Volume V, No. VII July-August 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"
Highlighting Disruptive, New, Mobility-Focused Satellite Ventures and Technologies
"Reality Check: The Over-Hyped Market for Flat Panel ESAs"
"RigNet on the Move: VSAT, AI and the Race to the Digital Oilfield" with CEO Steven Pickett
"With Billions at Stake, Can LEOs Meet the FCC's Latency Hurdle?" with Xiplink V.P. Karim Fodil-Lemelin
"Eyes in the Oilfield: AI Data Analytics in Action" with Osperity CEO, Scott Chris
Satellite mobility World
In This Issue...
Spotlight on Artificial Intelligence
Welcome to the July-August 2020 Issue of Satellite Mobility World. We're closing out the season with a review of two controversial topics and a look at AI's impact in the oilfield.
In our Editorial, Reality Check: The Over-Hyped Market for Flat Panel ESAs, we're challenging the overblown market projections for Electronically Steered Antennas. Find out why we view ESA's as boutique products, not mass-market solutions.
Next, we look at Starlink's efforts to beat the 100 ms latency barrier and qualify for a slice of the FCC's multi-billion-dollar Rural Broadband Fund. Can LEOs break that barrier? To find out, we went to the experts.
In an interview with Xiplink's Sr. V.P. of Engineering Karim Fodil-Lemelin, you'll find a comprehensive overview of the network congestion in all satellite networks, LEO, MEO or GEO, how it effects latency and how to minimize its impact. In the next section, we look at Artificial Intelligence and its exciting future in the energy industry.
In an interview with RigNet CEO, Steven Picket, find out how he's leveraged an Artificial Intelligence acquisition into entirely new lines of business. In our start-up company segment, we look at Osperity, an AI- driven, VC-backed start-up that does remote video inspection of oilfield assets using AI. Enjoy this exciting issue, and have a lovely summer!
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Table of Contents...
"Hot News and Commentary" (pg.3)
"SmallSat News and Ventures" (pg. 4)
Editorially Speaking: "Reality Check: The Over-Hyped Market for Flat Panel ESAs" (pg. 5)
"RigNet on the Move: VSAT, AI and the Race to the Digital Oilfield" With RigNet CEO, Steven Pickett (pg. 15)
"With Billions at Stake: Can LEOs Meet the FCC Latency Hurdle? (pg. 26)
"Eyes in the Oilfield: AI Data Analytics in Action" with Osperity CEO, Scott Chris (pg. 31)
"Recommended Upcoming Industry Events
SATELLITE MOBILITY WORLD
British and Bharti Each Invest $500 Million to Resurrect OneWeb
London - July 2: The U.K. government and Indian telecommunications giant Bharti have each invested $500 Million to resurrect OneWeb, and each will receive a 45 percent interest, with the remaining 10 percent going to existing investors.
According to published sources, initially, the U.K. investment was intended to convert the satellite broadband constellation into a GPS constellation, after being blocked by the E.U. from using the Galileo satellites. However, based on comments from Alok Sharma, British Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, the intent of the buyers may be to resurrect the constellation as a broadband provider, not the GPS constellation British Prime Minister Boris Johnson intended. Congratulations to the U.K. politicians and Bharti, you are now co-owners of a big mess, and it seems you are not sure of what you want to do with it.
We've written several times about the absurdity of this venture. We have pointed to its shrinking and poorly defined market, its need for a multitude of expensive ground stations, the extreme regulatory hurdles it faces, and the competition from Starlink, Amazon, and the GEO operators - not to mention its out of control costs. No amount of rescue money or the additional $2.5 billion it's estimated to cost to complete the constellation will generate the number of customers needed to make the venture economically viable. We predicted bankruptcy once, and we are predicting it again.
Yona Ovadia Steps Down as Gilat’s CEO, Adi Sfadia Named as Interim CEO of Gilat
Petah Tikva, Israel, July 2, 2020 — Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. (NASDAQ, TASE: GILT), a worldwide leader in satellite networking technology, solutions and services, announces that Yona Ovadia steps down as Gilat’s CEO effective immediately. Adi Sfadia, Gilat’s CFO and Chief Integration Officer will assume the position of interim CEO. Mr. Ovadia will remain as a consultant of the Company and continue assisting in the integration with Comtech.
Dov Baharav, Chairman of the Board of Directors stated, “On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, we are highly appreciative of Mr. Ovadia’s contribution in leading Gilat over the past four years, during which time he achieved remarkable results and turned the company into a significant profitable player in the satellite communications market, particularly in the Mobility and Cellular Backhaul segments and most recently in the Non GEO Stationary Orbit (NGSO) market”.
Yona Ovadia said, “I would like to thank Gilat’s employees and management team for the tremendous efforts and achievements that have brought us to this point. I have great faith in Gilat and its innovative technology, and more so in the incredible talent, professionalism, and dedication of Gilat’s and Wavestream’s employees worldwide, which I trust will continue to propel Gilat to even further success. I would also like to use this opportunity to thank Gilat’s chairman of the board, as well as all the board members for their trust and support over the last four years and to wish Gilat under the new capable leadership of Adi Sfadia great success”.
Layoffs in Satellite Industry Exceed 2,000 - More Expected
Washington D.C. 16 June 2020: Layoffs in the Satellite Industry are reaching unprecedented levels. Triggered by Covid-19 reductions in demand for Cruise and Aero bandwidth capacity and the associated general economic malaise, major satellite operators and integrators have already made significant reductions in staff. Personnel reductions so far include around 350 at OneWeb, 320 and ViaSat, 600 at Gogp, 223 at Panasonic Avionics , an estimated 250 at SES, and 150 at Speedcast. At Speedcast, revenues is projected to fall around $100 million.
Intelsat is also likely to cut staff as the satellite operator just reported a reduction in backlog from $7 billion at the end of 2019 to $6.6 billion at the end of Q., a $400 million reduction. While we have not yet heard of reductions at Marlink or Inmarsat, its likely that they too will be reducing headcount.
ThinKom Achieves New Milestones for Its IFC Antennas, Demonstrates Interoperability with New LEO, MEO and GEO Satellites
HAWTHORNE, Calif. – June 22, 2020 – ThinKom Solutions, Inc., today announced its Ku3030 aero satellite antennas have been installed on more than 1,550 commercial aircraft of 16 major airlines. The antennas have accrued over 17 million flight hours and have achieved in excess of 100,000 hours mean-time-before-failure (MTBF) while supporting industry-leading 98 percent end-to-end system availability.
The Ku3030, underpinned by ThinKom’s patented VICTS flat-panel phased array technology, is the core antenna subsystem employed by industry-leader Gogo in its 2Ku in-flight connectivity (IFC) systems.
ThinKom also reported the Ku3030 antennas recently completed successful OEM line-fit qualification testing by major airframe manufacturers.
“While we’re proud of our impressive record of best-in-class performance and reliability metrics for our patented VICTS antenna technology to date, we’re not resting on our laurels. We continue making operational software enhancements to further improve reliability and the network efficiency of our systems,” said Bill Milroy, chief technology officer of ThinKom Solutions, who added that the software updates can easily be uploaded to existing aircraft installations.
Ka-Band Products Commercially Available
ThinKom’s Ka-band IFC antennas, using the same VICTS technology, are now in production. The Ka2517 antennas are fully operational on a fleet of U.S. government aircraft and are nearing introduction on several commercial airline fleets. Multiple supplemental type certificates (STCs) are in process and are expected to be awarded this year.
ThinKom has worked closely with Gogo to develop an economical and efficient process to convert 2Ku systems to Ka-band for airlines seeking to transition to a Ka IFC solution. This offering is a very cost-effective procedure which can be completed during an overnight service.
On-Air Tests Confirm Multi-Constellation Interoperability
“We’re looking to a future that will be characterized by multiple frequency bands and satellite constellations, and we’re actively working to ensure our IFC solutions provide the required rapid switching speeds and agility to track and switch seamlessly and reliably between beams, satellites and constellations. The ability of ThinKom’s VICTS antennas to effectively operate between satellite networks is the key enabler for IFC systems being able to operate globally and benefit from the lowest latency available,” Milroy said.
