Research Report: Ka-Band Satellite Communications
Telecom & Satcom
Written by Jay E. Puitz and Bill Menezes   
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This information comes from the Gartner Hype Cycle for Business Continuity Management and IT Disaster Recovery Management, 2013.

Definition: Ka-band satellite communication (satcom) services are designed to augment and replace Ku-band very small aperture terminal (VSAT) services – the enterprise fixed (that is, non-mobile) satcom mainstay since the 1980s. Higher-frequency Ka-band offers much higher data rates than Ku-band.

Position and Adoption Speed Justifi-cation: For broadband Internet access, Ka-band satcom services available from satellite service providers, resellers and system integrators primarily fill a large and important special role: to serve geographic regions and locations that aren’t being served, and aren’t likely to be served, by terrestrial systems, such as wireline or cellular networks. These regions include rural, low-population density areas; remote islands and large swaths of Africa and Asia (such as Siberia); and offshore oil and gas platforms. In addition to enterprise market segments, Ka-band sitcom is targeted at consumers and small or midsize businesses (SMBs) in such underserved areas. All fixed-service Ka-band satcoms are geosynchronous, orbiting about 22,000 miles (36,000 kilometers) above the Earth. The inherent latency significantly constrains their use for voice and videoconferencing applications mostly to when Ka-band is the only service available. Hence, the primary Ka-band services are data and video broadcasts. The O3b Networks Ka-band satcom system will use so-called “medium” orbits (about 8,000 kilometers) to reduce latency below 150 milliseconds and is targeting throughput of up to 1.2 Gbps per beam. O3b began launching its first eight satcoms in 2H13.

Ka-band enables a common networking solution for all sites, such as big-box retail chains. Satcoms, by their nature, have wide applicability in disaster recovery and business continuity. For example, Ipstar helped restore cellular service after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Gilat Satellite Networks’ Spacenet provided mobile VSAT units to enable data connectivity for a number of large northeastern U.S. commercial customers following “Superstorm Sandy” in 2012. However, advanced Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular networks eventually may emerge as a key competitor of Ka-band in certain remote markets and disaster recovery applications.

As aging Ku-band systems reach their end of life, Ka-band is an attractive, next-generation-system replacement. Ka-band services typically use remote earth terminals with antennas of 1 meter or less in diameter – more than 40% smaller in area than Ku-band. Services are offered in the multimegabit range in remote uplinks (Ku-band has typically been limited to sub-megabit speeds); on a per-bit basis, Ka-band is typically 50% less expensive than Ku-band.

Ka-band satcom services are becoming available in key markets, such as North America (for example, through ViaSat or Telesat), Western Europe (for example, through Eutelsat) and the Asia/ Pacific region (for example, through Ipstar). With ViaSat-1 having begun operations in January 2012, Ka-band capacity has increased dramatically in North America. This single satellite offers a total throughput of 140 Gbps, which equals the capacity of about 100 Ku-band satellites. Hughes’ EchoStar XVII, launched in July 2012, added more than 100 Gbps covering North America, thus enabling the company to offer consumer downlink speeds in the 10 Mbps to 15 Mbps range. Inmarsat is scheduled in September 2013 to begin launching a three-satellite constellation intended to provide global Ka-band coverage. Hughes plans to put another 150 Gbps into orbit in mid-2016 via the Jupiter 2/Echostar 19 satellite. In this time frame, we also see Ka-band as moving from adolescent to early mainstream in maturity.

User Advice: First, identify whether terrestrial-based systems such as 3G or 4G/LTE are available to meet the organization’s need. View Ka-band satcom as complementary to terrestrial-based systems, and use it for specific applications that satcom can uniquely serve. Consider Ka-band as a replacement for older-generation C-band and Ku-band VSATs. Look for suppliers to offer multiband-capable hybrid networking so that Ka-band can be readily added for new sites on existing enterprise satcom networks. Also watch for future enhancements, such as lower-frequency S or L uplinks, which enable Ka-band satcoms to address some mobile segments. Ka-band satcoms have improved tie-ins to terrestrial wireless systems. Use wide-area optimization technologies to limit the effects of latency in satcom. Watch for these optimization technologies – as well as routing and switching – to be integrated with earth terminal electronics.

Business Impact: Ka-band satcom offers substantially greater data rates, with a smaller, more readily portable earth terminal, at an attractive price point for specific enterprise communication needs – mainly for geographic regions and locations that aren’t likely to be served by terrestrial systems (for example, rural America, islands, Africa and deep-sea oil rigs). Energy, utilities, retail, transportation, maritime and government are key vertical industries that will benefit from Ka-band deployments. This technology also can improve disaster recovery capabilities.

Benefit Rating: Moderate

Market Penetration: 1% to 5% of target audience

Maturity: Adolescent

Sample Vendors: Eutelsat; Hughes; Inmarsat; Ipstar; O3b Networks; Russian Satellite Communications Company; SES; ViaSat

 

About the Authors

Jay Pultz is a vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His current research focus is data center design (with a particular focus on facilities), infrastructure and operations management as well as cost optimization.

Bill Menezes is a principal research analyst with Gartner Research. He is responsible for conducting research and supporting clients in areas that include mobile services for the enterprise, including legacy and emerging technologies, pricing trends, and advanced mobile applications.

This information comes from the Gartner Hype Cycle for Business Continuity Management and IT Disaster Recovery Management, 2013. This report is part of Gartner’s 2013 Hype Cycle Special Report which provides strategists and planners with an assessment of the maturity, business benefit and future direction of more than 2,000 technologies, grouped into 98 areas. The Special Report includes a video, provides more details regarding this year’s Hype Cycles, as well as links to all of the Hype Cycle reports. The Special Report can be found at www. gartner.com/technology/research/hype-cycles/