Satellite broadband technology is improving.
Second-generation multi-beam Ka-band satellites are being launched. These offer very high speed broadband Internet at 30-15Mbps to up to a million users. This compares with the typical 10-20Mbps speeds we saw before.
The capacity to support hundreds of thousands of users is critical when you consider the potential impact of M2M devices over satellite, particularly in the energy, utility, mining and exploration industries, all of which benefit hugely in safety terms from satellite-enabled M2M applications.
The danger is that as adoption increases the satellite data channels will become more crowded. Streaming video, data communications and M2M deployments over satellite promise to put even more strain on this infrastructure. Service levels may be impacted.
Work to counter these problems has begun. For example, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center has developed a new Ka-band communications system, which provides significantly faster data rates (2.4Gbps) when compared to existing systems.
Such third-generation technology is likely to boost satellite broadband services in the next few years, when laser and X-ray communications are also likely to be come online. ThanesAlenia Space anticipates satellite broadband services will deliver 100Mbps by 2020.
These bandwidth improvements are essential if satellite broadband is going to support the increasingly bandwidth-hungry systems as they are deployed in the continuing M2M transformation of key industries, such as agriculture or oil and gas.
Latency is a big issue for satellite broadband.
This latency is particularly apparent when using satellite broadband for virtualized desktops, gaming, and SaaS systems. UC systems may experience a little lag – or, worse, jitter.
Standard satellite broadband users see latency of 600 milliseconds or more as they try to communicate with satellites traditionally located 23,000 miles above the equator. This is because of the physics of the journey taken by RF energy at the speed of light.
Jitter is another problem. It is a form of latency that fluctuates over a short period of time. When you encounter it video streams become jerky and file transfers unreliable, as data packets fail to arrive in good order.
In an attempt to reduce this, O3b places its satellites in an 8,000km orbit, in contrast to the 36,000km orbit most satellites use, reducing latency to 100 milliseconds.
“It just takes time for your data to make the journey to space and back. O3b, backed by Google amongst others, actually puts their satellites in a lower orbit to reduce the time lags. This isn’t something we’re likely to see in Europe this decade though,” said Oliver Johnson, Chief Executive at Point Topic.
Google at Mobile World Congress 2015 announced plans to launch its own fleet of high-altitude atmospheric satellites to provide broadband Internet access. That company also recently launched a pilot scheme in which it deployed 30 atmospheric balloons to deliver Internet access in rural New Zealand.
Satellites also suffer interference. Antenna misalignment and faulty hardware may easily lead to cross polarization or adjacent satellite interference (ASI), but it’s not easy to identify how to resolve such problems.
“SatGuard uses VeriSat’s software radio technology combined with off-the-shelf hardware and captures and analyzes the signals from the operational and the interfered links,” says Sat Magazine.
These measurements enable a much faster diagnosis and resolution of the problem.
satellite transmission bands
Satellite communications uses microwave (RF) frequencies, which require direct line of sight between the receiving and transmission equipment. This is why you find signal weakens when the sky is cloudy. Most run on a set of frequencies identified here: C Band, X Band, Ku Band and K band. C Band is the least impacted by rain fade, but requires a larger dish, while most domestic systems use Ku band.
Another recent addition, Ka band or "above K band" (26.5-40GHz) is a relatively new frequency band for satellite broadband and will provide additional transmission capacity, but its sensitivity to rain fade makes it a poor solution for temperate climates.
Satellite broadband ground stations are another solution through which to provide the benefits of satellite broadband to remote regions and installations. In this model an array of large satellite dishes provide the link, with conventional Ethernet or WAN deployments connecting local client devices and rigs. These stations are seeing wide deployment in Australia.
The need for broadband isn’t confined to consumers or enterprise customers – you can expect more technology improvements ahead as new impetus comes from the proliferation of connected devices and the Internet of Things.
Every enterprise should be a connected enterprise – even shipping firms can benefit from this. Take a look at how Orange Business helped implement satellite services for vessels belonging to BW Offshore.
Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.