In recent months, ThinKom’s Ku- and Ka-band IFC antennas completed multiple ground and in-flight tests demonstrating seamless interoperability across low-Earth orbit (LEO), medium-Earth orbit (MEO) and high-throughput geostationary (GEO) satellite constellations. The live on-air testbeds included OneWeb LEO, Telesat LEO 1 and SES’ GEO and O3b MEO satellites.
In all cases, the ThinKom antennas met or exceeded all test parameters, including spectral efficiency, data throughput rates, beam agility, switching speeds, ASI interference, low-angle tracking and inter-constellation roaming.
The company has also confirmed that its antennas comply with the latest international regulatory requirements, including ITU Article 22, which restricts NGSO terminal emissions to GEO satellites, and the new WRC-19 ESIM rules to protect terrestrial 5G networks operating in the Ka-band from interference emitted by airborne satellite terminals.
Gilat Announces Availability of its Flagship VSAT, Achieving Half a Gigabit of Concurrent Speeds
Capricorn PLUS provides highest RTN Speed over MF-TDMA channel of up to 100 Mbps, enabling full satellite network resource utilization, under any link condition and service needs
Petah Tikva, Israel, June 18, 2020 — Gilat Satellite Networks Ltd. (NASDAQ, TASE: GILT), a worldwide leader in satellite networking technology, solutions and services, announces the availability of its flagship VSAT, Capricorn PLUS, which achieves half a gigabit of concurrent speeds. The VSAT attains highest MF-TDMA channel rate of 100Mbps over a 30Msps channel enabling full satellite network resource utilization under any link conditions and service needs.
Gilat’s high-speed VSAT, Capricorn PLUS, is future-ready, built with support for Multi Access Edge Computing (MEC) infrastructure – enabling next generation edge services, such as video caching and IoT gateways. In addition, Capricorn PLUS was designed to serve with maximum efficiency data intensive applications such as 5G backhauling, maritime and enterprise.
“Gilat is excited to release its outstanding VSAT, Capricorn PLUS, achieving speeds of 400/100Mbps while maintaining the integrity of high priority flows, such as cellular signaling, even in the most congested scenarios, to provide our customers with the required performance for the most demanding applications,” said Alik Shimelmits, Chief Technology & Product Officer at Gilat. “Capricorn PLUS enables support of a wide variety of applications requiring a range of different speed terminals, all sharing the same inbound network infrastructure.”
SES Selects Two U.S. Companies to Build Four New Satellites as Part of Accelerated C-Band Clearing Plan
Northrop Grumman and the Boeing Company to manufacture and assemble the C-band only satellites in Dulles, Virginia and in Los Angeles, California
Luxembourg, 16 June 2020 – SES, the leader in global content connectivity solutions, announces it has selected two U.S. satellite manufacturers, Northrop Grumman and the Boeing Company, to deliver four new satellites as part of the company’s accelerated C-band clearing plan to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s objectives to roll-out 5G services.
Northrop Grumman will deliver two flight-proven GeoStar-3 satellites, each equipped with a high-quality C-band payload to deliver the superior customer experience that end users are accustomed to. The two satellites – SES-18 and SES-19 – will be designed, assembled and tested in Dulles, Virginia.
The Boeing Company will deliver a pair of highly efficient all-electric 702 SP satellites. The two satellites – SES-20 and SES-21 – will be manufactured and assembled in Los Angeles, California.
These four C-band only new satellites will enable SES to clear 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum for 5G use while seamlessly migrating SES’s existing C-band customers. Each satellite will have 10 primary transponders of 36 MHz plus back-up tubes so they can enable the broadcast delivery of digital television to more than 120 million TV homes as well as provide critical data services. The satellites, when launched in Q3 2022, will be positioned at 103 degrees West, 131 degrees West and 135 degrees West orbital slots. The cost of manufacturing these four satellites is part of the USD 1.6 billion investment envelope that SES has announced in May.
SES is committed to investing in America by procuring services and equipment needed for the C-band transition from large and small businesses across the U.S., and these significant partnerships with Northrop Grumman and the Boeing Company are cornerstones of that commitment.
“Given the FCC’s strong leadership in providing for accelerated clearing of precious
C-band spectrum in the U.S., our focus is on delivering on our commitment and making the spectrum available in the shortest possible time while ensuring that we protect the broadcast customers and communities that we have built over 35 years,” said Steve Collar, CEO at SES. “To meet our deadlines to clear C-band spectrum, we have selected established American satellite manufacturers in Northrop Grumman and Boeing with their focus on heritage, reliability and minimal risk to build these four satellites, enabling us to fully support the FCC’s 5G Fast initiative.”
ALCAN Announces Electronic Beam Steering Ground Antenna for LEO and MEO Satellite Service Use at a Low Price of EUR 1,500
ALCAN Systems, a smart antenna startup from Germany, announces today the start of its product development program to produce a fixed ground terminal with an electronically steerable flat-panel antenna for Low Earth orbit (LEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellations that operate on Ka-Band frequencies.
The program is aiming to initiate production in 18 months and make its first antenna deliveries to initial customers by Q4 2021. The antenna is based on ALCAN’s innovative liquid crystal based phased array antenna technology that achieves the lowest unit cost and power consumption performance in the industry:
The antenna will be priced at EUR 1,500 (full terminal price estimated at EUR 2,500) and can achieve throughputs in excess of 400 Mbps. It will also feature:
2D beam steering and will operate across a wide scan angle of +/-55 degrees.
Full-duplex and have slew times less than 30 ms, enabling better than 99.5% signal throughput.
Compact at 55 cm x 99 cm x 9 cm and have a weight less than 20 Kg. The power consumption of the antenna (including LNB and BUC) will be less than 100 W.
A modular design that and will allow multiple antennas to be combined to achieve higher gain/throughput based on the needs of the customers.
ALCAN is working with its partners to build a mass-production supply chain and assembly capability for the antenna and is targeting first customer deliveries for Q4 2021.
Globalstar Announces New Ground Station In Argentina Extending Service Throughout Latin America
COVINGTON, La.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jun. 11, 2020-- Globalstar, Inc. (NYSE American: GSAT) has announced the deployment of a new ground station with second-generation technology in Córdoba, Argentina. The new infrastructure enables voice calls, two-way data communication and internet connection, extending Globalstar’s service throughout South America.
The new station will allow uninterrupted coverage in the territories of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The installation demonstrates Globalstar’s continued investment in infrastructure development in the Latin and South America regions.
“By expanding our coverage, Globalstar has consolidated its presence in Latin and South America, allowing us to continue to offer efficient and reliable satellite solutions to our clients,” commented Juan Porras, General Manager of Globalstar Latin America. "Expanding coverage in the Latin American region is a key step in our global growth strategy," added Jake Rembert, Vice President of Sales for Globalstar.
The Argentina ground station will work in conjunction with Globalstar’s low earth orbit satellite network, directing satellite signals to Globalstar’s IoT, Duplex and SPOT products. The station will also enable second-generation equipment like the Sat-Fi2, which connects devices with internet connection in locations beyond cellular coverage.
Telefónica Puts Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO Satellite to the Test
Testing campaign confirms Telesat LEO provides superior near fiber-like performance for high-end satellite services
MADRID, SPAIN AND OTTAWA, CANADA, JUNE 04, 2020 –Telesat, a leading global satellite operator, and Telefónica International Wholesale Services (TIWS), the international wholesale services provider of the Telefónica Group, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, have completed live in-orbit testing across a wide range of applications on Telesat’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Phase 1 satellite.
With a mission to increase agility and improve operational efficiencies, TIWS partnered with Telesat on a rigorous testing campaign to explore the performance and feasibility of leveraging LEO satellites for high-end services. Testing demonstrated that Telesat LEO could be a viable option for wireless backhaul and presents a substantial improvement in performance over geostationary orbit (GEO) links, without the use of compression or TCP acceleration techniques that are typically required in 650ms latency GEO environments.
Applications tested over Telesat LEO resulted in observed round trip latency of 30-60 msec without any packet loss. Test scenarios included:
High definition video streaming, without interruption.
