Volume V, No. VIII September 2020
Table of Contents
Industry Trends and Analysis: (pg. 3)
Patee Sarasin, former CEO of Nok Air:
"Unlocking the Riches of In-flight Wi-Fi" (pg. 4)
David Bruner, former V.P. Panasonic Avionics:
"Buckle Up! :Turbulence Ahead in Airline Connectiviy Markets"
"The Promise of the New Iridium and Aireon Services: Big Advancements in Air Traffic Management on the Horizon" (pg. 26)
Ernst Peter Hovinga, CEO Hiber: "Disrupting the Satellite IoT Connectivity Market: The Promise of Hiber" (p.31)
"Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events"
Cover: HNS Launches Broadband on Helicopters
Highlighting Disruptive, New, Mobility-Focused Satellite Ventures and Technologies
Satellite mobility World
In This Issue...
Editorial: "Getting "Down to Earth" with Starlink"
"Pivotal's New 5G mmWave Repeaters Maximize Coverage and Cut Costs"
"At BlueSky Network, Iridium Satellite Tracking Enables Advanced Fleet Management"
"Hughes Network Systems - Big Mover in Mobility Markets"
"Finally: Phased Array Antennas Coming on Ships?"
Welcome to the September issue of Satellite Mobility World. In our Hot News and Commentary section, we're covering Intelsat's problematic acquisition of Gogo's commercial airline business, Speedcast's emergence from bankruptcy, the FCC's approval of Amazon's project Kuiper, Kymeta's new funding round and other major developments.
In our Editorial, Getting Down to Earth with Starlink, we note the lessons learned from the Direct TV experience. In it, you'll find out why we believe Starlink's real challenge is not launching the satellites or landing the boosters on ships, it's on the ground - the cost of antennas, installation and business infrastructure.
Moving on and given the Industry's focus on 5G, we focus on Pivotal Commware's innovative mmWave repeaters and their ability to penetrate homes and offices and deliver near-zero latency Internet connectivity.
Next, we have three mobility-focused articles - Blue Sky Network's Iridium-based asset tracking service, Hughes Network System's mobility initiative, including their new "rotor-wing" broadband technology, and the military's trial of the Thinkom VICTS antenna for use on ships.
Join us as we cover the exciting final quarter of 2020.
Satellite Mobility World
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Table of Contents...
"Hot News and Commentary" (pg.3)
"SmallSat News and Ventures" (pg. 4)
Editorially Speaking: "Getting "Down to Earth" With Starlink" (pg. 6)
"New 5G mmWave Repeaters Maximize Coverage and Slash Costs" with Pivotal Commware CEO, Brian Deutch (pg. 1)
"At BlueSky Network: Iridium Satellite Tracking Enables Advanced Fleet Management" with CEO, Tucker Morrison? (pg. 20)
"Hughes Network Systems - Big Mover in Mobility Markets" With V.P. Reza Rasoulian (pg. 30)
"Finally: Phased Array Antennas Coming on Ships? with Bill Milroy, Thinkom CTO (pg.37)
Upcoming Satellite Industry Events (Pg.43)
SATELLITE MOBILITY WORLD
Intelsat's Acquisition of GoGo's Commercial Aircraft Business - a Stroke of Genius for Gogo
McLean VA, September 2, 2020: In a move to create a vertically integrated aero connectivity service, much like Inmarsat's and Viasat's, Intelsat has acquired Gogo's commercial in-flight Wi-Fi business. At the cost of $400 Million, the satellite operator is now the owner of a business yet to be proven profitable.
The Champaign corks must be popping at Oakleigh Thorne's office over the commercial in-flight connectivity business's successful divestiture. For years, the airline industry has struggled unsuccessfully to find a commercial airline Wi-Fi business model that makes money. Passengers want the service, but like in hotels, they don't expect to pay for it. It's little wonder that Gogo's stock popped twenty-four percent on the announcement of the divestiture. Now Gogo can concentrate on the hugely profitable business aviation segment.
Meanwhile, for Intelsat, the problems have just begun. Never mind that Intelsat will have to hire talent capable of running this highly complex business. The commercial in-flight pay-for-service market is shrinking. Senior corporate executives are flying on corporate jets more often, and mid-level executives meet on Zoom, leaving the cash-strapped airlines to fund free Wi-Fi for leisure passengers. The result is an airline industry that will squeeze provider margins to the bone. The competition will be extreme, both from new Air to Ground systems (ATG) and other satellite Internet providers.
Based on a combination of licensed and unlicensed bandwidth, Gogo's ATG service will offer aircraft operating exclusively in the lower 48 100 Mbps speeds, and latency competitive with LEO - all at a much lower installation and operating cost than satellite services. Even commercial jets that fly out of ATG covered areas will likely be equipped with satellite and ATG and least cost routing technology.
Gogo currently has around 1,500 commercial aircraft using ATG and is in an excellent position to upgrade its share of the U.S. airline's domestic fleet (we wonder of Intelsat has a non-compete agreement with Gogo covering ATG). Of course, SmartSky is also launching a similar service and, while focusing initially on the business jet market, may ultimately compete in the commercial segment.
In the satellite side of the business, Intelsat will have to compete against well-heeled competitors like Inmarsat, Panasonic, and ViaSat. With declining revenue and backlog in its own business, it won't be able to fight a price war or fund an aggressive marketing program. Finally, the acquisition puts Intelsat in direct competition with Panasonic Avionics, one of its major customers. As a result, Panasonic is likely to cancel its contract when it's able.
Given the headwinds facing the commercial aero Wi-Fi business, we find it astonishing that Intelsat would enter the commercial in-flight connectivity market. It's equally unbelievable that a bankruptcy judge would approve such an unprecedented, strategically risky venture.
Amazon Project Kuiper Wins FCC Approval - Backing By FCC Chairman Pai
Washington D.C. July 30: The Federal Communications Commission has approved Amazon’s plans for its ambitious Kuiper constellation, which entails sending 3,236 satellites into orbit to beam internet coverage down to Earth. The approval is a major victory for Amazon and a setback for Elon Musk's Starlink. Amazon's unique market position, which combines substantial space expertise and resources with it e-commerce and AWS businesses sets it apart from other competitors.
Competing against Amazon in the low-margin home Internet business could be impossible. Given the economic benefit to their AWS and e-commerce businesses, Bezos may be able to offer the Kuiper for free or at a price so low that competitors could be driven from the market. Ultimately, in the battle to control global satellite Internet in both home and enterprise markets, there is a very high probablity that Amazon's Project Kuiper will be the only survivor. (AG)
As PE Firms Bid on Debt, CEO Shaper Resigns – Speedcast Exit from Bankruptcy Imminent
Houston, Texas, August 31: Speedcast announced the resignation of Chief Executive Officer, Peter Shaper. Instead of managing the company, Shaper, through his PE firm, Genesis Park, will work to participate in co-investment options with the potential new owners.
Current bid offer negotiations include Speedcast’s two largest lenders, Black Diamond Capital Management and Centerbridge Partners, both U.S.-based PE firms.
The company expects to continue discussions to ensure the final Plan of Reorganization maximizes value for all creditors. At the conclusion of discussions Speedcast will file an amended Plan outlining the terms of a final equity investment agreement that will be subject to Court confirmation.
The organization is expected to emerge from bankruptcy as a private company with a “clean” Balance Sheet – probably within the next 30 days. Joe Spytek, Speedcast President and Chief Commercial Officer, is now responsible for managing the business.
The company continues to secure new business, announcing a significant contract to provide high-speed internet to 250 sites across rural Colombia, leveraging a combination of Ku-band connectivity and Hughes’ Ka-band HTS network to power the Wi-Fi hotspots.
It’s expected that the company will tighten its focus within its core verticals as it prepares to emerge from chapter 11 and fully execute on its previously announced transformation plan. Satellite Mobility World anticipates announcements related to this in the near-term.
Kymeta Corporation Secures Approximately $85 Million Financing Round to Accelerate Growth, with Funding from Bill Gates
Redmond, Washington, August 25 — Kymeta Corporation (www.kymetacorp.com), the communications company making mobile global—is excited to announce the recapitalization of the company along with the successful funding raise of approximately $85 million, led by Bill Gates with members of the leadership team personally investing approximately $1 million led by Executive Chairman, Doug Hutcheson.
Since its launch of the revolutionary electronically steered flat panel antenna platform, Kymeta™ continues to strengthen and accelerate new product development and commercialization for satellite and cellular communications globally. Meeting the needs of current and future customers drives new product innovation and market development and are key areas of focus for Kymeta.
The financing builds on an extraordinary 18-month period for Kymeta, which saw a rapidly growing influx of new customers, the appointment of key executives, new product releases and market momentum in the areas of defense, public safety and land mobility. Kymeta’s channel network grew to include over one hundred reseller partners and several defense and commercial customers around the globe.
Speedcast Receives US$395 Million Equity Commitment from Centerbridge Partners to Complete Recapitalization
Proposed Plan of Reorganization Has Support of Centerbridge and Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors
SYDNEY, August 13, 2020 – Speedcast International Limited (ASX: SDA) today announced that it has received a US$395 million equity commitment from Centerbridge Partners, L.P. and its affiliates, one of its largest lenders. The commitment would support a plan of reorganization, which has the support of both Centerbridge and the Company’s Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors.
