Trends and Innovations in Transportable SATCOM Ground Terminals
Thursday, 18 February 2021
3:00 pm UK time / 10:00 am US Eastern time
This Mission Microwave supported Roundtable in the GVF-Satellite Evolution Group (GVF-SEG) online event series brought together some of the satellite industry’s globally recognised leaders in the design, build and deployment of transportable SATCOM ground terminals. These specialised terminals are used for different tactical, expeditionary, disaster recovery and temporary capacity applications and deployments for government, military and commercial networks. With a highly engaged audience, numbering just short of 300 from 60 countries, over 30 questions in addition to the moderator’s questions were posed to panellists. Represented on the panel moderated by NSR, were AvL Technologies, L3Harris Technologies, Cubic Misson & Performance Solutions and Airbus Defence & Space-Government Solutions. The discussion covered a wide range of themes starting with trends affecting current business, including the effects of the continuing pandemic. The panellists discussed satellite terminals from the point of view of the “user experience”, with the panel exploring contrasts between the contemporary predominance of the “holistic” view of the terminal, as opposed to the legacy of considering as quite separate the antenna, the BUC, the amplifier, etc. – a transition from looking at the parts to looking at wholly integrated systems, from thinking of technical elements to focusing on systems and services.
Topics covered included deployment simplification, graphical user interfaces, greater sophistication in the terminal with complexity taken away from the user, the changing nature of the customer requirement expressed in terms of data rate throughput rather than EIRP, G/T, etc., The panellists also touched upon wider considerations pertaining to supporting multiple user scenarios; multi-network, multi-band, multi-orbit operations in support of NGSO networks as they come into service to complement existing and additional GEO systems, and the emergence of a new antenna environment featuring demand for both parabolic and ESA technology.
In looking to the near horizon, the panellists addressed the increasing significance of Satcoms-as-a-Service (SaaS), establishing a new paradigm going beyond today’s managed services platforms to encompass a far wider and deeper integration of the industry’s value chain, the increased modularity of terminals, serving many more connectivity missions and therefore a much wider and different user communities.
If you missed the “live” discussion, you can catch up now with the dynamics of Trends and Innovations in Transportable SATCOM Ground Terminals.
Q & A continued….
The following questions were posed through the chat function during the panel. Thank you to our audience for taking an active part by asking questions, and to our panellists for their time to answer them after the webinar ended…
1. How many CONUS Ku terminals are active in the market today?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): Of the 35,000+ “transportable” terminal antennas AvL has delivered over the past 20+ years we can only estimate that ~80% of those are still in an operational/active state, based on spares requests and customer service calls.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): The broad market is difficult to estimate, especially when you include the many thousands of fixed commercial Ku remotes. The market for ruggedized transportable terminals is a much smaller piece of the overall total.
2. Would remote connectivity in the terminal to a live cloud spectrum analyzer benefit operations by reducing size and weight?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): That seems like a very workable solution, especially if latency can be minimized.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): This application could be beneficial in a couple different ways. Reduction of SWaP is definitely an added benefit. This could also be beneficial from a troubleshooting perspective, remote access for a technician to look at the spectrum. On our Ranger Product Line, we have an L-Band spectrum analyzer embedded in our Outdoor Unit (ODU). This has become a rather popular tool with users for troubleshooting and spectrum monitoring.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): This tends to be a chicken and egg problem. If the terminal is not in the network, you do not have connectivity into the cloud. There are applications in the market to assist with operations such as peak and pol, but they require a satellite link to be established first. It may not be exactly what you are asking for, but we have a built in spectral monitor as part of our embedded GateKeeper card. While not a full spectrum analyser, it can be very useful to help acquire and troubleshoot.
3. In extreme weather-wind, sandstorms, snow, rainstorms—what are you using to protect terminal equipment in terms of portable radomes?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): Most of our antennas and associated terminal hardware are designed to meet “normal” MIL-STD-810G environmental testing. A limited number of our antennas have been fielded inside customer-furnished radomes that were as much to “conceal” as to protect.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): For customers that operate in harsh elements that are above and beyond the design specifications of the terminal, we recommend various portable enclosures. Everything from SATCOM tents to expeditionary Radome shelters.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): Most L3Harris terminals are 810G certified by an independent test house for blowing sand/dust and typically do not require a radome. If you have specific wind/environmental requirements we are happy to discuss solutions.
4. How do you see 5G impacting this market?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): 5G is already having a major impact on the Ku and C-band broadcast market –news truck production has been greatly impacted over the past 3 years. But military and emergency/restoral opportunities have increased – these customers need “5G level of service” in situations/locations where there is no operational 5G infrastructure.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): In a world of connectivity, we are always going to need alternate methods for connection. I don’t see 5G displacing the transportable SATCOM market, but rather augmenting and integrating into the connectivity ecosystem. Interference issues on C-band is an area that will need to be addressed by industry, especially in parts of the world that are heavily reliant on C-Band.
5. Could you elaborate on your Product Documentation, Phone Support and live and online classes?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): Contact our customer service group for information at email@example.com; phone: 828-250-9950.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): We have extensive product documentation that is provided with our Ranger Product Line. Quick Start Guides (QSG), Interface Control Documents (ICD), Operation & Maintenance (O&M) Manuals, and Terminal Packout. Each assembly of a Ranger Terminal comes with hard copies of a QSG, ICD, and Packout Layout Images. All product documentation can be provided electronically to the customer. The QSGs are picture based and designed for the novice operator to setup and commission the terminal without extensive training. Airbus DS-GS has a dedicated customer service staff that provides Phone and Email support during normal business hours. We also offer a Platinum Sustainment package that includes 24x7x365 Phone and Email support, Annual Training Class, and Hardware Warranty. One training resource that we are adding in 2021, is custom web-based learning material. We have partnered with SatProf and will be launching this resource in Q2 of 2021. Pending any COVID restrictions, we offer in-person training CONUS and OCONUS. If a customer has COVID restrictions, we can provide virtual training with GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, or other collaboration applications.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): At L3Harris we provide all of these services as required. Terminals come with a detailed user manual and complementary phone support standard. We have formal instructor lead training for operators and maintainers, including advanced repair for more sophisticated users.