Video conference with teams, demonstrating consistent fluidity of movement and voice transmission with user experience matching terrestrial and cellular connections.
Remote desktop connection to seamlessly manage a remote computer.
VPN connection without any delay or outages.
FTP encrypted file transfers of 2 GB in both directions.
IPSec tunnel encryption with no reduction in the performance of the link.
“As we plan, design and build our offerings to provide best-in-class connectivity for our customers, we are eager to explore how cutting-edge technologies like Telesat LEO can integrate with our global connectivity infrastructure,” explains Gustavo Arditti, TIWS Satellite Business Unit Director. “Across every application tested, Telesat LEO delivered an outstanding performance, with significant improvements over what we can achieve via GEO satellites today.”
“The ability to demonstrate fibre-like performance via satellite across a number of applications that perform poorly on GEO satellite backhaul is a testament to the capabilities of our Telesat LEO network,” stated Erwin Hudson, Vice President, Telesat LEO. “With its high-throughput links, ultra-low latency, and disruptive economics, Telesat LEO offers an unparalleled value proposition to expand the reach of 4G and 5G networks.”
Altitude Angel and Inmarsat to Offer Air Traffic Management for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
11 June 2020: Altitude Angel, the world’s leading UTM (Unmanned Traffic Management) technology provider, and Inmarsat, the world leader in global mobile satellite communications, today announced a collaboration to develop and deliver advanced flight tracking and management capability for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones.
The two companies will build on Altitude Angel’s GuardianUTM platform to jointly develop a ‘Pop-Up UTM’ capability that can be deployed anywhere it is required to manage Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) UAV flights, without the need for ground-based communications infrastructure. By utilising Inmarsat’s world-leading global network of satellites and leveraging its substantial experience in Air Traffic Management (ATM) communications, Altitude Angel’s Pop-Up UTM can be accessed rapidly and deployed worldwide.
The Pop-Up UTM will be developed initially to address the unmanned traffic management needs of blue light emergency services and first responders who need aerial surveillance rapidly with little notice, with a commercial, industry-focussed product to follow soon after. Through this technology, emergency services will be able to manage UAVs remotely, increasing their range of safe operations in mixed airspace containing manned and unmanned vehicles.
SMS Teleport and siHealth Partner to Boost Mobile Healthcare Solutions
Rugby, UK: 8 June 2020: Satellite Mediaport Services Ltd. (SMS Teleport), the largest independent teleport in the United Kingdom, and siHealth Ltd., an innovative healthcare technology solutions company serving the healthcare industry, today announced a partnership for using satellite technologies to provide cognitive mobile healthcare solutions, to enhance and support disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle.
SMS Teleport will be providing siHealth with an array of teleport services enabling greater access to the satellite data required for its mobile solutions offerings.
“Healthcare’s transition towards utilization of satellite-based technologies for innovative yet practical solutions provides another example of how SMS Teleport works with exciting movers and shakers like siHealth,” stated Zvi Golod, CEO of SMS Teleport. “We are very happy to be working with them and look forward to evolving a strong working relationship and supporting them to deliver change to the market.”
“Our satellite-based healthcare solutions help to support practitioners, clinicians, and healthcare providers to deliver the best healthcare possible. Solutions that fit naturally into the life flow of every individual’s, family’s and community’s daily activities, and uses the environment around us to our benefit. Together with partners like SMS Teleport, we are adding more utility and further refining the data our users can access to improve their health practices,” said Emilio Simeone, CEO of siHealth. “As we move into the summer, maintaining greater awareness of our surroundings and the Covid-19 virus, siHealth is looking forward to a welcoming future.”
Hot News and Commentary
New Hawkeye 360 Radar Signals Delivers Comprehensive Maritime Awareness
New S-band and Expanded X-band signals increases the number of trackable dark ships
Herndon, Virginia (June 25, 2020) —HawkEye 360 Inc., the first commercial company to use formation flying satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) data and data analytics, today announced that the company’s flagship RFGeo product can now map an expanded catalog of marine navigation radar signals to further improve global maritime situational awareness. With this update, HawkEye 360 introduces the first S-band radar signal and quadruples the number of X-band radar signals in the company’s library. HawkEye 360 can now cover the most used frequencies for X-band magnetron-based radar systems, providing a more comprehensive view of maritime activity.
“We’re addressing critical gaps in Maritime Domain Awareness by revealing an entirely new data layer for vessel monitoring,” said John Serafini, Chief Executive Officer, HawkEye 360. “We’re excited to introduce our first signal in the S-band frequencies. By expanding our signal catalog, we’re not just collecting new and diverse RF data sets, we’re providing actionable intelligence to support the increasing number and scale of our customers’ missions.”
Vessels continuously operate marine radars to safely navigate from point to point and avoid nearby obstacles, making them an excellent means to track vessels that have otherwise ceased AIS transmissions and gone dark. Commercial vessels 300 gross tonnage or larger are required to be equipped with X-band radars (9 GHz). The largest vessels also carry S-band radars (3 GHz) to penetrate deeper through rain or fog. Each new signal improves Hawkeye 360’s ability to develop vessel profiles. This data helps clients identify dark vessels that might be involved in illicit activities, such as smuggling or illegal fishing.
ICEYE Now Contributing to the International Disasters Charter
New radar satellite imaging source for the International Disaster Charter helps during and after major disasters. ICEYE’s first imagery for the Charter was already shared in response to recent flooding in Somalia.
Helsinki, FINLAND – June 25, 2020 – The Finnish New Space company ICEYE is now providing radar imaging data from its commercial synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) satellite constellation to the International Charter Space and Major Disasters for use in monitoring and response activities. ICEYE provides these images at no cost to the Charter’s Authorised Users to enable wider and more timely information access for disaster events worldwide.
The International Charter provides Earth observation data for use in monitoring and response activities, acquired by the satellites of its 17 members, contributing partners, and data contributors, to support disaster response worldwide.
ICEYE is building and operating its own satellite constellation of radar imaging satellites and adds SAR data collected from its commercially available satellites to the Charter’s portfolio. Since 2019, and through a procedure managed by ESA, the company has become an approved Charter data contributor.
ICEYE’s SAR satellite constellation allows for timely mapping, monitoring, and change detection analysis after disasters. Example use cases for Authorised Charter Users include pre- and post-event analysis of infrastructure, assessing property and agricultural damages, mapping the effects of floods, volcanic eruptions and landslide incidents, and measuring oil spill extents.
ICEYE's satellite constellation is growing with additional spacecraft being produced and launched each year. The company offers X-band SAR data in several imaging modes, including very high resolutions in single look complex (SLC) and ground range detected (GRD) image formats.
Astranis Passes Major Technical Milestone for MicroGEO Satellite Line
Astranis successfully completes thermal-vacuum testing of MicroGEO qualification vehicle, is one step closer to launching its first commercial satellite to provide affordable broadband internet for Alaska.
June 15, 2020 (San Francisco, CA) — Microsatellite developer Astranis has successfully concluded thermal-vacuum testing of a qualification vehicle developed for their MicroGEO product line of small communication satellites, validating the technology’s ability to operate in the harsh environment of space. This successful test marks a major milestone on the path to delivering low-cost broadband internet to underserved populations around the world, starting with Astranis’ first commercial satellite to provide internet in Alaska.
“This is the single largest technical de-risking milestone for this product and for our first commercial program,” said Astranis CEO John Gedmark. “To get to this point, all the different aspects of the vehicle had to come together and work as a system—avionics, power electronics, the payload, the structure, the software, and more. Then we really pushed it to the limits. The fact that we passed this test with flying colors speaks volumes to the dedication and talent of our team. And it brings us one step closer to helping hundreds of thousands of Alaskans gain reliable access to broadband internet.”