Centerbridge’s proposed US$395 million equity investment provides the opportunity for Speedcast’s existing secured lenders to participate in the equity commitment on a fully pro-rata basis to support Speedcast’s emergence from its reorganization under Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. During the completion of the Chapter 11 process and under the new ownership structure, Speedcast remains focused on supporting the connectivity needs of its customers and fully intends to continue its global operations uninterrupted.
The proposed plan would enable the Company, under the leadership of both Peter Shaper, Speedcast’s Chief Executive Officer, and Joe Spytek, Speedcast’s President and Chief Commercial Officer, to continue to execute on the transformation plan to refocus the business, which they initiated earlier this year after joining the organization in executive leadership roles. Both Shaper and Spytek have extensive background in the communications and service provider sectors, each previously serving as chief executives for leading remote communications businesses.
Centerbridge has also committed to providing, if needed, debtor-in-possession (DIP) financing of up to US$220 million on favorable economic terms. The Centerbridge DIP financing, if drawn, would be utilized to refinance the Company’s existing DIP financing, to fund the Company’s Chapter 11 plan process, and to ensure the Company can continue to meet its financial commitments while it works toward confirmation of the plan of reorganization.
The plan will provide for cash payments to holders of secured claims. A number of the company’s trade creditors are critical to its future, and the plan will provide to those relevant trade creditors, a partial cash payment for those unsecured claims. Unsecured creditors generally will share in recoveries from a litigation trust, noting there is no certainty that any action would be undertaken or payment made from this trust. The plan does not contemplate any recovery for existing shareholders, and existing shareholders would no longer have an equity interest in the reorganized Speedcast Group.
Completion of the equity investment is subject to confirmation of the plan of reorganisation and a number of other conditions, including various regulatory approvals and waivers.
Squire Tech Turns to Isotropic Network’s Datadragon™ for Effective Bandwidth Management During Emergencies
LAKE GENEVA, WI, August 12, 2020 – Isotropic, the trusted provider of global Internet services offering unrivaled certainty, today announced that Squire Tech is the latest company to integrate Datadragon, Isotropic’s award-winning intuitive bandwidth management tool, into its operations for more effective bandwidth management in emergency response situations.
Squire Tech is a mobile command and communications service provider specializing in user-friendly VSAT and wireless enabled voice, video, and data for mission critical needs. The company’s fast-deploy communications solutions, such as its pCom® line of communications trailers, are widely used to deliver critical connectivity to emergency management and first responder teams during major events and emergency situations, such as the recent hurricanes that have swept through Florida and the COVID-19 crisis.
As a solutions provider, Squire Tech must ensure that reliable, high quality bandwidth is available for its emergency response users while they’re in the field. However, bandwidth can become scarce—especially when telecommunications infrastructure is damaged.
Using Datadragon, Squire Tech can now monitor and distribute bandwidth in real time so that first response end users can rely on high-speed, persistent connectivity to fuel their applications during an emergency scenario. Datadragon gives users an unprecedented degree of application-level transparency into their network to ensure bandwidth is always optimized and to adjust traffic on-the-fly if it’s not. With Datadragon, Squire Tech can allocate bandwidth to the locations, teams, and applications that need it most without requiring first responders to call in for assistance.
“We developed Datadragon because we know how critical it is for customers to be able to monitor their throughput, as bandwidth is an expensive and precious resource,” says Hank Zbierski, Chief Catalyst at Isotropic Networks. “This is especially critical for those operating on the front line of a crisis, and we are delighted that Squire Tech is using our platform to address the throughput demands their customers face in already challenging circumstances. We want to offer peace of mind so that reliable connectivity is assured, allowing first responders to focus on their vital jobs.”
“The deployment of Datadragon has transformed our operations,” says Michael Zalle, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Squire Tech Solutions. “Datadragon has enabled Squire Tech to become a more profitable business, to operate a more efficient network and to ensure that our customers to get much more out of the network that they have purchased.”
Kymeta Corporation Accelerates Growth Objectives Through Acquisition of Specialist Satellite Service Provider, Lepton Global Solutions
Acquiring Lepton Global Solutions captures important synergies and accelerates Kymeta’s ability to pursue key opportunities with U.S. defense and government customers
REDMOND, Washington: August 18--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Kymeta Corporation (www.kymetacorp.com), the communications company making mobile global—is excited to announce the successful acquisition of Lepton Global Solutions LLC (www.leptonglobal.com), which will become a wholly owned direct subsidiary of Kymeta Corporation. Established in 2013, Lepton Global Solutions is a leading provider of satellite-based customized turnkey communications solutions and services with expertise in the Intelligence Community (IC), Special Operations Command (SOC) and other government sectors.
Acquiring Lepton combines critical capabilities and strengthens Kymeta’s ability to pursue key opportunities with U.S. defense and government customers in locations around the world. As a rapidly growing satellite communication services provider with a global and scalable network infrastructure, the company provides customized end-to-end connectivity solutions that can be deployed quickly and efficiently to meet the needs of customers wherever they are located.
Lepton currently hosts Kymeta’s satellite connectivity solutions. As a combined entity, the new offerings and capabilities bring unique, complete, bundled solutions to the market based on best-in-class technologies and tailored customer-centric services that meet and exceed customer mission requirements.
“Having a turnkey satellite service provider like Lepton accelerates Kymeta’s ability to successfully penetrate U.S. Military and Government customers in partnership with a well-established brand, deep channel experience, and network support for those verticals. The combination of Kymeta’s revolutionary hardware, together with Lepton’s service offerings, will be a winning combination that will be hard to beat. We are excited to bring Rob Weitendorf, Isabel LeBoutillier, and their team into the Kymeta family and thus expand and accelerate our ability to go to market,” said Walter Berger, President and COO of Kymeta.
ST Engineering iDirect Collaborates with Paratus and KNS to Bring Reliable, High-Speed Connectivity to Mining Vessels
The collaboration will see Paratus deploy the iDirect modems with KNS Ku-antennas to deliver bandwidth-intensive mobility services
Herndon, Va., August 25, 2020 – ST Engineering iDirect, a company of ST Engineering North America, today announced that its long-term customer Paratus, a pan-African telecommunications group which provides satellite connectivity across Africa, has deployed its iDirect modems with marine antenna from manufacturer and integrator KNS Inc., to provide reliable, high-speed connectivity to mining ships based in Guinea, West Africa.
The vessels and their crew require constant and reliable communications to keep in permanent contact with their headquarters on land, and with other shipping vessels during operations at the Boffa port in Guinea, where 3G/4G connectivity is poor and internet services are limited.
The ships were installed with the iDirect modem and KNS 1.2m Maritime Antenna Z12Mk2 in Shanghai, China, enabling bandwidth-intensive applications including video, email and WeChat to be run. Paratus remotely configured the modems and commissioned the antennas for the ships when they arrived in Boffa. Commissioning is completed with the ships being operational.
Recognized as the gold-standard in the mobility sector, iDirect solutions are optimized for small to large-scale, multi-beam networks. The advanced quality of service maximizes the value of a shared TDMA bandwidth pool for traffic prioritization and bandwidth management, allowing for SLA configuration and prioritization. The iDirect system incorporates a number of integrated mobility management technologies that enable seamless connectivity when a vessel automatically switches between satellite beams as it moves from one geographic footprint to another. With the ease of installation and management of the iDirect system, service providers can reduce ship visits, installation and modem updates, and optimize their networks for higher efficiency, performance and scalability.
Intellian Completes Its Next Generation Global Xpress Portfolio with Inmarsat Type Approval
4 August 2020 – Intellian is proud to launch the latest addition to its next generation GX range of antennas: the GX60NX, designed specifically and now type approved for use with Inmarsat’s Global Xpress Ka-band VSAT network. This 65cm terminal, the smallest in the range, completes Intellian’s GX portfolio and brings the benefits of its market leading NX antennas to all vessels using Inmarsat’s Fleet Xpress service for reliable, fast connectivity at sea.
Thanks to its compact size and light weight, the GX60NX is ideally suited to smaller commercial vessels, where space is at a premium but the benefits offered by the latest technology are still required. The new form factor supports customers across all markets, including leisure and fishing.
The Below Deck Terminal (BDT), single cable antenna connection and AptusNX control software are identical to those used for the larger GX100NX, which is already approved. This allows ship management companies and ship owners to benefit from the ability to work with a standard platform across diverse fleets.
Inmarsat’s wholesale channel will benefit from the modem and mediator being built into the BDT, simplifying installation and allowing dual antenna systems to be easily configured with just the addition of a second NX antenna and Antenna Control Unit (ACU). The GX60NX is 2.5GHz Wideband Ka ready, and the BUC is easily upgraded from 5W to 10W if increased upload performance is required. This simplicity and flexibility will allow customers to immediately take advantage of future enhancements – including increased coverage and bandwidth afforded by Inmarsat’s rapid network expansion as new satellites are launched – as well as making full use of the market-leading services available today.
