the number of HISat's deployed, the software manages the power requirement.
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About Thomas Choi...
Thomas Choi is the Chairman of Saturn Satellite Networks.
Prior to Saturn, he was CEO of Asia Broadcast Satellite.
Prior to ABS, Tom was the founder and CEO of Speedcast. He also worked at Hughes Communications International and at Rockwell International. He has a MBA and B.S. in Aerospace Engineering both from the University of Southern California.
Tom is a member of the Board of Directors of the Asia Pacific Communications Council (APSCC) and previously served on the Board of CASBAA.
Tom was the Satellite Executive of the year in 2012 and the Satellite Executive of the year in Asia Pacific Award 2012 (APSCC).
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New Product Review: Isotropic Networks Datadragon ™️
Managing bandwidth on satellite networks has always been a challenge. While there are numerous software packages designed to monitor bandwidth usage and activities, we found one that is uniquely useful and may be the best network management platform available. It’s called Datadragon.
Developed by Isotropic Networks, the Datadragon platform combines incredibly powerful analytical capabilities with artificial intelligence and, in doing so, takes network management capabilities to a new level.
Using artificial intelligence, Datadragon learns normal network behavior and detects variations from the norm. When problems occur, it sends alerts. To respond, network managers have a comprehensive set of analytical tools at their disposal, allowing them to drill down to the individual user level.
Here are some real-life examples of what Datadragon can do.
A maritime VSAT yacht customer with 1 Meg X 5 Meg link is experiencing extreme congestion on the uplink. They notify an Isotropic network specialist who, using Datadragon, determines that extensive usage of Youtube is congesting the uplink. Strangely, the customer is unaware of any Youtube usage aboard the vessel.
Using Datadragon, Isotropic determines that several improperly configured NEST video cameras are continuously uploading video to Youtube and congesting the link. Reconfiguring the cameras solves the problem.
No other platform that we are aware of can provide analysis at this depth. In the oil industry, we find another example.
A major drilling contractor is also experiencing congestion problems with their VSAT uplink. An alarm notifies IT management that vital drilling telemetry is blocked, and drilling is halted. Isotropic quickly identifies the problem. Technicians determine that the congestion is the result of running automatic Microsoft updates. In this case, Isotropic reconfigures the network to limit the amount of bandwidth available for the updates, freeing up the uplink and allowing drilling to continue.
Favorable resolution of both of these crises demonstrates the power of Datadragon and the responsiveness of the Isotropic technical team. While customers can perform analysis through a Web Portal, Isotropic takes an active role in assuring network problems are solved, no matter how complex. With Datadragon, the client is never alone.
An engagement with Isotropic begins with a comprehensive analysis of the customer's bandwidth and throughput requirements. Once complete, Isotropic configures Datadragon specifying initial bandwidth allocations and throughputs right down to the end-user level.
Once installed, the software learns network behavior and continuously monitors and intelligently adjusts applications as required in real time. Besides, end-users can also monitor network performance in real-time.
Apart from network management, Datadragon can graphically track mobile assets and visualize the performance of each element in a geographically dispersed network.
For example, vessels can be tracked, viewed graphically, and interrogated with the click of a mouse.
As one might expect, the development of this software required a considerable amount of time and effort – nearly three years.
Isotropic currently offers Datadragon as a value-added addition to its VSAT service. At this point, the platform is only available within its network, but in the future, It may license the platform. Since it currently runs on most hub and modem infrastructure, including iDirect, Newtec, UHP, and soon available for Comtech, it has a potentially large market.
According to Isotropic CEO Hank Zbierski, virtual network operators have been big adopters of Datadragon as they previously had to rely on programs with limited capabilities. While the program is especially useful in bandwidth-limited VSAT networks, it has application in terrestrial and fixed wireless networks and hybrid networks as well.
With hundreds of satellite-based VNOS and many more in the mobile, fixed wireless, and terrestrial segments, Datadragon has the potential to serve a very large customer base.
Taking Network Management to the Next Level
An Interview with Danielle Edwards, RigNet V.P. of IoT and Applications
IoT is one of the fastest-growing applications in the oilfield. Nowhere is its development more intense than in the Energy Industry and associated markets.
New narrow-band networks and terminals are emerging to serve the specific needs of the segment. Echostar S-Band is now available in Europe along with Thuraya L-Band, and Iridium's new NEXT network now competes with Inmarsat. Auto acquiring L-Band and S-Band terminals are now available.