A qualification vehicle test accomplishes two things. First, it allows the engineering team to characterize the thermal behavior of the vehicle. Second, it pushes a vehicle to significantly higher levels than it will expect to see on orbit and sees if the vehicle can continue to operate. Astranis succeeded on both counts. Astranis made use of a highly-specialized vacuum chamber at an NTS space center-of-excellence facility in Los Angeles, California. This specialized thermal vacuum chamber paired with a custom-designed shroud was able to generate both extreme hot and cold temperatures needed for the qualification testing. The chamber was pumped down to near vacuum, and Astranis engineers then powered up the vehicle, ran through a series of functionality checks, and began to operate the vehicle as the test environment was adjusted across a wide range of temperatures. The spacecraft was exposed to pressures as low as 7 x 10-6 Torr (about one one-hundred-millionth the density of Earth's atmosphere.
Astranis will launch its first commercial satellite to Geostationary Orbit (GSO) in 2021, a satellite that will more than triple the available satellite bandwidth serving Alaska. They are partnering with Pacific Dataport Inc., a subsidiary of Microcom, Alaska’s largest satellite TV and internet provider, to deliver affordable broadband internet to the state. Astranis will design, manufacture, and operate the satellite, which will launch on a SpaceX rocket next year.
“We have to turn away customers every day who want more bandwidth,” says Chuck Schumann, CEO of Pacific Dataport Inc. “This first satellite from Astranis will enable Alaskans living in remote locations to get reliable access to the internet for the first time, and will reduce internet prices across the state. The success of this qualification TVAC test shows that Astranis and Microcom can deliver on their promise to the people of Alaska.”
After the success of this test, the Astranis team will complete a final wave of system-level and unit-level tests before commencing with the assembly, integration, and test phase of the flight vehicle— the final steps before shipping the satellite to launch from the historic facilities at Cape Canaveral.
PredaSAR Announces Advanced 48 Satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Constellation for Government, Commercial Applications
BOCA RATON, FLA. – JUNE 18, 2020 – PredaSAR Corporation announced today that it will launch a constellation of 48 commercial Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites across multiple orbits. This groundbreaking constellation will be the world’s largest and most advanced commercial SAR satellite constellation and provide PredaSAR’s government and commercial clients with unprecedented image quality, unmatched global persistence, and rapid data delivery.
PredaSAR is led by a highly respected CEO, Major General Roger Teague, USAF (Ret), and a seasoned executive team with extensive national security space expertise and substantial access to capital. A U.S. owned and controlled company, PredaSAR is supported by a Board of Directors who bring over 100 years of national security experience, including General William Shelton, USAF (Ret), Lieutenant General Richard Newton, USAF (Ret), and Major General Douglas Raaberg, USAF (Ret).
“I am thrilled to announce the 48 satellite PredaSAR constellation. It delivers unparalleled capabilities that meet the most demanding national security needs addressable by a commercial constellation, demonstrating our commitment to our U.S. Government clients. Setting such a high bar also allows PredaSAR to deliver outstanding products and services for our commercial customers,” said PredaSAR Executive Chairman and Co-Founder Marc Bell. “PredaSAR features a well-known and respected leadership team of trusted professionals with extraordinary depth and experience across both government and industry. With groundbreaking commercial technology, the PredaSAR constellation will deliver best-in-class, advanced SAR data products and services.”
PredaSAR spacecraft employ an advanced, proprietary radar payload to create 2D Synthetic Aperture Radar images, 3D reconstructions of objects and the Earth’s surface, and customer-tailored data products. SAR satellites provide high-resolution images at any time of day and in any weather condition, overcoming natural limitations of traditional optical satellites. PredaSAR spacecraft possess the latest in space-proven, high quality satellite systems to support scalable and fully capable operations in any orbit. Leveraging its advanced technologies, PredaSAR will deliver critical insights and data products to military and commercial decision makers at the speed of need.
“This is an exciting time to be in the commercial space industry. Today, more than ever, commercial space companies are delivering unprecedented value to the United States government, enabling military, intelligence, and commercial customers to maintain ever-critical U.S. leadership across their enterprises and markets,” commented PredaSAR CEO Roger Teague. “PredaSAR looks forward to meeting the challenges of our customers to deliver compelling SAR products and services.”
Founded in 2019, PredaSAR Corporation is building and will operate the world’s largest and most advanced commercially operated Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite constellation, providing end-to-end solutions to both government and commercial clients. PredaSAR is the clear choice for compelling SAR solutions, backed by a trusted and experienced, mission-savvy leadership team with strategic access to capital and cutting-edge satellite technology.
VERTICAL M2M & Astrocast Partner to Bring Low Cost & Two Way Communication IoT Solutions to Industries Through Nanosatellites
Paris, France, - June 9, 2020 – Astrocast, the developers of the world’s first IoT Nanosatellite Network, and VERTICAL M2M, a leading Industrial IoT Platform provider with its CommonSense IoT Platform® solution, today announce a partnership to enhance delivery of IoT solutions for the Oil & Gas, Smart Farming and Transportation and logistics industries. Together the companies will enable customers with IoT devices in remote locations, without connectivity, to receive critical data and updates and send commands to these assets from anywhere in the world.
“We are committed to offering our customers the best connectivity options available and helping them to successfully deploy their IoT applications,” says Maurice Zembra, CEO of Vertical M2M. “Astrocast is one of the few players with the nanosatellite expertise and technological advantages such as data compression and processing, and the ability to deliver a cost-effective way for our customers to fill in the connectivity gaps that terrestrial networks cannot cover.”
While the majority of the world is without connectivity, certain industries require a secure and reliable way to communicate with their assets at all times. Monitoring these assets is key to the success of their business. Astrocast and Vertical M2M plan to focus on highly resilient solutions for three key industries where traditional terrestrial connectivity may be out-of-reach :
Oil & Gas:
Pipeline leak detection and prevention.
Remote monitoring of key measurements (pressure, gas presence) for off-shore drilling rigs and security for remote workers.
Remote management of crops.
Livestock health monitoring and management.
Transportation & Logistics:
Supply Chain efficiency and delivery time improvement.
“We are excited to work with IoT pioneers like Vertical M2M and become a part of their ecosystem. Together we will build reliable and affordable solutions for these markets,” said Fabien Jordan CEO of Astrocast. “The combination of our platforms brings ultimate flexibility, reliability, and coverage to industries that have traditional struggled to monitor and maintain remote assets.”
The Astrocast secure, bi-directional IoT Nanosatellite Network and CommonSense IoT Platform®, a versatile, feature-rich industrial platform that makes it simple to go from sensors to tailor-made applications, will soon showcase joint IoT applications that fulfill the requirements of key challenges for remote asset monitoring and management.
Smallsat News and Ventures
Over-hyped by market research projecting a multi-billion-dollar market, over a dozen firms are locked in a seemingly endless race to produce the first inexpensive, commercial-grade, Electronically Steered Antenna (ESA). We believe these forecasts are flawed and that the demand for these antennas will be limited to small, high-value niche markets.
After years of trying, the goal of a sub $500 active ESA remains elusive. Despite years of effort, engineers have been unable to produce a product at this price. The problem is that to be successful, developers of any ESA need to overcome the fundamental laws of Physics. Given the current state of ESA development, the dream of a flat antenna on every roof, served by a vast network of LEO satellites, is a hope, rather than a likely reality.
The problem is that all of these antennas rely on large quantities of electronic components, typically thousands of individual patch antennas mounted on a PCB, to send and receive signals from the satellite. The problem is that the larger the antenna, the more ICs it requires. As the antenna is scaled up, it costs more, consumes more power, and generates more heat.
Flat panels are also inherently less efficient than comparable sized parabolic antennas, and the efficiency falls off rapidly at high latitudes when used with GEO satellites. So, in that application, their only advantage is their form factor. Another limitation is interference.
Due to the proximity of the send and receive ICs and the extreme power difference in send and receive operations, interference makes true duplex operation on an ESA nearly impossible. That’s why all the designs we have seen so far always have separate send and receive PCBs. The disadvantage of this design is that it drives up the antenna’s cost and the mounting space it requires. Another limitation of the antennas is the limited scan angle, which prevents them from accessing satellites below thirty degrees in elevation.
So, in reality, the limitations of ESAs restrict them to niche markets. They are a boutique product, attractive in some markets, unattractive in others. As a consequence, they are likely to remain a boutique product. Here is our overview of the potential for ESAs in several popular markets.
