Virtualizing Satellite Communications

By: Helen Weedon

Digital transformation, also known as Industry 4.0, is taking place across businesses around the globe, and the stats prove it. According to Flexera, 74 percent of organizations consider digital transformation a top priority. Accenture says that Cloud, AI, and the Internet of Things are the top three areas companies are scaling up. Baker McKensie states that a huge 77 percent of companies have already embarked on their digital transformation journey.

Our world is already connected to some degree, but this is now set to turn into hyper connectivity, where everyone and everything is connected, monitored, and optimized to make the world run more efficiently through 5G and the network of networks. To enable this, ubiquitous connectivity must be achieved with different access technologies interwoven, interoperable, and working together in a seamless manner to provide the most suitable communications access for the use case in hand. This will ensure that seamless connectivity is made available to all, and that a user can move between each access technology without so much as noticing it.

A New Connectivity Era will Need Satellite

In parallel to the changes that are engulfing industry, the satellite sector is also undergoing the biggest transformation in its history. Previously a technology that stood on its own, satellite is now beginning to integrate itself into the wider telecommunications fabric, bringing its unique capabilities of scale, reach, and reliability. No other technology has the capabilities that satellite brings to the table. Unbound by terrestrial limitations, it can take connectivity to anywhere, no matter how remote. With 2.6 billion people on the planet still unconnected, this capability is priceless.

As cloud adoption increases, and there is a move from traditional analogue to IP, satellite will allow access anywhere, bridging gaps that currently exist in cloud infrastructure. However, to make this transition to the cloud, the satellite industry must make fundamental changes, and it’s a complex journey that’s being embarked upon.

Previously dependent upon physical hardware, the satellite sector must now virtualize itself to enter this new cloud era. It must also embrace standards from the telco world. This transformation will open up broad avenues of opportunity for satellite service providers, satellite operators, enterprise customers, and everyone in between.

Satellite’s Renaissance

The satellite sector has stood somewhat alone in the world of connectivity. It’s very often misunderstood as simply last mile connectivity that is latent and comes with a big price tag. However, this is simply not the case. As previously stated, satellite technology has advanced a long way in a short time and is going through its own period of transformation which, in turn, is positioning it for the future.

The last decade has seen the emergence of new, High Throughput Satellites (HTS) that have both increased bandwidth and performance and lower price per bit. Satellite platforms are also becoming software defined and therefore highly flexible, able to serve many use cases with a single payload. They are reconfigurable, unlike traditional satellites built for a specific application areas. Satellites also feature steerable and splitable beams that can be directed to cover different coverage areas, thereby enabling ultimate flexibility.

Then there is also the advent of multi-orbit constellations in LEO, MEO, and HEO, comprising hundreds and even thousands of small satellites that offer low latency, high performance connectivity.

These changes are allowing satellite to rival terrestrial technology. It’s finally moving into the mainstream, having to adapt and transform itself to fit into the advancing world of communications that we live in today. As we move towards a fully networked world, the satellite industry is starting to embrace the telco world, along with its standards, so that it can integrate much more easily into the wider connectivity landscape.

Digital Transformation – Enabling the Cloud

The stats shared earlier in this article illustrate that the majority of industrial sectors are beginning to use revolutionary technology such as the cloud to enhance and empower their businesses. The cloud enables service providers to scale up massive networks in reduced time with less capex and faster, more cost-effective scale. It also facilitates a distributed, reliable architecture with access to greater security, proven management tools and streamlined operations. Through cloud-based services, providers and satellite operators can gain access to a complete family of networking applications and can then package them into advanced service offerings that will provide customers with not only satellite connectivity, but also cybersecurity, hybrid networking, application-based QoS, and end-to-end service orchestration.


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