As one of the leading companies in oilfield and industrial IoT, RigNet is setting the standards through its widely diversified offerings of networks and terminals. To find out what IoT solutions they advocate and why, as well as their view of this expanding market, we met with RigNet, V.P. Danielle Edwards.
SMW: RigNet is actively engaged in the IoT market. Can you give us an idea of the segments of the market in which you are pursuing IoT business, the level of IoT activity in each of those segments, and prospects for growth?
Danielle Edwards: We have three lines of business. Managed Communications, Systems Integration and Applications and IoT.
When we started the company, Managed Communications was 90 per-cent of our revenue. Now, it’s 69 per-cent. While it’s still our core segment, our Applications and IoT division has been growing in the high double digits.
In Q 4 of 2019, it generated over 15 per-cent or $10 million in revenue out of $64.1 or over 15 per-cent. That segment is made up of BGAN and SCADA products and also includes Intelie and our cybersecurity division.
Today, we are seeing customers send a lot more data per site, and IoT traffic alone, which includes both SCADA and other narrow-band data transmission, has almost doubled in the last eighteen months.
SMW: Can you give us some examples of typical IoT applications?
Danielle Edwards: There are many. For example, we have a compelling midstream pipeline capability where operators are pulling LNG. That’s just moving product from one end of the pipeline to the other and making sure there are no blockages.
We also do a lot of IoT with artificial lift, essentially pumpjacks, where customers monitor the quantity of oil produced or even the operational condition of the pump motors. Another one of our applications uses tags on employees to track them in a plant. The number of applications is almost limitless.
SMW: There are many network alternatives capable of delivering IoT data. How do you choose between available networks? What are the criteria in your selection process?
Danielle Edwards: There are several elements to consider when designing a solution. In making that choice, the first consideration is geographic.
For example, if we are doing a pipeline in Europe, we would have several narrow-band IoT alternatives, including Inmarsat, Iridium, Thuraya L-Band, or Echostar S-Band. Cellular and VSAT could even be part of a hybrid solution.
However, because it’s a regional application, we don’t need global coverage from Inmarsat or Iridium. We could use an alternative, such as Thuraya or Echostar S-Band.
Of course, because customers also want robust connectivity with high-speed capabilities, we would want to be sure network performance at the location meets those criteria.
In some cases, to achieve diversity, we might need to deploy two networks. Once we choose the network , we need to select the terminals.
If the project is a fixed site application, flat panel antennas are the logical choice. If it’s a mobile application, self-acquiring, omnidirectional antenna terminals would be best. Ultimately, our objective is to deliver what the customer requires at the lowest possible cost.
SMW: You mentioned that Echostar S-Band is a relatively new connectivity option. Why is it attractive?
Danielle Edwards: We started having a conversation with Echostar last year, and I was very excited about what they had to offer. It was readily apparent that they understood that IoT is about scale, having large numbers of terminals suited to IoT applications.
Specifically, I am talking about an IoT terminal with an attractive form factor that is self-acquiring with an omnidirectional antenna - a key advantage in mobility IoT markets. That really got us excited.
In addition to the new terminal, Echostar S-Band is attractive for several other reasons. Because it’s a separate network, it gives us an additional connectivity option. It's also weather-resistant and easy to deploy.
SMW: RigNet currently offers several IoT connectivity options, including Inmarsat L-Band, Iridium Next, Thuraya, S-Band in Europe via Echostar Mobile, Ku-Band, fiber, and cellular. All of these options offer a short interval polling response and are, therefore, premium services. Are you currently exploring the use of lower-cost CubeSat's with extended interval polling?
Danielle Edwards: We always go after the premium market, never the low-end market. Our installations are pretty sophisticated, and they are designed to last twenty years. They feature custom casings, solar panels, flat panel L-Band antennas, battery backup, and Cradlepoint software.
However, the terminal cost and the cost that the customer is willing to pay per bit transmitted are critical issues. As a consequence, we are looking to reduce that cost below $300.
In terms of per-bit transmission cost, the scale of our network gives us an advantage in the pursuit of the high-end customer. Given that advantage, we don’t see the need to offer consumer-grade solutions.