Maritime - Cruise:
The cruise market requires antennas with extremely high bandwidth capacity. Intellian’s 2.4 Meter Tri-Band antennas currently dominate this market. Unlike flat panels that can only support a single area of the spectrum, either Ka-Band or Ku-Band, Intellian Tri-Band antennas can be converted from Ka to Ku or C-Band on command.
Controlled by the Intellian “intelligent Mediator,” they can track LEOs and GEOs, and their IP data streams bonded to produce Gigabit-per-second speeds. Given so many advantages over a flat panel array and the availability of deck space aboard a cruise vessel, the Intellian Tri-Bands are likely to be the antennas of choice for years to come. On river cruise vessels, however, flat-panel arrays may find a home.
European river cruise vessels move in and out of cellular coverage and need satellite backup. They must pass under numerous low bridges, requiring conventional VSAT antennas to be mounted on platforms and raised and lowered. Here, an antenna with a flat form factor has a distinct advantage.
Maritime – Cargo:
With 40,000 VSATs already installed, mostly 1.0 Meter in size, this is a large market. Crews are small, usually 25 personnel or less, and while bandwidth requirements vary, most are under 1.5 Mbps on the downlink and 750 Kbps to 1 Mbps on the uplink. Here, Ku-Band is the most common frequency, while Fleet Xpress, which is Ka-Band, has less than ten per-cent of the market.
Under GEO satellites, it’s unlikely that flat-panel arrays could compete due to the low satellite elevation angles encountered at high latitudes and in rolling seas. In this market, operating costs are a big issue.
GEO Ku-Bandwidth prices are falling rapidly, and additional HTS capacity continues to become available, forcing connectivity prices lower and lower. Because the cargo VSAT market is extremely cost-sensitive, operating pricing will dictate the type of connectivity and antennas. Here, we expect LEO operators to find their lower latency advantage hard to sell unless they can demonstrate a significant cost advantage.
Airlines – Large Commercial Aircraft:
In commercial Jet markets, LEOs will be popular, especially on aircraft that operate across high latitude Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific routes. As a result of this advantage, flat panel antennas will likely be installed on commercial jets that operate at high latitudes as soon as LEO connectivity is available. Transition to flat panels on large aircraft operating at lower latitudes is likely to occur, although replacing existing antenna infrastructure will significantly slow market penetration. By the time LEOs are available, the domestic aero Wi-Fi market will be mostly saturated, and the displacement of existing gimbaled antennas will be very expensive. Competition from Thinkom VICTS antenna is also a factor limiting potential ESA market penetration.
Thinkom’s antennas can handle LEOs. They can switch beams in an interval less than the time it takes the network to switch from satellite to satellite, and they are capable of look angles as low as twenty degrees. Their antennas are installed on over 1,500 aircraft and are likely to capture a much larger share of the 25,000 plane global market.
Other Aircraft – Regional Jets and Business Jets:
12,000 business jets operate in the U.S., around 70 per-cent of the global total. Flat-panel arrays would seem to be an ideal solution for this market. However, the reality is that they are unlikely to be competitive. Except for the largest business aircraft that fly trans-oceanic routes, we don’t expect to see any significant penetration of ESAs. Both Gogo and SmartSky are in the process of launching new Air to Ground (ATG) services.
The service offers 100 Mbps speeds, low latency and significant cost advantages. The cost of ATG installation and operation is much lower than satellite Internet. Typical operating costs for ATG are $1,000 to $5,000 per month, while satellite connectivity averages around $10,000 per month.
Besides, flat-panel arrays required for satellite reception cost significantly more than the bladed antenna systems commonly deployed for ATG.
Even though aircraft sometimes stray outside of coverage, L-Band backup can fill the void. Because these small aircraft carry a minimal number of passengers, L-Band capacity is sufficient, especially, the new higher-speed Iridium service.
As long as ATG's economic advantages remain in place, the service is likely to dominate the market.
Military vehicles, ambulances, buses, and other high-value vehicles are likely candidates for ESAs. Kymeta has already penetrated the ambulance market. They offer it combined with a cellular modem and sell it as a packaged service starting at $1,000 per month. Their success suggests that an enterprise-grade antenna in the low thousand-dollar range could be successful for both commercial and military vehicles operating outside the range of cellular networks.
While it’s difficult to define the size of this market, we believe that there is significant potential in markets that value the low latency offered by LEOs. Oil and Gas is one example. In this market, oil company operators want to run latency-sensitive programs over satellite. So, a low latency satellite connection makes sense.
Another example where ESAs make sense is the delivery of high-speed Internet to isolated ISPs. O3b's success in the Pacific Islands demonstrates the advantage of replacing the very large and expensive 2.4 Meter Antennas required with a single, large flat panel.
While the enterprise market for ESAs is large, it will almost certainly consist of a series of high-value niche markets, not one, large universally accessible market.
We don’t expect to see mass-market adoption of Electronically Steered Antennas. Their limited capabilities and high costs will restrict their use to a limited number of high-value niche markets. In each market, they will face different challenges. Some will be related to their high cost and technical shortcomings, and others will be competitive technologies such as ATG. Markets will grow niche by niche. Projections of a multi-billion-dollar ESA market will ultimately prove to be more wishful thinking than reality.
- Alan Gottlieb
Reality Check: The Over-Hyped Market for Flat Panel ESAs
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"Unlike flat panels that can only support a single slice of the spectrum, either Ka-Band or Ku-Band, Intellian Tri-Band antennas can be converted from Ka to Ku or C-Band on command. "
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An Interview with RigNet CEO, Steven Pickett
RigNet on the Move: VSAT, AI and the Race to the Digital Oilfield
The oilfield is going digital. With the end of $100 per barrel oil, operators are racing to lower costs, and they are implementing AI and IoT faster than ever before.
With change comes opportunity, and oilfield VSAT integrator RigNet is right out in front. With the acquisition of AI provider, Intelie, the company has set a whole new course beyond the traditional role of a simple VSAT provider.
Under the stewardship of CEO Steven Pickett, RigNet has evolved into a value-added solutions company capable of delivering new, AI-based digital efficiencies to the oil field. To find out how RigNet has managed the transition and what they have to offer oil and related industries, we sat down with Steven Pickett.
SMW: The environment in the oil and gas market is chaotic. Restrictions on oil and gas production and an increase in driving and air travel appear to suggest that the market is in the early stages of recovery. Are you seeing any changes in customer drilling commitments in the deep offshore drilling market? Are we at the bottom?
Steven Pickett: If we go back to the beginning of the crisis, the industry saw some stacking of offshore rigs. These “stackings”, where the rigs are idled, can be temporary, and in severe downturns, they can result in rigs being scrapped prematurely.
The good news is that some of the early decisions to halt activity in offshore drilling have been rescinded.
However, the most severe part of the industry downturn has been in the U.S. land market, where some shale frac’ing oil companies were already in a fragile state. The decline in U.S. onshore activity has been quite rapid in areas like the Permian Basin and Bakken regions. I hope that the situation is stabilizing and that we have seen the worst.
I should also mention that the current decline in offshore activity will likely not be as bad as the downturn we saw in 2014 - 2015. The market never really recovered from that downturn. So, today there is less distance to fall.
On a positive note, the decline in activity has placed an increased emphasis on improving efficiency and cutting costs, resulting in a trend in the implementation of innovative technologies such as real-time Machine Learning, enabling operators to digitize and operate profitably even at $30 to $40 per barrel oil price levels. That trend has been good for us, given our diversification into the value-added part of the market.
SMW: What are the key components of the “digital oilfield” and how is it changing drilling and production operations? Can you give us some examples?
Steven Pickett: I think the industry has talked for a long time about adopting digitalization strategies. There is no doubt that the deployment of digital technologies is now real, and it’s accelerating.
In the current crisis, there is a recognition that you have to work even faster to get excess costs out of the business, and digitalization does that. AI- backed Machine Learning is a prime example of the technology that delivers on that promise.
In terms of digitalization’s critical components, real-time Machine Learning is a primary focus, and the real-time element is of vital importance. An AI application needs to be integrated into the network to be real-time.