Spacecom and NOVELSAT Demonstrate High-Volume Video Delivery over AMOS-17 Satellite for 5G Networks and Wi-Fi Hotspots
NOVELSAT’s Video Cloud and Edge Transcoding Exhibit Ultra-Efficient Content Delivery Over Spacecom’s High Throughput Satellite, Bypassing Backhaul Congestion
Ramat-Gan and Ra'anana, Israel - August 19, 2020 - Spacecom (TASE: SCC), operator of the AMOS satellites fleet, and NOVELSAT, a global leader in content connectivity over satellite, announced today the successful demonstration of end-to-end video delivery over AMOS-17 high throughput satellite, from network core to network edge, serving user devices over a wireless network and showcasing high-quality user experience.
The demonstration illustrated a complete network architecture for the delivery of Over-The-Top (OTT) live video content to multiple user devices, using NOVELSAT’s video processing and delivery solution over Spacecom’s AMOS-17 fully digital satellite operating live multi-band broadcasting.
Isotropic Systems Names John-Paul Szczepanik Senior Vice President of Engineering
UK – 11 August, 2020 – Isotropic Systems, a leading developer of transformational broadband terminal technologies, today announced it has appointed antenna development veteran and former Phasor CTO John-Paul (JP) Szczepanik as Senior Vice President of Engineering to spearhead the engineering development of the company’s multi-beam terminal leading to commercial launch in government, aero, maritime and telco markets.
Szczepanik will play an integral role in managing all aspects of the development and production of Isotropic Systems’ game-changing terminals, including patented circuitry at the core of the optical beamforming lens modules that enable the antenna to link with multiple satellites in multiple orbits.
Based in the UK, Szczepanik will contribute hands-on engineering experience with extremely complex system architecture and RF platform development, further strengthening Isotropic Systems’ fast-growing UK presence and collaborative relationships with a growing number of innovative companies deeply involved in the UK space market.
“John-Paul Szczepanik is a tremendous addition to our Isotropic Systems leadership team, with a strong and proven mix of hands-on experience and strategic vision that will absolutely contribute significantly to a smooth and mission-critical transition from terminal development to commercial production over the next 18 months,” said John Finney, Isotropic Systems CEO. “Like our fast-growing teams in the UK and the U.S., JP is already keenly focused on an exciting terminal roadmap that leads to multi-beam, multi-frequency antennas allowing users simultaneous access to the vast array of next generation satellites in view. That’s the ultimate goal for government, defense, aero and enterprise markets.”
Isotropic Systems is already in advanced tests and trials of its multi-beam terminals with the U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and other government agencies, along with development framework agreements with leading operators such as SES and Inmarsat. The company expects to commercially launch its first terminal offerings late next year.
ThinKom Wins Defense Innovation Unit Contract
ThinKom Industry Leading and Commercially Available Phased-Array Antenna to Be Evaluated as Enabling Technology for U.S. Navy Future Shipboard Satcom Requirements
HAWTHORNE, Calif. – Aug. 6, 2020 – The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has awarded a contract to ThinKom Solutions to test and evaluate one of the company’s commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) aeronautical phased-array antenna systems as a solution for next-generation communications on U.S. Navy ships.
Under the seven-month contract, ThinKom is delivering a ThinAir® Ka2517 antenna system for on-board testing to meet U.S. Navy requirements for Multi-Domain Tactical Communications (MDTC). The Ka-band antenna, based on the company’s patented VICTS technology, will demonstrate the capability to be integrated onto a U.S. Navy ship. A concurrent design study phase will evaluate performance modifications requested by the Navy.
DIU is a U.S. Department of Defense organization focused exclusively on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military to help solve critical problems. Through its agile processes, contract authorities and diverse team of experts, DIU has reduced the time it takes to identify a problem, prototype a commercial solution and implement it into the field to 12 to 24 months.
ThinKom’s industry-leading VICTS phased arrays are currently installed on more than 1,550 commercial aircraft and have accrued more than 17 million flight hours, demonstrating mean time between failure (MTBF) rates well in excess of 100,000 hours. The Ka2517 terminals are in full production and currently operational on a fleet of U.S. government aircraft.
“ThinKom’s VICTS technology currently meets all of the DIU requirements for a low-cost, low-risk COTS solution that can be deployed on a DDG-1000 class destroyer,” said Bill Milroy, chief technology officer for ThinKom Solutions. “With millions of hours of service under the extreme dynamic and environmental conditions of modern commercial and military jet aircraft, ThinKom’s low-profile, compact VICTS antennas are ideally positioned to meet the Navy’s performance requirements on a platform at sea.”
“Our VICTS phased-array antennas are also uniquely capable — and proven — to provide uncompromising emission controls to meet the most stringent requirements for precision sidelobe control and grating lobe suppression, which are critical factors on a modern naval ship. Additionally, VICTS arrays, operating across the spectrum from C-band to W-band, have been verified by multiple third-party system integrators to be RF compatible with low radar cross section and low observable platforms and installations. Sidelobes are suppressed to enhance the low-probability-of-detection/interception and anti-jamming characteristics of the antenna, even when intentionally scanning to low elevation angles.”
ThinKom’s VICTS antennas have successfully completed multiple ground and in-flight tests demonstrating seamless interoperability across satellites in low, medium and geostationary orbits with extremely fast switching speeds of less than one second and very high data throughput rates. In all cases, ThinKom antennas have demonstrated unmatched spectral efficiency, beam agility, interference control, low-angle tracking and seamless inter-constellation operation.
Speedcast Executes New Bandwidth Agreement with Intelsat
Contract with leading satellite operator provides access to Intelsat’s global network
SYDNEY, July 29, 2020 – Speedcast International Limited (ASX: SDA) today announced that it has signed a new contract with Intelsat S.A., operator of the world’s largest integrated satellite and terrestrial network.
Under the new multi-year contract, Speedcast will leverage the unparalleled reach and reliability of Intelsat’s global connectivity infrastructure and innovative service offerings to support Speedcast’s customer operations across the energy, maritime, cruise, mining, enterprise, media, humanitarian, and government sectors. Intelsat’s advanced global fleet includes more than 50 satellites that operate seamlessly with the IntelsatOne ground network, offering the world’s most extensive, flexible, reliable, and secure communications network.
“This new agreement will offer us the flexibility and global scale we need to best support our customers,” said Peter Shaper, Chief Executive Officer at Speedcast. “As we navigate the near-term headwinds stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic and work toward finalizing our recapitalization process, it is critical that we find opportunities to reassess our overall bandwidth purchasing to better support our network, while also allowing us to help our customers through these unprecedented times. We look forward to expanding our use of the Intelsat network, and further transforming our business.”
This agreement marks a significant milestone for Speedcast as the company looks towards emergence from its chapter 11 proceeding and seeks to cement renewed relationships with key suppliers. It will provide increased capacity to assist customers with critical short-term requirements as the industry continues to adapt to the current environment. The agreement was approved by the U.S. courts overseeing the financial restructuring cases for both Speedcast and Intelsat.
Speedcast maintains long-standing partnerships with more than 20 satellite fleet operators, including Intelsat, to ensure seamless managed network services for customer operations, utilizing C-, Ku-, Ka-, L-, and X-band capacity. Speedcast’s comprehensive global network portfolio includes access to 200+ beams across more than 100 satellites, totaling 16GHz of satellite capacity.
Xiplink and Galaxy Broadband Communications Partner To Bring Customers Enhanced Performance, Reliability and User Experience!
MONTREAL, QC – July 22, 2020 – XipLink, a Montreal based manufacturer of WAN acceleration and optimization technologies, announced an exciting partnership with Galaxy Broadband Communications of Mississauga, ON. These two market leaders have combined forces to provide unapparelled performance, customer experience and reliability by integrating XipLink XipOS optimization software into the Galaxy Multi-Satellite, Microwave and LTE Hybrid Networks. Galaxy is Canada’s premier remote communications specialist supplying leading industries with WAN, LAN, Point to Point microwave and VoIP over satellite; including PBX services, Firewall and managed services, all integrated through their Network Operations Center and Teleport in Mississauga, ON.
“Since embedding XipLink’s virtual software into our servers, our customers are seeing increases of 30% more uplink capacity, plus 3 times faster downloads” states James Derwinsky, COO of Galaxy Broadband Communications. “We are impressed with the affordability and performance improvement our customers are experiencing. Our ability to integrate XipLink software into current solutions dramatically contributes to the ROI for our clients using Accelerator Pro Service. Integrating the XipLink technology into our networks is a game changer!” comments Derwinsky. XipLink compliments and enhances Galaxy’s already superior communication services with WAN acceleration and optimization to provide their customers in remote, sometimes, extreme remote locations, the same voice and data service they have come to expect in their home or office. “XipLinkis excited about this new relationship that will expand our distribution, exposure and customer base across Canada,” says Jack Waters, CEO, XipLink. “XipOS offers multi-layer compression, acceleration and QoS for all HTTP/TCP/UDP or any IP traffic type so will benefit all of Galaxy’s customers that align perfectly to our core markets,” Waters added.