SMW: What is the IoT business model? for example, does the customer pay a fixed amount per/month for a complete solution, or do they buy the hardware and integration services and pay by volume of data transmitted?
Danielle Edwards: Generally speaking, large companies tend to buy their equipment, and we resell it. In that case, it’s typically a volume-based usage model. They pay per-bit transmitted.
However, we also have a very flexible and sophisticated billing system. For example, customers can turn the system on or off when needed and set limits on data transmitted.
SMW: Since you are working with customers at all levels of expertise, can you explain how your sales approach varies in each case?
Danielle Edwards: Because our customers are at various levels of digital transformation, we offer varying levels of support and a wide variety of IoT transmission alternatives.
With the Cobham L-Band terminal and the Hughes, S-Band terminal, we have two IoT terminal and frequency alternatives, which we could use separately or together.
For example, in critical applications such as the oilfield, we could deliver S-Band, L-Band, Ku-Band, and even cellular in a single solution designed to assure absolute reliability.
Another alternative would be to deploy 50% S-Band and 50% L-Band or even cellular in a production field to give diversity. Our marketing thrust is that we will deliver a significant variety of connectivity options to meet our customers' requirements.
SMW: How are you dealing with cybersecurity in the IoT segment? The oil industry is extremely security-sensitive. Does your cybersecurity company, have a role in your IoT initiative?
Danielle Edwards: We have a subsidiary called Cyphre, which offers a unique, hardware-based encryption solution. They are actively working with us in the IoT area.
SMW: Do you have any relationships with Cloud service providers such as AWS or Microsoft?
Danielle Edwards: RigNet has relationships with both AWS and Microsoft. While many customers prefer private data linkages, we can and do transmit data to the cloud.
SMW: Another key element in IoT is the analysis of the data. You provide raw data to the customer. However, some customers would inevitably want analytical services and not just raw data. Do you have plans to provide any form of enhanced data analysis or are you developing value- added applications in the IoT space?
Danielle Edwards: Intelie (a RigNet company) provides very specific data analytics and machine learning across multiple customers in sectors ranging from O&G to Industrial, Banking, Maritime, and Utilities. They are a key part of our strategy.
Given our wide variety of resources and our extensive experience in IoT applications, we expect to play a major role in the roll out of IoT services in the oilfield and beyond.
RigNet Brings New IoT Solutions to Oilfield and Industry
About Danielle Edwards
Danielle Edwards is the Vice President of Internet-of-Things (IoT) & Apps for RigNet.
In this role, Danielle is focused on developing solutions that enhance the safety, security, and workforce productivity of business with remote operations all over the world.
With more than 19 years of experience in product management, Danielle is passionate about developing innovative solutions that enhance customer operations and competitiveness. Before joining RigNet, Danielle served as senior product manager focusing on maritime and mobility satellite solutions at Intelsat and NSSLGlobal.
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For years, the dream of a low-cost, mass- manufactured, flat panel array has tantalized engineers. Catalyzed by the coming of the LEOs and the real-time switching and multiple beam capabilities these antennas might bring, millions of dollars have been spent on their development. Yet, are the potential advantages of the technology really what they seem?
The truth is that in certain markets, especially aero, these antennas face challenges endemic to the breed, several of which are very difficult to overcome - high cost, poor efficiency at high latitudes, excessive power consumption, and excessive operating temperatures.
That's why we decided to turn to ThinKom's CTO, Bill Milroy to explore ThinKom's unique antenna technology. We wanted to understand the logic behind its VICTS design and how it compares with conventional flat panel ESAs - even though it is mechanically, not electronically steered. With over 1,500 commercial aircraft installs, it's an interesting and informative story.
Since the ThinKom antenna is mechanically driven, isn’t it less reliable than electronically steered antennas?
Bill Milroy: While this assumption may be true with a conventional, mechanically-stabilized parabolic dish or horn-array antenna, it’s not true with the ThinKom VICTS.
The VICTS contains no motors, pulleys, gears, or belts to fail. Instead, “stub” discs are rotated to direct the beams using magnetic induction, the same principle used to propel trains along at ultra-high speeds efficiently.
With the antenna, we support extremely high beam accelerations and velocities, with minimum required power (current and voltage) and high reliability. That’s why we can say that the VICTS antennas have proven/documented Mean-Time-Before-Failures (MTBF) exceeding 100,000 hours, based on over 15M flight hours on over 1,500 aircraft.
