Emerging Trends | Satellite
May 1, 2019

Satellite services and media contribution networks in the age of ’high throughput’ satellites

By Antonio Arcidiacono, Director of Technology and Innovation for the European Broadcasting Union

ITU has many roles, but none more important than coordinating and regulating radio frequency usage across the world, which includes frequency bands used for both terrestrial and satellite services.

ITU’s prime challenge — enabling the next generation of satellite services

ITU faces many challenges today, but a prime one is to enable the next generation of satellite services, which will bring exciting new options for both satellite operators and users. Satellite broadcasting via geostationary satellites will remain in widespread use. It will be a main source of revenue for satellite operators for the foreseeable future. But technology evolution in the coming years will also offer the possibility of new services via “very high throughput satellites (VHTS)” and “multispot” geostationary satellites.

In addition, there will be new non-geostationary satellites, low earth orbit (LEO) and medium Earth orbit (MEO), of different sizes and capabilities.

Overall, there is likely to be major competition for services. Market forces will bring service costs down. Furthermore, future user terminals will achieve a larger degree of flexibility, and lower costs.

Such a competitive environment will not only be good for operators and service providers; it will help organizations that provide services in multiple regions. In addition, it will reduce the number of intermediary organizations needed to do so.

A new age of ‘satellite news gathering’

We can expect that the thousands of broadcast satellite TV channels will continue to be a major part of media delivery to the consumer, but the arrival of VHTS and non-geostationary satellites will open doors to new services and markets. As an example, among them will be a new age of “satellite news gathering”.

Getting news stories back to the studio today is done in a variety of ways. One, which is complex and expensive, when the location permits, is to use an “outside broadcast” vehicle, with microwave, fiber-optic, or other link back to the studio centre.

Another, now widely used, is to download or stream a news story video via mobile Internet. Reporters use “communications backpacks” and the best available local mobile Internet connections where they happen to be located. If it is available, today they will use a “4G” mobile broadband Internet connection. But there are limitations.

As with all Internet connections, the bit rate that can be used is limited by the number of simultaneous users at any given time. Internet delivery can be limited by congestion and “contention”.

What the future may bring

The future may bring “5G” mobile Internet, which will bring significant improvements. But it will take time to roll out — network operators need a business case to make the transition. 5G offers the promise of much higher bit rates than 4G, and thus, all other things being equal, it will provide more consistent high bit rate links for reporters to use.

But such 5G services will probably be mainly available in urban rather than rural areas, although ad hoc networks in specific places such as sports stadiums may be possible.

Reporting in practice is needed any time, from any and every geographical location. Thus, for underserved areas, mechanisms other than mobile Internet for returning news to the studio will probably be needed.

Stepping up to the plate could be small and reliable radio links via satellites.

Satellites will cover large geographic areas, and so can be accessed from both rural and urban locations. Small and light satellite transmitters and aerials for reporters will be available, beaming up contributions to satellites in the Ku and Ka bands, where HTS and VHTS satellites will be available.

Of course, there would be limitations — such terminals could be more costly than mobile Internet terminals, and the satellite links may be subjected to rain fading in some regions. But having the terminals able to operate in multiple bands (i.e. C-band and K-band) will minimize the limitations that rain fades might cause.

The C-band would be less sensitive to rain fading. Using HTS for a C-band service would improve the overall performance in extreme weather conditions, and spread-spectrum techniques could be used to limit interference to adjacent satellites or any terrestrial services using C-band. Such systems could lower the “cost per megabit” and guarantee good service availability from locations where transmission could be impaired by rain.

The systems would also make use of the more advanced radio frequency (RF) modulation systems now possible, and fully digital aerial array terminals. The results would be sets of compact and light self-pointing systems that could be operated by the journalist alone, without special help.

Back to base multimedia content in real time

In summary, because of the global coverage of different satellite constellations, geostationary and non-geostationary based, the future ubiquitous presence of a satellite infrastructure will allow journalists, and any other professional operators, from security services to civil protection teams, to send back to base multimedia content, in real time.

This will transform, even more than it is today, the world into a “global village”. The reduced operational complexity and the lower cost of these terminals, and related services, will bring competing services not only in urban areas but also in rural areas, with a guaranteed high quality of service.

Coordination of new HTS networks — a challenge for ITU

The ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU–R) has played a crucial role for many decades in arranging fair regulation of satellite services. One of the challenges for ITU will be the coordination of new HTS networks in the C and Ka bands, which are “unplanned” bands.

There are already a large number of submissions to ITU for different types of GEO and non-GEO satellites.

“The positive evolution of new technologies and related services will only be possible if an ’easy-to-access’ regulatory framework is put in place.”– Antonio Arcidiacono

Another challenge will be to assure necessary rights in the various countries covered by given satellites, which must be done on a country-by-country basis.

For HTS services, cross-border restrictions could be very limiting, in particular in those markets where local services need “proper” licences.

The need for an easy-to-access regulatory framework

The positive evolution of new technologies and related services will only be possible if an “easy-to-access” regulatory framework is put in place. This is our request to ITU.

General authorization regimes, combined with automatic and certified registration processes, will be important to ensure a smooth operation of services without generating interference to other terrestrial and satellite services operating in the same frequency bands.

Could, for example, an ITU central registration server be created where each terminal could register, by providing a required number of parameters (including the licensing details)? When a terminal goes live it will authenticate and provide key local parameters (certifying the position and other useful information).

It is important that adequate spectrum is available for satellite operations. In particular, the Ka and C bands must remain accessible to provide regulatory stability for current and planned investments in innovative satellite services.

The challenge is great, but the men and women of ITU will surely rise to meet it.

Antonio Arcidiacono is the Director, Technology and Innovation, European Broadcasting Union

*This article is one of several commissioned by ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau to be published in the recent ‘Evolving satellite communications’ edition of ITU News Magazine. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of ITU.

Photo by: Chris Maddaloni/Roll Call/Getty Images
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ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

Satellite services and media contribution networks in the age of ’high throughput’ satellites

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