Global Eagle Entertainment To Be Acquired by Group Manged By Apollo - Company to Continue Operations
LOS ANGELES, July 22, 2020 -- Global Eagle Entertainment Inc. (Nasdaq: ENT) (“Global Eagle” or the “Company”), a leading provider of media, content, connectivity and data analytics to mobility end-markets across air, sea and land, today announced that it has agreed upon a definitive “stalking horse” asset purchase agreement under which substantially all of the Company’s assets will be acquired for total consideration of $675 million by an entity established at the direction of holders of approximately 90% of the Company’s senior secured first-lien term loans, led by lenders managed by Apollo Global Management, Inc. (“Apollo”), Eaton Vance Management, Arbour Lane Capital Management, L.P., Sound Point Capital Management, Mudrick Capital Management, or one or more of their respective affiliates, and certain funds and accounts under management by BlackRock Financial Management, Inc. (the “Investor Group”). The proposed transaction will have no material impact on Global Eagle’s global operations as the Company continues to provide services to all of its customers in the ordinary course, before and after the transaction. As a result of the proposed transaction, the Company will reduce its total debt by approximately $475 million and obtain significant additional liquidity, positioning it to continue driving long-term innovation and growth and serving its customers around the world.
Hot News and Commentary
Kepler Announces Successful Launch of Third Satellite
TORONTO, ONTARIO, September 3rd, 2020 – Kepler’s Low Earth Orbit constellation expanded earlier today with the successful launch of its third satellite. This satellite, internally referred to as TARS, was launched onboard the Arianespace Vega SSMS (Small Spacecraft Mission Service) from the Guiana Space Centre at approximately 01:51 UTC, with communication established shortly thereafter.
Developed as part of the UK’s Satellite Applications Catapult’s In-Orbit Demonstration (IOD) programme, IOD-5 TARS is the final pathfinding satellite launched by Kepler ahead of the deployment of their GEN1 satellites set to launch in the coming months. The satellite bus and integration work was completed in partnership with AAC Clyde Space at their facility in Scotland, with launch services provided by Innovative Space Logistics B.V (ISL). The satellite joins Kepler’s two other satellites, both launched in 2018, and will bring additional capacity to Kepler’s Global Data Services (GDS) data backhaul offering. This capacity will enable Kepler to increase the service level of GDS for existing users as well as add new users who have been awaiting the service.
In addition, TARS will advance the capabilities of Kepler’s constellation with the addition of narrowband support for IoT applications. Kepler became the first to provide Ku service from low earth orbit with the launches in 2018, and with TARS will become the first to provide both Ku and narrowband from a single platform in LEO, a feat made possible by Kepler’s proprietary Software Defined Radio technology. Demand for Kepler’s IoT service has been building since the announcement of the Kepler IoT DevKit, which will now be released to early program participants.
OHB Start-Up Rocket Factory Signs Agreement With Exolaunch to Supply Commercial Launch Services
Augsburg, August 19, 2020. The youngest member of the international OHB family, the launch service provider Rocket Factory Augsburg (RFA), signed a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Exolaunch to provide end-to-end launch services for small satellites.
“RFA is looking forward to launching the first RFA One vehicle, using separation and payload deployment systems supplied by Exolaunch. We are optimistic that this partnership will generate a win-win situation for all parties involved, in particular our customers,” said Dr Stefan Brieschenk, Chief Operations Officer at RFA. “The agreement between our companies not only expands access to commercial space opportunities, but also reinforces Germany’s leadership position in the space industry in Europe,” said Jeanne Medvedeva, Commercial Director at Exolaunch.
Jörn Spurmann, Chief Commercial Officer at RFA, added: “I am excited about joint missions together with Exolaunch. They lead the market in our target segment and share the same spirit: providing first-class launch services at most affordable prices and outstanding quality.”
Rocket Factory currently is developing a launcher system called RFA One for small satellites with a payload performance of up to 300kg to low earth orbit (LEO). The first launch is scheduled for 2022.
SpaceX Sucessfull Launches Planet's SkySats 19-21 - Planet Imaging Constellation Now Complete
August 18, 2020: Along with an additional payload of Starlink Satellites, SpaceX launched the final two satellites in Planet's SkySat constellation. The new constellation provides the highest-resolution and highest frequency, satellite images available to government and commercial organizations.
The SkySat satellites are based on the CubeSat concept, but scaled up to the size of a minifridge. They are approximately 80 cm long, compared to approximately 30 cm for a 3U CubeSat, and weigh 220 lbs. With sub-meter resolution and the ability to re-image the same area up to 12 X per-day, the constellation's capabilites are unique.
Exolaunch to Deliver Kepler’s Next-Generation Satellites into Orbit
Toronto, August 18th, 2020 – Kepler, a developer of next-generation satellite communications technologies, and Exolaunch, a rideshare launch and deployment solutions provider, signed a launch agreement for two of Kepler’s 6U XL satellites. Under the contract, Exolaunch will provide launch, mission management, integration and deployment services to Kepler’s satellites on a Soyuz rideshare mission, targeted for launch in September, 2020. With Exolaunch providing a quick turnaround for launch and deployment, Kepler now continues its rapid constellation development ahead of its 2020 launch plans.
Kepler’s two new satellites are important installments of the company’s development and demonstration platforms, and both carry a high-capacity Ku-band communications system and a prototype IoT payload. The satellites will deliver additional capacity for Kepler’s Global Data Service and a technology demonstration platform for Kepler’s narrowband connectivity solution for Internet of Things devices.
The satellites will be deployed into orbit with the EXOpod, Exolaunch’s advanced cubesat deployer, that has delivered 80 cubesats into orbit to date. Exolaunch produced a custom-tailored 16U EXOpod to accommodate Kepler’s 6U XL satellites. Because of the EXOpod’s ease of operation and flexible design, Kepler’s engineers were able to successfully integrate both satellites at the company’s facilities in Toronto with virtual support from the Exolaunch team. Kepler and Exolaunch worked effectively together on this integration in a remote setting due to the current travel restrictions. The satellites will be delivered to the launch site in Russia, where Exolaunch will conduct a launch campaign and integrate the satellites on a Soyuz launch vehicle.
SpaceX Successfully Launches BlackSky Global 7 and Global 8 Satellites
Washington, August 7, 2020: The two BlackSky satellites on this launch join four others launched in 2018 and 2019. The company hopes to have 16 of the satellites in orbit by early 2021 and ultimately, expects to ;aunch a total of 60 satellites. For a detailed sescription of the company's mission aand plans, see the article in this issue , "An Intelligence-Gathering Breakthrough from BlackSky."
HawkEye 360 Announces a Global Radio Signal Monitoring Service
The Regional Awareness Subscription Service Delivers Daily Signal Geolocation Data for Large Regions
HERNDON, Va., July 28, 2020 – HawkEye 360 Inc., the first commercial company to use satellites to create a new class of radio frequency (RF) data and data analytics, today announced that it is offering a daily Regional Awareness Subscription (RAS) service. Leveraging the company’s RFGeo product, RAS delivers mission-critical insights by allowing organizations to identify, monitor, and analyze signal behavior over time. Large-scale RF signal mapping provides deeper situational awareness in these regions, with the data sets enabling trend analysis using traditional and artificial intelligence algorithms.
“We’re offering a massive collection of data across a broad area. We are also enabling organizations to access periodic data and analytics for areas they want to monitor,” said Tim Pavlick, VP of Product, HawkEye 360. “Subscribers will receive a daily collection of RF data, allowing them to gain comprehensive insight into their regions, establish historical analysis, and augment other geospatial intelligence solutions.”
HawkEye 360 will work with customers to define a Regional Awareness Subscription that can span millions of square kilometers. Current RAS collection areas include the Mediterranean, South China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula. HawkEye 360 curates a collection plan that routinely gathers a combination of high-demand signals. The company delivers the data in an open standard GeoJSON format that seamlessly integrates with most applications.
“With our Regional Awareness Subscription service, we provide customers with a dependable source of timely, trusted RF signal insights that have been detected, characterized, and geolocated over the region,” said Alex Fox, EVP Business Development, Sales and Marketing, HawkEye 360. “These insights allow our customers to identify, understand, and respond to activities important to their operations more effectively.”
HawkEye 360’s RFGeo product identifies and geolocates RF signals collected by HawkEye 360’s proprietary satellite constellation. RFGeo is the first commercially available product offering global spectrum awareness across a broad range of radio signals. HawkEye 360 plans to expand the RAS offering to include new areas of interest important to customers.
Satlantis Obtains 20,000 Images During Its Camera First Month in Orbit
Bilboa, Spain July 20, 2020: After its installation on the ISS the last 10th of June, one day after the historic conversation between H.M. King Felipe VI of Spain and the ISS NASA Commander Chris Cassidy, SATLANTIS camera – iSIM-170 – achieved its target of 20.000 images in one month of operations.
Among the targets detected by iSIM-170 so far there are the Spanish Southern coast, an airport in France, a boat near Greece, the Emirates desert and more.
During its first month onboard the ISS, iSIM covered 540 orbits that allowed SATLANTIS to successfully complete the calibration process and take the pictures that are now being released.
The images are the result of years of work on the payload and included, since its installation on the ISS: 4 software updates, 5 thermal tests, and the collection of 224GB of data, all in the ISS frame which is subject to various constraints, including the communications channel to be shared with other hundreds of experiments onboard.
