Satellite myths debunked

While in some quarters fibre is being touted as the be all and end all, if there are any myths and misconceptions about satellites, then top of the list would be “satellites are a dying breed” and “satellites are expensive.”

I agree that sub-marine and terrestrial fibre has brought broadband to the masses in the metropolitan areas but those on the “platteland” are sadly passed by.

For them there must be other solutions – satellites being one. If satellites are a dying breed, where would pharmacies and chain stores in rural areas be?

Many rural pharmacies rely on VSat networks to check medical aid benefits when dispensing medicine, chain stores need access to customer accounts and ATM facilities and banks in rural areas rely on VSats.

If you still are not convinced, here is one for the record. MTN is about to launch its satellite hub at its 14th Avenue campus in May 2012. They are already trialling various services.

“We have been supplying satellite services to customers, but through third parties,” said Johnny Aucamp, MTN GM strategic relations, Africa.

“Now we’ll go on our own and will offer KU-band services from the new hub, which will be completing our 360° provisioning policy. We have plugged into one of the Intelsat KU-band satellites which has a very strong beam covering sub-Saharan Africa. We also sell C-band services, but not on the hub being built at 14th Ave. However, KU-band is more cost-effective.”

The MTN satellite hub derives its power from a unique 2 MW methane gas-powered tri-generation plant. Methane is a clean-burning, sustainable gas with a reliable and consistent supply.

The tri-generation plant generates electricity and through a second reabsorption chiller cycle, using the waste heat, produces water for the air-conditioning systems in all the buildings on the campus.

The plant enables MTN to manage potential energy shortages and reduce power consumption, while increasing savings and initiating a sustainability model to reduce its carbon footprint.

The plant, which is the first of its kind in Africa, also provides power to the MTN campus, including its data and test switch centres, and has been approved as a UN-certified emission reduction carbon project, through its innovative efficient design that saves 17 500 tons of carbon per annum.

Latency – another misconception

Another misconception about satellites is the so-called latency problem – after all, satellites orbit some 35 800 km above the earth.

“Satellite latency is largely overcome by leading manufacturers in the satellite industry, with IP over satellite systems (IPoS) through a combination of the implementation of proprietary integrated feature sets, which are incorporated in their closed VSAT platforms,” said Sean R. Victor, principal specialist converged satellites at Vodacom.

“This enables end customers to experience broadband internet browsing speeds, which are very similar to or better than that of most terrestrial access networks, such as digital subscriber line.

These features may vary in terms of each supplier’s unique naming conventions, and in essence include the use of various spoofing, compression, caching, acceleration and various other techniques such as object pre-fetch and state of the art algorithms using proprietary developments, which ultimately enable service providers to “defeat” the laws of satellite physics, i.e. a round trip ICMP ping response time, of +600 ms for geostationary satellites.

To further ensure optimal performance of VSAT broadband solutions, it is important to consider the following:

  • Each broadband service provider’s core and access network design integrates their VSAT solution, including the level of infrastructure they choose and peering relationships they enjoy in terms of local and international internet access, which aids and influences internet access response times.
  • Configuration and hygiene (registry clean- up and settings, free memory) in terms of end users devices, such as a PC, tablet or smartphone, which directly influences consistency in throughput and aspects of page, response times or the need for buffering.
  • Selection and appropriate configuration of the end user’s browser an/or applications also have a direct impact on consistency in delivery of internet services to each user.

Satellite service plan design is another factor which will influence speed, quality and consistency in delivery of broadband internet services, as each service plan design, as in any network, is based on a specific or overall contention ratio.

Should the service provider not deploy an integrated solution, which enables fair access policies to be implemented within the satellite access layer, and/or the core network (including internet local and international bandwidth), latency could well be induced through the service provider.

This could create various other bottlenecks in the overall network design and architecture, which are common to all mediums, but often overlooked, due to the popular belief that satellite latency causes poor or inconsistent throughput or applications performance, said Victor.

Satellites for communication on the move

This month South Africans will have access to the internet while flying on Mango airlines. The system uses Ku band geostationary VSat solutions, which are already deployed by ROW 44 and its partner Hughes Network Systems with Southwest Airlines in the USA and in Europe with Norwegian Airlines. Vodacom is enabling the very same satellite technology with WirelessG and its partners ROW 44, to ultimately deliver G-Connect In-flight Wi-Fi services.

Another interesting application is a mobile satellite station developed by Q-Kon. The unit is a mobile platform built on a trailer that can be easily moved around. It does not require specialised installation equipment or expertise and, by simply folding out the specially designed legs, can be instantly set up.

Once in position the unit uses built-in GPS technology to immediately search for a satellite connection.

“I believe that the unit will find application and widespread use where customers require high speed internet access for short periods; in major trade and retail shows as well as consumer-focused events,” said Dawie de Wet, CEO, Q-Kon.

Source: EngineerIT

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Satellite myths debunked