In both GEO and LEO aero applications, isn’t a flat panel electronically steered antenna with multiple beam capability essential to achieve uninterrupted transmission?
Bill Milroy: On the contrary, in both GSO and NGSO beam switching scenarios, the ThinKom antenna switches from beam to beam in the 100-900 millisecond range, less or equivalent to the time that it takes for the satellite network to switch the IP stream between beams in both GEO and NGSO networks.
So, when going from one LEO or MEO to another, the maximum switching delay is roughly equivalent to that experienced when in continuous broadband operation on a typical GEO.
In addition, we can even further reduce our beam switching time by transmitting to one satellite in one location while simultaneously receiving from another, thereby halving the roundtrip time.
Most importantly, we’ve successfully demonstrated our capability to support seamless transitions and roaming between NGSO satellites, GSO satellites, and mixtures of both in numerous ground and inflight tests on multiple constellations, including Telesat’s LEO1, SES GEO/O3b MEO, and OneWeb.
Isn’t it true that phased array antennas don’t work well at low elevation angles?
Bill Milroy: Most phased-array antennas exhibit a “low-elevation-angle-limitation” which is due to their densely-packed two-dimensional discrete radiating elements. At low look angles, the proximity of the elements causes transmit and receive energy to be absorbed by adjacent elements when operating at low look angles - an undesirable phenomenon that causes a decline in operating efficiency.
The ThinKom VICTS antenna is different. It is comprised of a loosely-packed one-dimensional lattice of continuous radiating “stubs" or discs, which efficiently direct the RF energy to and from low look-angles, dramatically enhancing and extending the scan capability of the antennas.
This is more than just “theory.” Our broadly-fielded flying systems are routinely closing satellite links inflight at elevation angles below 10 degrees (i.e. at scan angles exceeding 80 degrees.)
Don’t phased array antennas require a lot of power and generate a lot of heat, making them poorly suited for aero broadband applications?
Bill Milroy: The power and heat challenge with typical ESAs is that they are electronic-intensive. Because the antenna needs to generate a beam electronically, it requires thousands of patch antennas, phase shifters, attenuators, and in some cases, up-converters, down-converters, and even analog-to-digital converters. Hence, there is an enormous demand for power, often as much as 2000 watts, and commensurately, a lot of heat is generated.
In an aero application, while it may be possible to cool the components at 30,000 feet, high ambient temperatures on the tarmac (ground) can render these antennas useless.
In typical phased arrays, large and heavy heat sinks or liquid cooling solutions are used to dissipate the heat, adding weight and in the case of liquid cooling, increasing the probability of a system failure.
Not so with our ThinKom antenna. The VICTS doesn’t require the thousands of electronic components you see in a typical ESA. It doesn’t need phase shifters, thousands of LNAs, HPAs and other power-hungry and heat-generating electronic components because our stub design provides true-time-delay scanning. Our systems, with centralized proven high-reliability high-performance LNAs and HPAs (and no phase-shifters, attenuators, etc.), typically require 70W of prime power and generate less heat, reliably supporting the true gate-to-gate performance that airlines have come to rely on.
Doesn’t the ThinKom antenna weigh more and have more drag than a flat panel ESA?
Bill Milroy: Our VICTS antennas are 2-4 inches in total height (depending on frequency), and that’s comparable to most all of our ESA, AESA, MBESA, and optics-based phased-array competitors. However, that’s only the beginning of the story.
Depending on competitor and operational scenarios, our antennas are 2x to 8x more efficient than any ESA of comparable size and area. The higher efficiency allows us to deliver much higher throughput than an ESA of comparable size. That’s a huge advantage in terms of operating cost and weight.
Further, with our significant size advantage, together with our unique (and proven) high-reliability and low-power characteristics, we are ideally suited for fully integrated (structure-embedded no-radome) systems.
Isn’t a ThinKom VICTS antenna more expensive than a conventional gimbled or flat panel aero antenna?
Bill Milroy: Price is of course always a sensitive subject to discuss. In that regard, I think it’s abundantly clear that we produce a highly cost-competitive, best-value product, as evidenced by our numerous competitively-selected market “wins,” including both those that are publically known…and those that will soon be.
SMW: At WRC 2019, major interference standards were codified for interference between GEO and NGSO satellites and systems and 5G terrestrial networks. Does the ThinKom VICTS compare with these standards vs. ESAs?