For example, if monitoring a blowout preventer, you need to know about a failure immediately to avert a potentially catastrophic event.
Another key element is the processing speed. You need to process enormous amounts of data instantaneously and generate an actionable response. To do that, you need tremendous computing power.
SMW: I understand you recently acquired Intelie, an AI-based company with those capabilities. Can you tell us about it?
Steven Pickett: Intelie solves both of these problems. It can process hundreds of thousands of data points per second, and it’s equipment/sensor agnostic. It’s a powerful, single platform that is flexible and easy to implement. Intelie and other AI applications are the primary components of the “digital oilfield.”
SMW: In addition to Intelie, you have also acquired Cyphre, a cybersecurity company. Can you tell us how these companies have enhanced the overall marketability of RigNet’s basic connectivity offerings?
Steven Pickett: Great observation, Alan. In addition to driving new revenue streams, both acquisitions have helped us differentiate our managed communications services business.
To expand on that, real-time Machine Learning capabilities such as those offered by Intelie deliver substantial savings for Energy and other companies. Let me give you a couple of examples.
In many parts of the world, there is a salt layer between the seafloor and the oil reservoirs. Historically, drilling contractors and operators have been challenged by a drill-bit’s propensity to get stuck in the salt layer. Sometimes, when that happens, they have to cut the drill pipe and start the well all over again, which can cost millions of dollars each time. One of our many applications for Intelie monitors the drilling operation. It looks for early indicators that a pipe could get stuck and recommends adjustments to minimize the possibility of that event.
Predictive maintenance is another example of how RigNet deploys Intelie in the oilfield. The application can give you an early warning if the equipment isn’t performing well and predict how long it will keep working before it needs to be repaired or replaced.
This application is especially valuable in the offshore drilling environment, where it is difficult to get equipment out to a remote offshore rig. Even on land, drilling sites may be in remote areas.
Because the predictive application can significantly reduce downtime, it’s especially valuable and delivers very outstanding ROI.
If problems dealing with stuck pipes cost you $100 million per year or unexpected breakdowns of critical equipment cause downtime and increase your maintenance costs, you want to make sure that your AI application is working…all the time. Reliable communication is essential.
Because the satellite network environment is harsh, applications don’t always work well. High levels of latency and high bit error rates can be a problem, especially with AI, ERP, and other latency-sensitive applications.
Cybersecurity is another consideration, and that's where our Cyphre acquisition is relevant.
Some of the data transmitted over our networks about individual wells, reservoir data, equipment performance, etc., can be highly sensitive, and protecting it from outside intruders is becoming increasingly important. Cyphre’s hardware-based encryption technology ‘blackens’ a customer’s network and prevents anyone who could possibly intercept the data from being able to decode it.
As suppliers of AI and the connectivity, we can take steps to “tune” the network and applications to maximize the uptime. That’s why our customers see a lot of value in getting these applications from the provider of a secure network. That’s how our value-added AI capability helps drive our communications business.
SMW: To support AI analysis, you need to gather and store a lot of data. How is it stored and accessed by the client?
Steven Pickett: The data can be stored locally, or in Microsoft Azure, AWS or a private Cloud. The client is most commonly viewing the results on a screen, either desktop or mobile, via highly customizable interfaces.
SMW: You have also introduced a new service, AVI Live. I understand that this is a video surveillance product, can you tell us more about its capabilities?
Steven Pickett: AVI Live is a service that can leverage any camera to provide surveillance on any asset. Using compression, we transmit the video to a data center where AI analytics can tell what is happening in an image without eyes on glass.
Some of the analytical capabilities include a “man down” alert. In another example, you can identify an area where there shouldn’t be someone during a particular interval, and if someone shows up, the software sounds an alarm.
The AVI platform is also used for two-way communication. If a technician encounters a complex problem while performing an inspection, AVI can send a live image from a helmet-mounted camera to someone more experienced onshore to help troubleshoot the problem.
SMW: One of RigNet’s strategic objectives has been to diversify out of oilfield markets into maritime, government, and enterprise. What progress have you made in penetrating markets outside of your core oil and gas offering?
Steven Pickett: Before discussing our efforts outside of the oil and gas industry, I should begin by saying that in addition to diversifying within the oil and gas industry, we are looking at other vertical markets.
Our diversification within the industry is related to the deployment of specialized applications that we have built to enhance customers’ business performance outside of basic drilling and production. For example, through the implementation of software and services, our customers can now improve safety, the supply chain and satisfy Environmental, Sustainability, and Governance (ESG) objectives.
With these applications, we can drive cost savings that can be quite substantial – sometimes a 20 to 1 return on their investment.
Returning to your question's focus, we have taken steps to penetrate the government and maritime markets. Our AI-backed Machine Learning capabilities, driven by our acquisition of Intelie are a good fit for any industry where real-time analytics combined with Machine Learning is useful.
For example, we’ve successfully deployed the Intelie platform in the Food Processing, Mining, and Maritime Markets. Let me start with mining.
In the mining industry, a great deal of emphasis is on maintaining the production flow – getting ore from the mine into trucks onto trains and ships, for use worldwide. One of our Intelie applications keeps track of this activity and helps our customers optimally manage that production flow.
On maritime vessels, Intelie is used to monitor fuel consumption and emissions. It’s helping vessels optimize their routes and speeds to keep costs down. It enables ship operators to deliver their emissions information, which, in some cases, is required by regulatory authorities, as in the EU. That’s an example of an environmental use case that is important to both investors and society.
Complementary to our Intelie acquisition, we are finding that the competency we have built in cybersecurity through our acquisition of Cyphre, combined with our AI and communications expertise, fits well in the U.S. government market and other governments worldwide. Cybersecurity across all networks, including IoT networks, has become a very important consideration, particularly when deploying Machine Learning.
SMW: The mining industry has pioneered remote control of mining operations. For example, in Australia, mining companies control trucks, trains, and mining equipment from remote command centers. Do you see this sort of transition also occurring in the oilfield, and what operations can be controlled from onshore operations centers?
Steven Pickett: Many AI applications developed for the mining industry are also applicable to the oil and gas industry. As I mentioned previously, one of our applications was explicitly developed to manage the flow of ore in mines through the distribution chain. It can easily be transferred into the oil and gas industry and used in drilling, frac'ing, and for pipeline applications. Likewise, preventive maintenance or fuel optimization applications could be useful in many other verticals.
SMW: Remote offshore Drilling Rigs typically use around 1 Mbps X .5 Mbps. What effect will the implementation of the “digital oilfield” have on bandwidth demand? Do you envision significant increases in bandwidth?
Steven Pickett: The demand is going up. Part of what’s driving that is the demand for digitization. There are simply more things connected to the network, and there is more data being captured and transmitted.
Workers are also demanding more and more bandwidth during their off time. They want to replicate, as much as possible, the experience they have at their homes. Given the combination of these factors, I see a continuing increase in demand. Today, we typically see 3 to 5 Megs on the Downlink and half of that on the uplink. We are also seeing deepwater rigs and FPSOs requesting multiples of these throughput rates.
SMW: There has been a significant increase in the use of fiber for oilfield communications, especially in the GOM and the North Sea. In those areas, VSAT is used for a backup. Will fiber displace VSAT as a primary means of communication?
Steven Pickett: I think that over time the value proposition for laying fiber in the sea will diminish. It’s a costly proposition to deploy submarine cable.
Remember that the farther you go from shore, the more spread out the assets are, meaning that the economics become increasingly challenged for fiber. Meanwhile, the satellite industry is making great strides with HTS, and there is an enormous amount of capacity available. That’s only going to continue to grow. As MEO continues to take off and as LEO emerges, I think that the incremental benefit derived from a very expensive submarine cable will be difficult to justify in the future.
SMW: Offshore Rigs and production platforms have traditionally relied upon GEO-based VSAT services. However, I understand latency is a major limitation of GEO infrastructure, especially in running latency-sensitive programs such as Microsoft and SAP. O3b MEO connectivity is available now, and it’s highly likely that we will see at least one LEO constellation. Do you believe we will see a major shift to NGSOs in the oilfield?