Today’s achievement is not only the collection of images but also the demonstration of the entire iSIM technology and in particular its Super Resolution feature, that allows iSIM to improve the spatial resolution by a factor of up to 2.5.
The Super Resolution made iSIM capable of clearly identifying airport signals on landing strips, cars, helicopters, etc. and put SATLANTIS in a very competitive position in today’s landscape of the Earth Observation market.
For SATLANTIS shareholders – everis ADS, Basque Government, University of Florida, among others – and partners – NASA, JAXA, Space BD – the iSIM-170 In-Orbit Demonstration is evidence of the actual role that SATLANTIS is playing as an international leader in the field of miniaturized optical payloads.
As Juan Tomás Hernani, CEO, commented: “this endeavour will get SATLANTIS in a new financial round of 26 Million EUR, with current shareholders and new strategic partners.”
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Getting "Down to Earth" with Starlink
Starlink seems unstoppable. Musk’s dream of universal Internet access appears within reach with hundreds of satellites in orbit and others in the manufacturing process.
Musk has done some incredible things. He's overcome many challenges to sucessfully launch Telsa and SpaceX. Those achievements aside, Starlink may be the greatest challenge of all.
Ironically, the challenge is not technological. It's not launching thousands of satellites into space or landing spent boosters on ships at sea. It’s economic, and it's on the ground. It's the potential cost of the antenna, the labor to install and maintain it, and the massive expense to run Starlink's business infrastructure.
No one in the industry believes a sub $1,000 phased array antenna is possible. According to our sources, in an effort to minimize cost, the Starlink phased array uses only two rows of phase shifters and a motor to align them with the orbital arc. Even then, the antenna could be expensive.
Installing the “Pizza” sized antenna will also be costly. History suggests that large numbers of customers will choose to forego self-installation.
Consider Direct TV’s experience. In the late 90’s, the company launched a self-install promotion. While widely popular, the program quickly mushroomed into a costly mistake. Direct TV had to spend millions of dollars on expanding its call center staff to handle complaints and hire thousands of technicians and independent contractors to fix the failed installations. The Starlink installation is much more complicated.
Unlike a Direct TV GEO installation, which only requires an unobstructed view of a GEO stationary satellite, LEO satellites are in constant motion. Tracking them requires a relatively unobstructed clear sky. Starlink’s antennas are said to self-adjust to an "optimal angle” to view the satellites using motors. Yet, in many cases, “optimal angles” don’t exist.
Blockages are everywhere. Trees and buildings can obstruct large segments of the sky, making it impossible to see a satellite. Each installation site will have its own unique set of obstructions, vastly complicating site selection.
In addition, the Starlink antennas will need electrical power and connectivity to the network. Cabling will be required. Given the complexity of the installation, many consumers will lack the will or expertise to install the antenna by themselves. Roof installations offer a potentially better vantage point, but are dangerous. Just like Direct TV, Starlink will need the same army of professional installers and a large call center to provide advice, field complaints, and schedule service appointments.
Professional installation will also be very expensive because many of the customers will be in remote areas. In the Direct TV experience, technicians were only able to install two sites per day, pushing the cost of installation to around $500 per/site.
The use of the motors presents a maintenance problem. Motors will have to run to initially position the antenna and run intermittently to correct for orbital drift, and they will ultimately need to be replaced.
Just the potential cost of the antenna and install will push the service’s cost beyond the reach of all but the highest end of the consumer market. Only customers like rich Venezuelans will be able to afford it, let alone the billions in the third world.
In the high-end home market, existing ViaSat and Hughes customers will be reluctant to swap out their existing services, solely for Starlink's improved latency. Speeds of Viasat and Hughes satellite home services are improving, and with the launch of ViaSat 3s, will be competitive with Starlink.
On the LEO side, OneWeb has been resurrected. Athough it and Telesat are focused on enterprise, ultimately they could go into the consumer market. Amazon’s Kuiper appears to be focused on both markets and has recently received clearance from the FCC to launch 3,500 satellites.
Amazon's AWS and e-commerce businesses are a natural fit with its own LEO constellation, so much so, that it may even choose to offer the satellite service for free. Should Amazon and all of these other services come online, price competition will be intense.
While facing price pressure, Starlink will have to create its infrastructure from the ground up and depend on subscriber fees to fund its growth. This strategy will be difficult in a low margin consumer business. Other costs as well could strangle the company.
Starlink will have to operate numerous ground stations. It will need to advertise and market globally in mass media, and the cost will be enormous. Customer acquisition cost alone, driven by marketing, could easily exceed $200 or more per subscriber.
Unlike OneWeb, which has shifted its marketing focus to high-value mobility markets, and Telesat that is built for enterprise Starlink won't have the mobility option. Its antenna won't work in that environment. It will have to succeed largely in the consumer market and do it globally.
While the potential of ubiquitous global connectivity is mesmerizing and we wish him well, the possibility of turning Starlink into an economically viable conusmer business is as challenging as a mission to Mars.
- Alan Gottlieb
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Satellite infrastructure providers are rapidly upgrading their infrastructure to achieve compatibility with 5G protocols. Modems will be able to emulate 5G base stations, opening the 5G world to satellite’s content distribution capabilities.
Yet, while 5G delivers ultra-high-speed communication at under 5- millisecond latency, it must be deployed economically to realize its true potential. Unfortunately, while the data-carrying capacity of mmWave frequencies is enormous, they can only travel short distances forcing carriers to install millions of 5G base stations to urban and suburban locales to provide full coverage. Even then, reaching inside homes and buildings is challenging. That’s about to change.
Pivotal Commware, leveraging a unique and cost-effective beamforming technology called Holographic Beamforming, is poised to lower the enormous cost of 5G deployment and flood homes with high capacity, 1 Gbps broadband. Utilizing similar metamaterials and beamforming technology developed by Invention Science Fund and licensed to sister company, Kymeta, Pivotal can vastly improve the economics of 5G distribution, and reach millions of users in their homes and offices, drastically reducing coverage costs.
To find out more about Holographic Beamforming and explore the potential for Pivotal’s unique technology, we met with CEO Brian Deutsch.
SMW: Can you give us a bit of history of Pivotal Commware? What is it that makes the technology and company unique?
BD: Both Kymeta and Pivotal share some of the same metamaterials technology licensed by Invention Science Fund, a company that creates, incubates, and commercializes new technology.
The technology essentially employs the use of metamaterials in beamforming antenna applications.
In 2016, Pivotal initially raised $17 Million, and major investors include Bill Gates, Thermo Companies, and Verizon.
As you know, beamforming technology is not unique. It’s used in a variety of applications around the world in place of traditional omnidirectional broadcast. Relying on software-defined, beamforming antennas, it’s now possible to direct highly focused radio beams to individual users facilitating significantly high gain transmission and frequency reuse.
One of the challenges with mmWave 5G architecture is the need to deploy thousands of expensive base stations with fiber transport and power-hungry phased array antennas.
At greater than $50,000 per base station, the deployment cost of a 5G mmWave network can be staggering.
While Pivotal's technology does not eliminate the need for these base stations, it can vastly reduce the number required, and overcome a major limitation of mmWave, its inability to penetrate buildings.
SMW: How do Pivotal antennas differ from conventional phased array antennas?
BD: Phased Arrays use phase shifters, which are lossy and require a lot of amplification. They typically require an LNA on the receive side, and a power amplifier on the transmit side, which generates a significant amount of heat and draws quite a bit of power. We don’t do any of that.
Our antenna can perform at the same level as a 40-Watt phased array using only one Watt. Unlike a phased array, we create an electromagnetic hologram using a metamaterials surface.
The antenna is a “sandwich.” One layer is the waveguide. The outer layer of the “sandwich” has all of the radiating elements, and in between it and the waveguide are irises, which allow RF to pass between the two other layers.
We use varactors to control the hologram that is “programmed” onto the radiating elements and form the beam. There are numerous advantages to this design.
We get a phase shifter for “free” by changing the holographic pattern from one row of radiating elements to the next, and we can do simultaneous transmit and receive. Our holographic design results in a significant reduction in cost, size, weight, and power consumption vs. a conventional phased array. In some of these areas, it’s an order of magnitude less.
Using Holographic Beamforming antennas, we have developed two extremely low-cost repeaters. With them, 5G operators can significantly extend the range of mmWave 5G base stations, reduce the number required in a given area, and fill homes and offices with a mmWave signal.
The result is the delivery of low latency/high throughput 5G at a much lower cost than 5G base stations alone.
Figures 1-2 above demonstrate the significant increase in coverage achieved using low-cost Pivot 5GTM pole-mounted repeaters and window-mounted Echos.
SMW: I understand that Pivotal has developed two repeater products, the Pivotal 5G repeater, a pole-mounted unit, and the Echo, a window-mounted device. Can you tell us about these products and how they work?
BD: Our Pivot 5GTM repeater is very small, around the size of a traffic camera, and costs less than one-tenth the cost of a 5G base station. It mounts on a telephone pole, can be installed in around fifteen minutes, and uses less than 25 Watts of power.
Each Pivot 5GTM repeater contains a donor unit and a service unit. The donor unit uses a holographic beamforming antenna and trains a very narrow beam onto the base station.
The service unit uses a more traditional antenna and can shoot a seventy-five-degree wide beam to fill an entire cul-de-sac, reaching every home.