Bill Milroy: Major regulatory bodies, the ITU and WRC, have awakened to the interference threats posed by aircraft operating broadband services via NGSOs to satellites in the GSO arc as well as to 5G terrestrial networks employing the same shared frequencies on the ground.
Specifically, the ITU Article 22 specifies that terminals operating on NGSO satellites (which can be located anywhere in the sky) must limit their emissions so as not to interfere with GEO satellites. Different types of phased arrays differ in their ability to achieve compliance with the new requirements.
While gimbaled flat-plate and phased-array antennas have, in general, been designed to protect the GSO plane, the elevated sidelobes emitted by these antennas are problematic when operating with NGSOs making them unlikely to meet ITU requirements.
An additional (brand new) regulatory challenge for phased-array antennas is the fact that many countries plan to (re)use for terrestrial 5G point-to-point back-haul and distribution services, the same frequencies as satellite systems. Hence, the most recent drafting of the WRC-19 “EISM” rules which establish new standards to protect terrestrial 5G networks from interference from airborne (and maritime) terminals.
Our VICTS-based phased-arrays uniquely meet both the ITU Article 22 and WRC 19 interoperability requirements, as we exhibit unusually low “below horizon” emissions and well-managed above-horizon emissions with no grating lobes or elevated sidelobe floors.
In conclusion, the unique design of our mechanically steered VICTS antenna results in a suprising series of advantages over conventional ESAs. Our antenna is more efficient, performs much better at low look angles and has proven itself on a large number of commercial aircraft. That's a record conventional ESAs will find hard to match.
Flat Panel ESAs vs. ThinKom's VICTS - Challenge in the Air
With Bill Milroy, ThinKom CTO
"...in both GSO and NGSO beam switching scenarios, the ThinKom antenna switches from beam to beam in less or equivalent time than it takes for the satellite network to switch the IP stream from beam to beam or satellite to satellite in a typical satellite constellation."
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About Bill Milroy
Prior to co-founding ThinKom, Bill Milroy held the position of Senior Engineering Fellow within the Electromagnetic Systems Department of Raytheon’s Electronic Systems (ES) Segment.
During his 20 year tenure at Raytheon (Hughes Aircraft), Mr. Milroy managed and lead the RF antenna design, development, and production of a wide range of antenna array implementations for radar and communication applications in both the commercial and military marketplaces including 1-D and 2-D Electronically-Scanned Arrays (ESA’s).
Bill is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, earning BSEE, MSEE, and Engineer (Ph.D. course, field, and examination requirements) degrees in 1979, 1981, and 1986, respectively and is a graduate of the Hughes (Raytheon) Corporate Program Manager Development Course at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business Management.
There are many mobility related satellite industry events and unless you have an unlimited budget, here are the "must attends" (in blue) and others that may be of interest.
****RESCHEDULED: Asia Pacific Maritime: 30 September- 2 October, Singapore
Biggest maritime show in Asia.
****CABSAT: RESCHEDULED: October 28-Nov l: Dubai, Emerates: The major satellite show in the Middle East. Global VSAT Forum is presenting a special program at the show. For further information contact Martin Jerrold of GVF.
*****SeaTrade Cruise Global, Miami: RESCHEDULED: 12-15 April 2021: The Cruise Industry is a huge user of VSAT services. making this show an important venue. It should not be missed - an important event for satellite service suppliers.
****Posidonia: RESCHEDULED 28-30 October Athens, Greece: Another important show maritime VSAT, especially for those targeting the tanker and container segment.
****CommunicAsia: RESCHEDULED September 30 -October 1, Singapore
The biggest communications trade show in Asia. Not to be missed.
****Global Connected Aircraft: June 2-3 Denver: A popular conference address in commercial aircraft connectivity.
*****Small Satellite Conference: Logan, Utah: August 1-6. Unquestionably the best small satellite conference available. With over 3,000 attendees, this conference is enormously popular.
****SMM: Hamburg, Germany' September 8-11 September 2020: A must attend for those interested in VSAT use in the cargo segments.
******World Satellite Business Week: Paris, France: 10:14 September. Unquestionably, the best satellite conference of the year. WSBW bring together all of the top executives in the industry in an intimate, networking atmosphere at the Westin.
Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events
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