A Satellite Technology Map Perspective C, Ku, Ka, LEOs and MEOs – What Really Matters from a User Perspective.
All industries have jargon, acronyms and code words that make the experts look smarter while mostly just confuse the rest of us. Unfortunately,
the satellite industry is no different, and with the recent new technology developments, this has further increased the general level of confusion in
the market. While a detailed discussion might not help to clarify anything, the aim of this brief overview is to provide 1st order context to managers
and executives who have to engage in satellite-related discussions.
In principle terms, satellite services are designed to operate on different frequency bands – either C-band, Ku-band or Ka-band, and at different
geographical locations relative to the earth – either Low Earth Orbits (LEO), Medium Earth Orbits (MEO) or Geostationary satellites. Since the
telecommunication industry is now starting to use satellite services within all these parameters, the product and services discussion can become
The influence of different frequency bands
First, we will consider the frequency bands. The satellite industry started in the 1960’s using C-band, then introducing Ku-band service around
2000 and Ka-service around 2010.
It is very important to note that all frequency bands are equally relevant for today’s market and new solutions are being developed using all
possible frequency bands.
Even the latest High Throughput Satellite services from Intelsat are being designed using C-band frequency channels, while other operators use
Ka-band frequencies to design solution for large area coverage.
The reality is that the frequency spectrum is a natural and very scarce resource, specifically for global satellite networks. In classic terms, C-band,
Ku-band and Ka-band services used to have some distinct differences as outlined in the attached diagram. However, advanced designs and
engineering methodologies have to a great extent smoothed these lines. Today, networks are being designed to make maximum use of available
frequency bands and eliminate any user constraints that might be applicable.
These differences are no longer materially dictating the outcome of network performance and our recommendation to end-users is to rather focus
on the advantages of the service and not the actual frequency band used. If the service under consideration can meet the user requirement in
terms of signal coverage, performance and cost, then it doesn’t really matter what frequency band is used. The future HTS services will provide
equally compelling value offers and feature sets in C, Ku or Ka-band. It is no longer valid to consider C-band as an “old” technology and Ka-band
as the best option purely because it was more recently developed.
Satellite orbits and geographical metrics
Until recently, communication satellites were Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites which were all located on the arc around the equator and
with a position relatively fixed with regards to a point on earth. This worked very well … until demand for more telecommunication services exceeded
supply. This specific orbital arch (known as the Clarke belt) has a finite quantity of positions available for satellites and continued growth is a complex
Partly for this reason, and also to improve cost and performance, leading innovators such as OneWeb and Space-X started to develop satellite network
olutions using the Low-Earth orbit (LEO) architectures.
These LEO networks have some key differences that can be very advantageous for communication networks. Firstly, the communication
round-trip-time (RTT) is 15msec as opposed to 550msec for GEO satellites, and secondly, the ground terminal equipment can become very cost
effective and easy to deploy.
The LEO telecommunication networks planned for the near future are expected to service new and emerging markets such as the connected-car,
5G expansions and Internet of Things market sectors. These sectors require completely different customer terminals which are open standard and
will operate on different satellite constellations.
For end-users, the fundamental to note is that LEO satellites are still very much emerging, with the first large-scale development expected towards
end 2019. These are the satellite solutions that will have much quicker transmission latency delays (20msec) and which will connect mobile and
portable terminals. These networks are on the horizon and set to further grow and change the satellite landscape.