Steven Pickett: That’s an excellent question. Let me first address MEOs in terms of O3b. RigNet is the biggest user of O3b in the oil and gas market, and I fully expect we will be users of mPOWER when that service becomes available.
As it relates to the oilfield, when you are working offshore, reliability is critical. So, I think the oil and gas market will be very slow to adopt LEO until reliability is well proven. I think it is more likely that the early adopters will be those who can accept a “best efforts” level of service. I also think the situation is the same with flat panel antennas. The oil industry won’t be an early adopter there either because network reliability impacts the remote workforce's safety.
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About Steven Pickett
Steven currently serves as Chief Executive Officer and President of RigNet.
Before joining RigNet, Steven was the Chief Executive Officer and President of 21st Century Towers, a new entrant in the wireless infrastructure market.
Steven also served as Chief Executive Officer of North America's second largest tower construction and maintenance company, WesTower Communications.
Prior to WesTower, Steven was the Chief Executive Officer and President of Telmar Network Technology, until its sale to Jabil Circuits (NYSE). Steven's other roles included Senior Vice President/General Manager of Alcatel-Lucent's Optical Network Division and Vice President of Sales at Alcatel.
He holds a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Tufts University and a Master of Business Administration degree from The Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.
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With Billions at Stake, Can LEOs Meet the FCCs Latency Hurdle?
In the race to capture a share of the FCC's $16 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, latency is key. While the FCC agreed to allow low-Earth orbit satellite companies to apply for funds as low-latency broadband providers, it expressed doubt that any of the LEO providers could meet the sub-100 milliseconds latency requirement.
For SpaceX's Starlink constellation, crossing the 100 ms threshold is critical. A share of the billions of dollars in federal money would go a long way toward funding the multi-billion dollar cost of its LEO Constellation.
Unsurprisingly, SpaceX has claimed that Starlink can easily meet the 100 ms requirement including, "processing time." Even further, Elon Musk stated that latency could easily be as low as 10 to 20 ms - claims doubted by the FCC.
While everyone in the satellite industry understands that uplink and downlink times to a LEO are a fraction of those to a GEO, few are aware of the potentially excessive delays encountered in terrestrial network transmission. To understand the challenges Musk and other LEO operators face in meeting the 100 ms latency requirement, we met with Xiplink Sr. V.P. of Technology, Karim Fodil-Lemelin.
For those unfamiliar with XipLink, the company is the premier authority on satellite network optimization. It's products are widely deployed in the satellite industry by such well- known companies such as Carnival Cruise Lines, ST Engineering, Intelsat, SES and others.
SMW: Karim, As you know, LEOs have significantly lower latency due to their greater proximity to the earth. However, latency over a satellite connection is always significantly more than the simple round-trip time between the earth station and satellite. Can you explain why?
Karim Fodil-Lemelin (KF): While latency in a LEO constellation is less in a GEO satellite link, physically reducing the communication distance is only one factor in the overall latency. There are many other factors inherent in the totality of any satellite or terrestrial network that can result in significant delays.
Whether a LEO or GEO constellation, every step along the way, the IP stream encounters various routers, firewall, and intrusion detection systems, optimizers, modems, and devices that may act as bottlenecks, sending and receiving data slower than the actual satellite link.
In each of these devices, the data stream may be queued to manage the burstiness inherent in IP transmission. In a typical network, the IP stream may have to go through as many as 20 to 30 of these devices, each potentially queuing data.
As congestion across the network increases, so does the queuing and so the latency. In the worst case, network congestion can overload the queues in the devices, resulting in packet loss and further delay in the overall transfers. All these factors potentially increase the actual latency far beyond the latency inherent in the satellite link itself.
SMW: What are the consequences of Packet Loss?
KF: If packets are lost, at the other end of the communication, the receiver will see that it did not get the packet and ask for it to be resent. The command to resend the packet as well as its re-transmission results in additional delay for the end-user. The key to minimizing re-transmissions is to avoid network congestion.
SMW: What is the major cause of network congestion?
Typically, it’s a bandwidth issue. At some point in the network, a bottleneck can form, resulting from more traffic being pushed down the “pipe” than the “pipe” allows. So, insufficient bandwidth leads to over queuing and ultimately packet drops. Because there is no such thing as an infinite bandwidth network, network congestion needs to be resolved.
SMW: How do you detect congestion in the network, and what can be done to alleviate it?
KF: The first step in alleviating congestion is to measure network latency. As it increases, it’s an indication that network traffic is backing up in the queues. To detect it, we insert a Performance Enhancement Proxy, our Wireless Link Optimizer (WLO), into the network, ideally near the bottleneck. Using Delay Based Rate Control, the WLO will manage upstream congestion, and, if necessary, initiate a request to slow down the sending rate. In addition to latency detection and active queue management, the WLO has several other capabilities that speed up the network and reduce congestion.
When possible, it compresses and byte caches data, virtually increasing bandwidth and reducing the need to re-transmit data that has already been transmitted.
Because the WLO can often detect packet loss before it happens, the data transmission can reach its destination point without interruption. If the loss is unavoidable, the WLO can masquerade as the end point and order re-transmission of the damaged packets, or in some instances, it can re-transmit the damaged packets on its own. That saves bandwidth in parts of the network and eliminates the round trip time to and from the data endpoint.
Lastly, if congestion becomes unmanageable, as the last resort, the WLO can selectively drop packets, thereby easing network congestion.
XipLink is focused on “goodput”, meaning useful customer data (not re-transmits, headers, etc.), resulting in link utilization rate increases and session persistence from less than 50% in extremely chatty situations like secure links to 98% in a typical deployment. Incrementally, more bandwidth is also provided above 100% utilization when compression, caching and other WLO techniques are implemented.
As a result, users typically benefit from 30% or better reduction in response time, resulting in a significantly better user experience.
The XipLink device itself can be incorporated into the network as a hardware appliance, or virtualized. It can be placed at the data center and optimize the entire network, or it can isolate the satellite link through the placement of WLOs at the satellite uplink and downlink.
The combination of features offered by the XipLink Wireless Network Optimizer is invaluable in reducing latency, maintaining user sessions, and avoiding packet loss over satellite and other networks.
SMW: In sum, it will note be easy to satisfy the FCCs sub-100 ms latency hurdle. If LEO operators want to meet the FCC's requirement, the Xiplink Wireless Network Optimizer could help them clear the barrier.
An Interview with Karim Fodil-Lemelin, Xiplink Sr. V.P. of Engineering...
"As congestion across the network increases, so does the queuing and so the latency. In the worst case, network congestion can overload the queues in the devices, resulting in packet loss and further delay in the overall transfers. All these factors potentially increase the actual latency far beyond the latency inherent in the satellite link itself.""
Mr. Karim Fodil-Lemelin is responsible for the architectural conception and implementation of the XipOS operating system, which is at the heart of XipLink's products.
In telecommunications since his graduation from Physics Engineering at the Polytechnic school at University of Montreal, he led several research projects for the Canadian government in the field of IP communications over satellite links.
At Xiphos Technologies starting in 1999 and at XipLink since its spin-off from Xiphos in 2007, Mr. Fodil-Lemelin has been involved in Inventing and developing new networking technologies for more than 15 years.
Eyes In the Oilfield: AI Data Analytics in Action
Artificial Intelligence is taking on an ever more important role in the oilfield and beyond. Osperity, a young Calgary and Houston based start-up, is one of the first companies in the oilfield to exploit the power of machine learning.
Using AI, the company's Osperity Reach platform analyzes images from cameras and sensors to monitor security and equipment health at far-flung oilfield locations.
Users of the platform can detect unauthorized incursions, operational activities, monitor leaks, and even tell if workers are wearing the proper protective equipment, and they can do it remotely and automatically.
With a vast number of uses in the oilfield and related industries, the company has promising potential. Its early success suggests Artificial Intelligence can and will be deployed in numerous industries. To find out more about Osperity's platform and how it is saving oil industry operators millions of dollars, we met with Scott Crist, Osperity CEO.
SMW: How did Osperity get started? Can you give us a short overview of the history of the company?