Of course, we know that mmWave does not typically penetrate buildings. To overcome this limitation, we developed our Echo 5GTM repeater. It’s a small, self-installable, inexpensive device around seven inches in diameter that is mounts on a window, captures the 5G signal, and gently floods an entire house or office with over a Gigabit of bandwidth.
SMW: Can you give us an idea of the savings a carrier can realize through the use of Pivotal 5G repeaters and Echos?
BD: You will recall that the cost of 5G base stations is over $50,000. If you can significantly extend the coverage area of each base station, you will need a lot fewer base stations. That's the heart of our value proposition.
Depending on the area covered, the savings would be substantial. Moreover, this cost has directly attributable revenue as a result of added Fixed Wireless Access subscribers.
Also, we greatly speed time to market due to the ease of permitting, siting, installation, and the fact that our smart repeaters require no fiber.
SMW: What is the business model? Are you a hardware manufacturer or a service provider or both? How does the company generate revenue?
BD: We have several revenue streams. We are both a hardware manufacturer, a software company, and a service company. We build the hardware, provide software tools for network design and optimization, design networks for our clients, and if the client desires, we can manage the network using our Cloud-based network management service. So, we can be a full-service provider.
SMW: I understand that your first U.S. installation is with Verizon, and you are developing a unit for AT&T. What about growth beyond the U.S. market?
BD: As Verizon is both an investor and an evangelist for the use of 5G mmWave technology, they have been an enormous help in our efforts to reach beyond U.S. markets. We are currently in discussions with 5G network operators 5G in Australia, Korea, Japan, Romania and Switzerland and are already conducting trials in some jurisdictions.
SMW: As I mentioned previously, satellite operators and hardware manufacturers are working hard to achieve compatibility with 5G. What applications are most likely to benefit from the integration of satellite with 5G?
BD: While there is no way for satellite to meet the latency requirements of 5G Augmented reality, I could see it used to distribute broadcast content into the 5G network. Because Pivotal's technology can significantly increase the penetration of 5G into the home, it could result in a wider audience for satellite distributed broadband content.
New Technology from Pivotal Penetrates Buildings and Homes
New 5G mmWave Repeaters Maximize Coverage and Cut Costs
An Interview with Brian Deutsh, CEO of Pivotal Commware...
(Fig 1) One Square Kilometer of an American Suburb Populated by Seven Seven 5G Base Stations. Blue Buildings Indicate Acceptable Coverage
( Fig 2) One Square Kilometer of an American Suburb Populated by Seven 5G Base Stations. Blue Subscriber Buildings Indicate Coverage by Base Satations Alone. Yellow Buildings Indicate Buildings covered by Pivotal Echo 5GTM. Green Buildings Indicate still more subscribers covered by Pivotal Echo 5GTM and Pivot 5GTM pole mounted repeaters.
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"You will recall that the cost of 5G base stations is over $50,000. If you can significantly extend the coverage area of each base station, you will need a lot fewer base stations. That's the heart of our value proposition."
About Brian Deutsch:
Brian Deutsch is CEO of Pivotal Commware, the inventors of Holographic Beam Forming™ (HBF).
Prior to Pivotal, Deutsch was the founding CEO of Wavtrace, a broadband wireless equipment provider acquired by Harris Corporation (HRS) in 2000.
More recently, he served as turnaround CEO at ApertoNetworks and EVP at BSQUARE (BSQR).
Deutsch also spent six years with Motorola, worked for NASA at Kennedy Space Center, was a finalist for Inc. magazine’s “Entrepreneur of the Year,” and has been awarded many U.S. patents.
He received his BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Miami.
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An Interview with CEO, Tucker Morrison
At Blue Sky Network...
With the advent of the new Iridium NEXT constellation, the advanced satellites take on an ever more critical role in asset tracking and management. Blue Sky Network, a value-added Iridium partner, has leveraged these unique capabilities to create a series of innovative products and services for the aero, maritime, and land markets.
While there are numerous asset tracking applications, their platform combines tracking, two-way voice, and data communication, "push to talk" capability and IoT. With it, operators of aircraft, ships, and vehicles can centrally manage their fleets, ancillary equipment, and other assets and personnel - all from a convenient graphical interface. To find out more about the capabilities of this unique company, we met with CEO Tucker Morrison.
SMW: Can you give us a bit of history regarding Blue Sky Network? How did the company get started? What was its initial mission, and how has it evolved to the present day?
Tucker Morrison (TM): Blue Sky Network was founded by Jon Gilbert, a San Diego entrepreneur, pilot, and owner of a boat tracking service.
In 2001, Gilbert and Dan Colussy, the Chairman of Iridium and a former aviation executive, agreed that Gilbert would develop an aircraft tracking product using the Iridium network and get it certified by the FAA.
Early on, Gilbert realized that the data, not the voice communications capability, would be the long-term play. So, he developed a hardware device capable of transmitting flight tracking data along with two-way communication.
One of the first applications was tracking helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico that serviced offshore oil rigs. At that time, helicopters made thousands of trips per-week, ferrying people to and from the rigs. As they usually flew beneath the radar, there was no easy way to track them. That’s how installing our devices onboard the aircraft to send autonomous GPS-imbedded position reports though Iridium evolved. Users of the service could view their aircraft's positions on a Web-based display we developed, and the product became very popular. That’s how we got started.
Today, our mission is to help organizations stay connected to their high-value assets in real-time, anywhere in the world. It includes working with our legacy aircraft customers to expand their tracking capabilities and developing tracking and IoT applications for other business segments.
For example, while aviation still represents approximately forty percent of our revenue, we have engineered a successful expansion into maritime and land mobile markets to comprise approximately fifty percent, with engineering services rounding out the balance. We now have over four hundred fifty customers around the world.
SMW: Iridium’s new Aireon service receives ADS-B and provides positioning, speed, direction, and altitude in real-time to aircraft controllers where no land-based receivers are available. Does BSN use Aireon, and how are the two services different? Please explain.
TM: While ADS-B has been around for a while, it is limited to the real-time transmission of aircraft location, altitude, speed, and travel direction.
Aireon is designed for air traffic control and extends visibility across the globe in real-time. Placing ADS-B receivers on Iridium NEXT satellites made this possible.
We also plan to integrate Aireon generated data into our SkyRouter product to complement the data we are transmitting; this leads to greater insights and refined analytics to the end user.
SMW: As you know, there are quite a few aircraft and maritime tracking applications. How is Blue Sky different?
In comparing our service to aircraft positioning competitors, it’s important to note the differences.
Unlike other aircraft and maritime tracking services, our SkyRouter application tracks multiple types of assets simultaneously. It also offers two-way voice communication and “push to talk” functionality, and it supports IoT data interchange. So, we go far beyond the provision of simple position and destination information.
SMW: What is the impact of the new NEXT constellation on your product offerings?
TM: It has increased reliability and the quality of the legacy services. The short burst data has also been improved, and “push to talk” is now available.
We are also developing products for Iridium Certus’ new “100” product that promises to offer 88/22 Kbps speeds. It's capable of supporting data streaming at very low cost via a small form factor device.
SMW: I note that you initially focused on the aero market. Why did you choose this market, and what specific aircraft segments do you serve, i.e. commercial passenger, business jets, or leisure aviation? Can you give us some examples of product usage in its key target segments?
TM: Within the aviation market, we serve air-medical, helicopters, air taxis. From an industry perspective, we also support aerial firefighting, offshore transport, and search and rescue operations.
In the commercial passenger segment, we serve small regional carriers, operating in remote locations such as Susi Air in Indonesia, Tropic Air in Belize, and Air Greenland.
A typical use case would be serving an organization that operates in regions with limited connectivity solutions. The client could track aircraft position, speed, altitude, mission status, communicate with the pilot, and schedule any unexpected maintenance that might be required. In addition, tracking of support vehicles and services and pilot messaging is supported by SkyRouter.
SMW: Can you tell us more about your diversification efforts?
TM: We plan to invest in technology, people, and gaining market share. Our diversification efforts began two years ago when we acquired Applied Satellite Engineering in Scottsdale, Arizona, a satellite equipment provider.
ASE was focused on maritime and land markets and was making Iridium terminals for those markets. The acquisition provided us with hardware development, market knowledge, and specific segment-related engineering expertise.
Our engineering team has expanded to support the development of a variety of new products to serve these markets.
We now have an indoor Satcom system, a dual-mode vehicle tracking and telematics device, the HawkEye 5500, and also introduced the first known FAA-approved Autonomous Distress Tracking device, the HawkEye ADT, in late 2019.
As an Iridium VAM for the upcoming Certus 100 platform, we are designing devices to stream data from unmanned aerial systems and land mobile applications.
SMW: In the maritime segment, there are numerous vessel-tracking services available. What specific vessel segment do you target (commercial shipping, passenger vessels, leisure vessels). In that segment, what are your key differentiators? Can you give us an actual use case?
TM: A good example is Chevron. We are tracking their platform services vessels and can also track their land vehicles and helicopters taking people back and forth to rigs, and we can do it all on a single screen (or set of screens for data management beyond tracking). We build a very comprehensive solution and will customize the user interface and functionality.