6. How does each company plan to address the growth of consumer (residential and small business) needs in rural areas?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): We currently do not support this market.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): While public and small business is not our core market segment, the need for connectivity in rural areas is underestimated. The competitive cost per bit, latency, and speed of existing geo-stationary satellite internet will not be able to challenge the capability of a Space-X type provider for residential and small business applications.
7. How do we tackle the system planning issue of implementing a contested waveform on a traditional transponder, maximize spectral efficiency in the benign environment, and then switch to robust (less spectral efficiency) mode in the contested environment that requires possibly pre-empting users?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): We offer antenna designs that support terminals incorporating multiple modems and waveforms. In some cases, the modem can be remotely configurable to a less contested waveform. We also offer multiple feed/RF kits if a new satellite (even at a different operational frequency band) can solve the problem.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): Users will need to address this with Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TTPs). Having a resilient Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency (PACE) plan will be crucial to one’s ability to communicate in a Contested Communications Environment (CCE). Having systems that can detect this early and seamlessly switch to a more resilient waveform without user intervention would be optimal.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): I assume this question is asking about implementing a jamming resistant waveform. A general answer is that dynamically allocating transponder bandwidth requires the transponder owner’s collaboration, either in reserving the necessary bandwidth for a the end users, or in implementing the modem and network that automatically adjusts user capacity in the allocated bandwidth. The L3Harris MPM-3000 modem (NCW) has some features like this, for instance.
8. @ Victor – On the mentioned certification process does this apply only to “antennas” or complete terminals with modems etc. Do you need separate certificate for each modem technology?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): Victor brought up a valid point – when it comes to WGS and even commercial satellite certifications, the terminal configuration is strictly enforced… except that the modems are certified separately under WGS guidelines.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): This is based on the certification authority. With WGS certification the antenna is certified and the modem technology is certified. The continually increasing complexity, cost, and additional WGS requirements being imposed upon the user communities, has the potential to push more military traffic onto alternate networks that are more suitable to innovative technology. With Intelsat FLEX, Inmarsat GX, and others, it is a complete terminal solution that is easier to certify with a fraction of the cost and far less effort on a higher performance satellite network.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): Typical certifications are related to both modems and terminals. For WGS, modems are typically qualified separately on their own, then the complete system including the modem is evaluated. It is common for commercial managed services to specify a particular modem and the terminal manufacturer is expected to design a system compliant to specific operating requirements.
9. For your organization’s success, do you require more knowledge of the exact requirements of each market sector and specific customer’s needs? How are you answering those questions?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): Our success has by and large been supported by knowledge of the markets and the specific customer expectations. We try to develop/offer standard products that are configurable for a host of different applications.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): Yes, understanding the exact requirements ensures that we are developing and recommending solutions that are relevant to the market and customer needs. That is not always the case, we don’t always have a clear set of requirements and through dialogue with the customer, we frame the “need” and are able to propose a solution that ends up being the “want”. At Airbus DS-GS, we try and develop solutions, before customers know what they want in a solution. Objective requirements are the easy ones to meet, it is the subjective requirements that take a good understanding of your customer’s use-cases and applications.
Eric Clague (L3Harris): Detailed information is always desired, as the overall design of systems can be drastically affected by relatively small requirements. We typically lean on our business development/program management team and close customer relationships to inform the landscape of evolving requirements.
10. Design of terminal as if it is either current parabolic or the disruptive Phased Array Antennas will be used in any placed or depending with illumination of example LEO Satellite Constellation…?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): Our offerings for the foreseeable future will include a robust offering of parabolic solutions; however, we also recognize that the LEO market will reward those companies that are developing active, electronically steerable arrays (AESAs) that meet a very aggressive price point while solving the SWAP issues that are currently very challenging.
11. Will there be a use for the 2 to 2.4 meter antennas installed on the SNV trucks & trailers?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): The satellite news and broadcasting market is in a state of decline, primarily due to the expansion of 5G services. However, AvL continues to support customers with truck-mounted 2.4m class antennas that continue to support live events that utilize C-band spectrum.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): The number of installations for SNG trucks and trailers will greatly reduce, due to the transition to line of sight technologies and 5G. Coverage of remote areas with limited connectivity options is not going away and the trucks and trailers are a good fit for that application. The equipment footprints will get smaller as the transition to Ku and Ka HTS satellites will require less power and reduced dish sizes to pass traffic.
12. Is there anybody working on TDMA DSSS? it would be huge if we could push button an AVL antenna and come into a network under the noise floor?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): There are several companies – Comtech, L3Harris, Viasat & others – promoting proprietary “spreading” technologies that you should explore.
13. To this last great point that Victor brought up re: may varying options how do we keep the user educated to know what they know to ask?
Tony Wilkey (AvL Technologies): We have a detailed checklist of questions that are asked when we begin to develop a solution for the customer that includes; satellites of interest (defines frequency bands); modems of interest; modem waveforms; operational and survival environments; pack-up weight; etc.
Clifford Marcy (Airbus DS-GS): Communication with the user is key. Understanding the user application and educating the user on what is available. Detailing associated trade-offs with various technologies.