Scott Crist: The company was started in Canada around 2014 . At that time, while cameras could be employed at remote sites, it was too expensive to transmit a continuous stream of video to a remote monitoring site.
In response, Osperity developed an AI-driven on-site video monitoring platform know as Osperity Reach.
Using an Edge Device equipped with AI software, Osperity can monitor and analyze a video stream on site, detect security breaches or equipment failures and send alarms and a snapshot, thereby avoiding the expense of transmiting a continuous video stream over satellite .
The company grew rapidly and, in 2018, created a U.S. subsidiary based in Houston. Strategic investors include Shell Ventures, Evok Innovations, InterGen Capital, and Texas Ventures.
SMW: There is a lot of discussion regarding the “digital oilfield.” The use of AI and IoT is increasing. How far has AI penetrated oilfield applications? Is it still in the “early adopter” stage, or has it moved into the broader market? What is the future of AI in the oilfield?
Scott Crist: The use of digital technology exhibited slow and steady growth. However, recently, due to the COVID crisis, the demand for digitally automated solutions has increased dramatically. The industry is prioritizing cost reduction, improved safety, and lower carbon footprint, and, for those reasons, is accelerating AI and IoT implementation. I think everyone realizes that the days of $100 per/barrel oil are gone.
With the reduced price of oil, operators are under significant pressure to lower operating costs. They know they need to rethink their entire digital strategy to survive in the new low-cost operating environment.
Over the next five years, anything that can be automated will be automated, and anything that can be controlled remotely will be controlled remotely. Savings attributable to digitization will spur adoption of the technology and accelerate its use.
SMW: Initially, Osperity Reach was sold as a security product. I understand that it is also deployed as a replacement for manned inspection. While detection of unauthorized incursion is relatively straight forward, the human inspection process is complex and may extend far beyond what is visually apparent. Would human inspection still be required, although its frequency might be reduced?
Scott Crist: In most cases, our AI-based monitoring technology is sufficient to eliminate manned inspection.
Our capabilities are quite sophisticated. It’s all based on machine learning models. For example, we can detect unauthorized site incursion or tell the difference between a deer and a dog. On the maintenance side, we can determine the depth of snow on the tops of tanks, see the leakage from pipelines and at well sites, and our high-resolution cameras can zoom in for a close-up inspection.
It is a machine learning technology that gets better over time. We now have such a massive database of data and images that we can create various use cases and teach and improve the algorithms. The more you are in the field, the better your algorithms become.
While visual monitoring is essential, we also employ thermal cameras, and are working to be able to detect and interpret sounds. An alarm could be triggered by a change in temperature. As we add thermal cameras and integration with other databases, the platform becomes more powerful.
While we are still developing the technology, we have been able to either eliminate manned inspection or minimize its frequency. For example, you might still want to do manned inspection where there is potential for significant environmental damage.
SMW: What is the learning curve of your AI platform? How long does it need to collect data to achieve maximum efficiency?
The good news is that we have an extensive database, and a lot of the use cases are very similar from company to company. So, for most use cases we encounter, the learning is very quick, often within a few days.
SMW: The integration of visual data with sensor data significantly enhances detection capabilities. For example, sensor readings may indicate the need for a visual inspection. To what degree have you been able to integrate sensor data with visual data, analyze it using AI, and generate alarms?
Scott Crist: We have an API that allows us to integrate with other systems like SCADA, and we can plug into other distribution systems and platforms. For example, we work with Stallion oilfield services. They already have cameras in the field. We can plug into those cameras and do a great deal of analytics, thereby enhancing their monitoring capabilities. So, we can AI enable existing camera systems.
We are also integrating other non-visual data into our platform. For example, we can use AI to monitor the pressure drop in a pipeline. We are also in the process of integrating sound, which can be valuable in detecting mechanical failure.
We can monitor any sensor-generated data stream, spot and alert to anomalies. While visual surveillance on its own is useful, we are constantly working to integrate other non-visual data.
SMW: Can you share some other use cases with us?
Scott Crist: We focus on oil and gas, but we also have customers in other industries. Here are several examples and what we do:
Inspection and Monitoring of Well sites: Prior the implementing Computer Vision, the customer had eight men doing well site inspections. It’s now down to one.
Tank Inspections: In this example, we are detecting snow mass sitting on top of a Canadian site’s storage tanks. Before we became involved, the operator had to roll trucks twice a day to measure the snow’s depth. In this case, we were able to eliminate manned inspection of the tanks. These are very remote facilities. So, you can see the return on investment is very quick and very significant.
Environmental Monitoring and Security: Here, someone was backing up their truck and dumping into an operator’s clean water facility. Our analytics were able to detect the dumping and notify the police.
Predictive Maintenance: Using thermal cameras, we can detect if motors or other devices are operating at above-normal temperatures, indicating the need for preventive maintenance. As I mentioned, we are also working to detect abnormal sounds, which can further aid the operators in scheduling preventive maintenance.
SMW: Can you describe the Osperity business model? Is it primarily a subscription-based service, or are there other revenue streams such as the sale of hardware, systems integration, or custom analysis?
Scott Crist: It is a software-as-a-service model. For customers that need cameras, there is a camera acquisition cost. For monitoring, we currently charge a $100 per month fee per camera. So, it’s very cost-effective. We have never lost a customer. We had some custom consulting in the early days, but it’s no longer a very significant contributor to our service revenue.
SMW: Is Osperity primarily sold by an Osperity sales force, or do you also sell through third-party re-sellers?
Scott Crist: The majority of sales are direct. We are now starting to recruit distribution partners for different parts of the world and in different industries.
SMW: As many applications are possible, the value offered would seem to vary depending on the application. For example, a security product would have one value, and an application to detect methane leakage would have a different value. How do you productize and price various services?
Scott Crist: That’s a good point, and we may look to establishing different price tiers for different types of services. However, at this point, we don’t want to make price an impediment. So, for at least the near term, we will be charging according to our $100 per/month per-camera per month.
SMW: As Computer Vision is a machine learning platform, would seem to have application in other industries? Are you currently pursuing opportunities outside of the oilfield, and, if so, in what markets?
Scott Crist: Today, 90 per-cent of our revenues come from the oil and gas sector. As I mentioned previously, we are already targeting the mining sector. We are also looking at several other industries. In construction, there is a need to ensure that all workers are using the proper personal protective equipment and prevent theft of valuable construction equipment. Those are industries where we have at least one customer today and our technology is especially applicable.
SMW: What about satellite?
Scott Crist: Offshore drilling and production is one of the company’s biggest thrusts over the next six to twelve months, and to enter that market, we will require satellite connectivity. That means we will be using either VSAT or L-Band to provide the links to service the offshore drilling and production market. We are now in the process of speaking with potential providers.
An Interview With Osperity CEO, Scott Crist
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"We can detect unauthorized site incursion, tell the difference between a deer and a dog. On the maintenance side, we can determine the depth of snow on the tops of tanks, see the leakage from pipelines and at well sites, and our high-resolution cameras can zoom in for a close up inspection."
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Scott Crist is CEO of Osperity.
Scott previously served as the CEO of Infrastructure Networks (INET), an integrated technology & telecommunications company that enables the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) economy.
Scott is also a partner at Texas Ventures, a technology venture capital fund. He has an extensive background as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist and was the founder and CEO of Telscape International (NASDAQ), a telecommunications company focused on certain emerging markets around the world. Prior to that, he served as President and CEO for Matrix Telecom, which Inc. Magazine once ranked 7th on its list of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the US.
He has a Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from NC State University. He is also an Entrepreneur of the Year recipient from CNN/ NASDAQ/ Ernst & Young.
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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, Emirates: 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: CANCELED - GOES VIRTUAL - Virutal Event Sept 29-Oct 1
****Global Connected Aircraft: RESCHEDULED
June 2-3, 2021 Denver: A popular conference address in commercial aircraft connectivity.
*****Small Satellite Conference: August 1-6.
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Unquestionably the best small satellite conference available. With over 3,000 attendees, this conference is enormously popular.
****SMM: Hamburg, Germany' RESCHEDULED February 2-5 2021: A must attend for those interested in VSAT use in the cargo segments.
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Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events
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