SMW: What is your target market in the land segment - commercial vehicles, military vehicles, construction equipment, buses? Can you tell us which segment you are targeting and your key differentiators?
TM: Military personnel carriers, supply vehicles, VIP transport, utility service vehicles, ambulance tracking, are a few examples.
Again, our comprehensive set of applications includes tracking of multiple assets on a single screen, voice and data communication for IoT and “push to talk.”
SMW: In the personal security segment, you compete directly against Globalstar’s SPOT Gen3, which costs only $99 and Sat-Fi 2, which provides a local Wi-Fi Hotspot w/unlimited data for $50 per month. How do your solutions compare, and what specific personal security markets are you targeting?
TM: Unlike Globalstar, we don’t focus on the consumer leisure market. Also, recall that Globalstar coverage is limited to some geographical areas. We’re more of a B2B focused business where managing a number of assets including alerts and geofence parameters, among others, is a prerequisite.
SMW: Given the limited number of personnel in your organization and the size and diversity of your markets, how do you successfully grow it?
TM: We have an outstanding list of customers and believe we can leverage this base to provide a greater range of solutions for their fleets and data management needs.
While aviation will continue to be a large end-use application for us, the growing need for IoT applications and telematics spans multiple mobility segments.
We believe our ability to combine innovative combinations of voice and data communications, along with graphical display capability, is our greatest asset.
Iridium Satellite Tracking Enables Advanced Fleet Mangement
"Blue Sky Network's Sky Router tracks mutiple types of assets simultaneously, It allows for two-way voice communication ,“push to talk” functionality and supports IoT data interchange."
Graphical Tracking Display
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Tucker currently serves as Chief Executive Officer of Blue Sky Network, LLC.
Before joining Blue Sky, he was the Chief Commercial Officer for MRO Holdings, Inc., a leading aviation services and solutions provider with three airframe maintenance and modification facilities in the U.S. and Latin America. and served as the COO and owner of its Flightstar subsidiary (prior to the parent company acquisition.
Prior to Flightstar and MRO Holdings, Tucker served as Managing Director of M&A for Headwaters MB, an investment banking advisory firm aimed at middle-market entrepreneurs.
He earned a Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and holds his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Northwestern University as well.
Known largely for its Jupiter constellation, HughesNet Internet service, and hub and modem infrastructure, Hughes Network Systems is moving aggressively into mobility markets.
Behind the scenes and through a network of third-party VARs, HNS has established a strong commercial aero market position. It's supplying hub and modem infrastructure and satellite capacity to commercial and business jets and is now serving over 1,000 aircraft.
To find out more about the company's success and learn about their future ambitions, we sat down with Reza Rasoulian, one of the frequent contributors to Satellite Mobility World and Vice President at HNS.
SMW: Except for HughesNet, Hughes has largely been an infrastructure provider rather than a service provider. How is that changing?
Reza Rasoulian (RR): We are the largest satellite service provider in the market. We provide infrastructure, such as networks and equipment and ground segment technology in partnership with other suppliers. About 85% of our revenue comes from services.
Looking back, we entered the services business by offering managed network services to distributed enterprises. Today, service remains a key segment of our business, and we have nearly half a million enterprise sites under management.
Today, in the satellite broadband space, we are both a service provider - with over 1.5 million HughesNet subscribers - and a supplier of ground segment and technology to satellite operators and service providers. We develop terminals and baseband systems, and own satellites, which enables numerous lines of business.
SMW: I understand that you are providing hub and modem infrastructure to SES for SES’ upcoming SES 17, Ka-Band satellite. The intention is to create a seamless network for aero combining Jupiter and SES coverage over the Americas and Atlantic. Can you tell us more?
RR: We have a great partnership with SES and are developing the gateway and modem solution for SES 17 based on Jupiter technology.
SES 17 is a game-changing Ka-band satellite for the Americas developed by Thales Alenia Space. Built entirely on digital technology, it uses over 200 spot beams dynamically configurable to customer demands in Aero, Maritime, and Enterprise markets. It has great coverage of the Americas and is poised to deliver a phenomenal user experience. Given the increased demand for bandwidth and connectivity in the aero markets, the JUPITER solution is a perfect fit.
In collaboration with SES, Thales Avionics, and Thinkom we also demonstrated a MEO-GEO solution where our JUPITER ModMan roamed from GEO to O3b MEO on a moving aircraft—a further example of the power of the Hughes technology.
SMW: Can you give us some examples of Hughes powered aero applications?
RR: We already provide both hardware and satellite capacity via SES to Spirit Airlines through our value-added reseller partner, Thales Avionics, which offers its FlytLIVE service. Spirit is a leading carrier in the U.S., Latin America, and the Caribbean, with more than 550 daily flights.
Our long-time customer Global Eagle also leverages Hughes technology, enabling several major airlines, including Southwest, Air France, and Norwegian, among others. Another example is Hillwood Airways, which we service through our partner GDC Technics.
Hillwood Airways is a supplemental air carrier operating a fleet of three premium Boeing 737-700 aircraft and a unique 737 700-C long-range convertible VIP or cargo aircraft. They have some clients that want connectivity solutions with over 100 Mbps capacity.
Working together with Kontron and Thinkom, we have enabled the GDC Falcon 300 system, which Hillwood deployed leveraging our high-throughput JUPITER satellite fleet.
The Hughes JUPITER System powers the connectivity to both the Thales FlytLive system and the Falcon system and includes the Hughes ModMan, a high-performance aero modem, and server.
The reality is, passengers expect the high speed, content-rich, connectivity experience they have at home, whether in the air or at sea. With the JUPITER gateway and modem technology, we can provide an exceptional aero mobility experience. The Hughes JUPITER mobility platform leverages the innovation and performance we deliver to our 1.5 million broadband subscribers and brings it to the mobility markets via our partners.
SMW: Can you tell us more about your future ambitions in the aero connectivity market?
Our focus is to work with ASPs, aero integrators, and satellite operator partners to expand our footprint across aviation connectivity markets and help them provide the high-performance connectivity experience air travelers demand.
In addition, for customers that require extreme speed, our extensive fabric of JUPITER enabled satellite capacity is well positioned to help our partners achieve the goals of their airline customers. With our JUPITER 3 satellite, expected to launch in the second half of 2021, we will have more than 1 Tbps of total capacity over the Americas.
SMW: In another segment in the aero connectivity market, you recently announced an innovative high-speed connectivity product for helicopters. As I understand it, it’s capable of providing streaming capability through a helicopter’s rotor blades. Can you tell us about the product and its potential markets?
Proving high-speed broadband on a helicopter is difficult. We had to overcome the blockages created by the rotors and other engineering challenges.
The technology we developed is called HeloSat with our proprietary “through the rotor” (TTR) waveform to compensate for the rotors’ blockage to enable high-speed connectivity on rotorcraft.
Previously, low bit rate alternatives were available but nothing capable of high definition transmission. In both civilian and military applications, there is a need for the situational awareness that HeloSat can provide.
The market extends to military applications, sports broadcasting, air ambulances, satellite newsgathering, and search and rescue. The ubiquity of coverage it offers is far-reaching.
Whether you are over water or land areas where there is spotty coverage, HeloSat offers a solution consisting of constant, measurable bandwidth in Mil-Ka, Ka, or Ku-Band frequencies and certified to DO-160 and MIL-STD-810 standards. Using satellites with real-time beamforming capability, you can illuminate a specific theater of operations at up to 10 Mbps.
We have a lot of interest in this innovative solution and are keen to assist governments, agencies, enterprises, and owners with high-speed connectivity on helicopters. HeloSat is available now.
SMW: You recently announced an additional $50 Million in OneWeb. Isn’t that competitive with HughesNet?
RR: Our award-winning HughesNet service is focused on consumer markets, requiring significant capacity density - which GEO delivers. GEO solutions have favorable economics that is fantastic to provide high capacity right where the users need it. What’s more, video, the biggest consumer application, works well over GEO satellite.
In the long run, we see LEOs - with low latency and global coverage - as complementary to GEOs. Many applications that work very well over GEO satellite. In contrast, other applications would benefit from the lower latency characteristics of NGSO, which is why we believe in the hybrid connectivity approach, leveraging the right transport medium for the right applications.
As you are aware, the other issue with many LEO constellations for consumer applications is the lack of a low-cost consumer terminal. If a low-cost phased array terminal does evolve, there would be applicability into the consumer markets, and we would likely leverage that into hybrid solutions.
SMW: Do you have any other upcoming developments in the mobility area to announce in the near future?
Absolutely. Hughes continues to innovate in connectivity technology to connect the unconnected. We’re working on several projects that we will discuss with you in the coming months. So, we would like to visit with you again soon.
An Interview With Reza Rasoulian, HNS Vice President
Hughes Network Systems - Big Mover In Mobility Markets
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Reza Rasoulian, vice president, broadband satellite services at Hughes Network Systems, LLC (HUGHES), leads the company’s strategic planning and business development related to aeronautical and maritime satellite mobility services.
Prior to joining Hughes in his current position, Mr. Rasoulian was vice president, global connectivity at Carnival Corporation.
Before Carnival, Mr. Rasoulian worked at Comtech EF Data as senior vice president of mobility systems.
