Intellian's Matt Humphreys answers your questions about the next generation of satellite networks and equipment, delivering high capacity global connectivity
Satellite communications seem pretty complicated. What do I need to know?
They are in many ways similar to land-based cellular communications - it's really the distance involved and the customer locations that make the technology complex. For the satellite operator, the equivalent of a cell tower is a satellite, which can be located up to 36,000km away or travelling at more than 20 times the speed of sound. The customer, meanwhile, might be on land anywhere in the world, or mid-ocean on a pitching, rolling vessel. Staying connected requires a highly engineered antenna which can cope with these extreme situations.
You already know your yacht and what you want to be able to do online, from gaming and streaming 4k Netflix movies through to making WhatsApp calls and conducting business remotely, which in turn dictates how large an antenna you can physically install and how much internet bandwidth you need. Typically, the bigger the antenna the more bandwidth you can get. Distribution partners will work with owners to determine what the best network and antenna is for their requirements, taking into consideration size restrictions, data requirements, budget, sailing areas and whether the owner needs hardware which will give them the freedom to change networks.
What are the advantages of LEO networks?
Low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites pass much closer to the Earth's surface than traditional geostationary (GEO) satellites. This delivers two main benefits: the potential for truly global coverage, made possible because they are not tied to an equatorial orbit, and lower latency. This is the delay between a request for data and a response being received or, in voice and video call terms, the perceived lag between two parties in a dialogue. For passive client applications such as browsing the web, longer latencies are barely noticeable which is why GEO plays such an important role, but for services requiring constant two-way communication - including gaming - latency can be infuriating. By launching satellites into lower orbits, the round trip distance of the signal travel is cut from nearly 72,000km for a GEO satellite to less than 4,000km for LEO. In turn, the latency is reduced by a factor of 15, to around 40 milliseconds. To the user, a time this short is imperceptible, resulting in a home-from-home online experience.
Why are major tech corporations interested in LEO networks?
They have existed for limited data and voice usage since 1998, but the concept of using them for high-capacity data is wholly 21st century. VSAT technology onboard LEO satellite will make instant, high bandwidth communication possible anywhere in the world. With the saturation of current land-based infrastructure likely to restrict bandwidth-hungry initiatives in the future, companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google see LEO satellites as a comparatively inexpensive way to boost capacity for their services, either through independent enterprise or by teaming up with a project such as Elon Musk's Starlink.
Reusable launch vehicles are slashing the cost of delivering satellites into orbit and, once launched, the global nature of a LEO network means that the same service will be available at sea as to its shore-based target customers, with worldwide coverage right the way to the poles, with black spots.
Is Intellian ready for next generation networks?
We are committed to making our connectivity solutions future-proof, and our terminals will support new networks. Our innovative NX Series antennas, are equally adept at tracking fast-moving satellites in low orbits as they are at maintaining lock on geostationary satellites. They are also easy to convert between the Ku and Ka-bands currently used to deliver VSAT services. Installation is simple thanks to our single-cable, dome-on connection, while commissioning is straightforward with the user-friendly AptusNX web-based interface.
Large antennas are key to boosting available bandwidth, and with sizes from 85cm to 150cm, there is an NX VSAT terminals track all orbits and automatically switch C, Ku and Ka bands.
Having worked closely with network operators, we are confident that our products are ready for current and upcoming VSAT services for the foreseeable future. Intellian's leading satellite TV antennas are also available with domes to match, enabling superyachts to maintain a continuous aesthetic on deck.