In his current role, Mr. Rasoulian rejoins Hughes, where he previously held positions of increasing responsibility.
Mr. Rasoulian holds a Master of Science Degree in Systems Engineering from the Whiting School of Engineering at The Johns Hopkins University, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Systems Management & Management Science from University of Maryland.
An Interview with Thinkom CTO Bill Milroy
Defense Department Agency Evaluating VICTS Antenna for Maritime
Stabilized parabolic antennas have long dominated the broadband shipping market. With LEO constellations coming, new antennas capable of efficiently tracking multiple satellites may soon displace the parabolics.
As a precursor of changes to come, the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) of the Department of Defense is now testing the Thinkom VICTS antenna and other phased arrays for potential use aboard Navy vessels. The results of these tests could not only set a standard for wider military use of the VICTS antennas but, given the new NGSOs, could open a vast market in commercial shipping.
To find out more about the significance of DIU's antenna evaluation and what it means for Thinkom and the future of broadband at sea, we spoke with William Milroy, the well-known CTO of Thinkom.
SMW: You recently announced a contract from the Defense Innovation Unit. I suspect most of our readers are not familiar with DIU. Please give us a little background on the organization and its mission.
Bill Milroy: (BM)The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) organization established to streamline and accelerate the adoption of commercial technologies throughout the military and to grow the national security innovation base.
DIU’s mission is fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military, with a target timetable of moving from problem identification to prototype contract in 60-90 days. In contrast, the traditional DoD contracting process often takes more than 18 months.
With offices in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and the Pentagon, DIU connects its DoD partners with technology companies.
SMW: What, specifically, is DIU looking for with this contract?
(BM) The U.S. Navy has a requirement for low-observable SATCOM antennas that operate over S-, C-, X-, Ku-, K-, Ka-, and Q-band frequencies and can be installed on naval ships.
They want to deploy a next-generation SATCOM antenna capability and demonstrate that an affordable solution, utilizing existing technology and approaches, can be acquired with acceptable risk.
SMW: I understand you will provide one of your commercially available antennas for evaluation and ship testing? What will the testing program encompass?
(BM) The contract was awarded by DIU to ThinKom Solutions in July to test and evaluate one of our commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) aeronautical phased-array antenna systems as a potential solution for next-generation satellite communications on U.S. Navy ships.
Under the seven-month contract, ThinKom delivers a ThinAir® Ka2517 antenna system for on-board testing to meet U.S. Navy requirements for Multi-Domain Tactical Communications (MDTC).
The Ka2517, based on our patented VICTS technology, will demonstrate integration on a U.S. Navy ship, such as a DDG-1000 class destroyer and, pending a successful trial, will ultimately be considered for the broader fleet. The DDG-1000 is the lead ship in a new class of guided-missile destroyers designed with an extremely low radar signature.
A concurrent design study phase will evaluate performance modifications requested by the Navy.
SMW: Is DIU also looking at other commercial antenna designs for this U.S. Navy requirement?
(BM): DIU is also investigating other suppliers, including electronically steered arrays (ESAs).
However, we believe our field-proven COTS antennas can uniquely (and fully) satisfy the U.S. Navy’s SATCOM requirements while meeting DIU’s aggressive timetable for rapid movement to deployable products.
SMW: Is this the same antenna system you’re installing on commercial and military aircraft?
(BM): Yes. The Ka2517 is currently operational on a fleet of U.S. government aircraft and will soon be introduced on several commercial airline fleets. Multiple supplemental type certificates (STCs) are in process and are expected to be awarded this year.
These terminals use the same VICTS architecture that is in full production and installed on more than 1,550 commercial aircraft, which have accrued more than 17 million flight hours, demonstrating greater than 100,000 hours mean time between failure (MTBF) rates.
With millions of hours of service under the extreme dynamic and environmental conditions of modern commercial and military jet aircraft, ThinKom’s low-profile, compact VICTS antennas are ideally positioned to meet the Navy’s performance requirements for a platform at sea.
Why do you believe the VICTS antenna is better suited than an ESA for this shipboard SATCOM requirement?
(BM): Probably first and foremost, ThinKom VICTS antennas are real products that have been extensively tested, with publicly available data that demonstrates their performance advantages.
Additionally, they are a low-cost, low-risk COTS solution that can be integrated into the existing (limited) space on a DDG-1000 class ship. The antennas also meet the most stringent requirements for precision sidelobe control and grating lobe suppression - critical factors on a modern naval ship.
Importantly, VICTS antenna sidelobes are suppressed to reduce the probability of detection/interception. Unlike the VICTS, many ESAs will have extreme difficulties with sidelobe and grating lobe control (unwarranted emissions) over a large angular region.
Operating across the spectrum from C-band to W-band, VICTS antennas have been verified by multiple third-party system integrators to be RF compatible with low radar cross-section and low observable platforms and installations.
SMW: How well do VICTS antennas perform with non-geostationary satellites and, in particular, with LEOs?
ThinKom’s antennas have completed multiple ground and in-flight tests, demonstrated seamless interoperability across satellites in low, medium, and geostationary orbits. They consistently achieved extremely fast switching speeds, very high data throughput rates, spectral efficiency, beam agility, interference control, low-angle tracking, and seamless inter-constellation operation - all at low power consumption and without liquid cooling.
SMW: Until now, ThinKom has been best known for its commercial aviation IFC business. Will this contract be a major step toward opening a wider market for ThinKom in the defense arena?
(BM): While it’s true that in recent years our growth has been largely driven by the commercial aviation market, we’ve been actively involved with U.S. and foreign government defense programs since 2002, when we received our first major U.S. government contract for a K/Q-band airborne antenna. Our portable CTS antennas are currently widely deployed for a broad range of military services.
Looking to the future, we see tremendous potential for growth in military satellite communications. I’ll just mention three areas in particular where our technology can address specific requirements for military platforms. We have already demonstrated in over-the-air operation the unique ability of VICTS to address all three of them.
The first is embedded and low-observable phased-array antennas with no visible radome, which has proven difficult in the past due to power, reliability, size and cost limitations.
Secondly, the military is pushing into the Q-, V- and E-bands where 20+ GHz available bandwidth will likely enable fiber-like throughput via satellite in coming years.
Third, we see considerable potential for VICTS in protected comms, which employs techniques and waveforms that are difficult to detect, intercept and/or jam. Our ThinKom phased arrays, based on a unique beam-stabilized feed architecture, supports frequency hopping and spread-spectrum based protected tactical waveform applications.
Finally: Phased Array Antennas on Ships?
"ThinKom VICTS antennas are real products that have been extensively tested, with publicly available data that demonstrates their performance advantages."
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About Bill Milroy:
Prior to co-founding ThinKom (www.thinkom.com), William (Bill) Milroy held the position of Senior Engineering Fellow within the Electromagnetic Systems Department of Raytheon’s Electronic Systems (ES) Segment.
During his 20 year tenure at Raytheon (Hughes Aircraft), Mr. Milroy managed and lead the RF antenna design, development, and production of a wide range of antenna array implementations for radar and communication applications in both the commercial and military marketplaces including 1-D and 2-D Electronically-Scanned Arrays (ESA’s).
Mr. Milroy is a graduate of the University of California at Los Angeles, earning BSEE, MSEE, and Engineer (Ph.D. course, field, and examination requirements) degrees in 1979, 1981, and 1986 and holds numerous patents.
There are many mobility related satellite industry events and unless you have an unlimited budget, here are the "must attends" (in blue) and others that may be of interest.
****RESCHEDULED: Asia Pacific Maritime: Singapore: Live Show 16-18 March 2022: Virtual Conference September 2020
Biggest maritime show in Asia.
****CABSAT: RESCHEDULED: October 28-Nov l: Dubai, Emirates: The major satellite show in the Middle East. Global VSAT Forum is presenting a special program at the show. For further information contact Martin Jerrold of GVF.
*****SeaTrade Cruise Global, Miami: RESCHEDULED: 12-15 April 2021: The Cruise Industry is a huge user of VSAT services. making this show an important venue. It should not be missed - an important event for satellite service suppliers.
****Posidonia: RESCHEDULED 28-30 October Athens, Greece: Another important show maritime VSAT, especially for those targeting the tanker and container segment.
****CommunicAsia: CANCELED - GOES VIRTUAL - Virtual Event Sept 29-Oct 1
****Global Connected Aircraft: RESCHEDULED
June 2-3, 2021 Denver: A popular conference address in commercial aircraft connectivity.
****SMM: Hamburg, Germany' RESCHEDULED February 2-5 2021: A must attend for those interested in VSAT use in the cargo segments.
******World Satellite Business Week: Paris, France: RESCHEDULED 9-11 November. Unquestionably, the best satellite conference of the year. WSBW bring together all of the top executives in the industry in an intimate, networking atmosphere at the Westin.
*** PTC 2021: Honolulu, Hawaii: January 17-20
Notable gathering of Pacific and Asian companies with limited satellite segment.
**** Satellite 2021: Washington D.C.: March 15 to 18th. The year's most important Tradeshow/Conference Event. Great for an industry overview. Many good break away sessions on specific topics.
Upcoming and Recommended Satellite Mobility Events
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