Just over the horizon we can see an Earth that is one 100 percent interconnected by broadband, as new megaconstellations go online in the Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) — at least that’s the idea, anyway.
With today’s satellites maxing out and the demand for High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) becoming off the charts, it’s no wonder that antenna systems on the ground are evolving fast to keep up with the wave of demand for more broadband.
Companies such as OneWeb, SpaceX, LeoSat and Telesat promise to deliver on the first phase of this new reality by the end of 2018. But for these ambitious megaconstellations to go live, new wave electronically-steered antenna systems must mature quickly and complement traditional geostationary systems.
C-Com, which started producing mobile antenna systems in the early 2000’s, has stated its intentions to evolve as a company while producing new systems for the growing flat-panel antenna market. In a joint venture with the University of Waterloo, the company hopes to bring a modular active phase array system to market in order to compete with some of the startups already making noise.
While C-Com is already testing on a small scale, the company hopes to have a product prototype sometime early next year.
“We see big projects from the LEO and MEO constellations being launched as an opportunity to fund new antenna operations,” says Drew Klein, director of international business development at C-Com.
And while C-Com appears intrigued by the prospects of future megaconstellations, at present, the company has a tempered view when considering the expectations being set by younger antenna startups.
“A lot of the cost expectations are really ambitious, and may not be achievable in introductory years unless heavily subsidized or bundled with other services,” Klein says. “Today, choices most people have are mechanically parabolic or flat-fixed panel systems. That’s mainly due to lack of proven technology which can compete. As MMIC technology advances, phased array will benefit along with economy of scale.”
There are limitations to wide-band flat-panel antenna systems, however. They don’t do things like auto inquire. Essentially, they are point and shoot like a traditional paramount dish.
Compared with companies such as Phasor and Kymeta, as industry vets, C-Com expects to have several differentiators. Their Ka-band products will initially be marketed for the commercial segment first, before releasing to the consumer and enterprise market segments.
The future of mobile connectivity at sea and air that we see relies upon the cost efficiency Klein eluded to, as new systems integrate software to control electronic antenna components that automate mechanical means of the past — beam forming, pointing, acquisition, re-acquisition, dynamic adjustments, and adjacent satellite interference mitigation.
In short, the ground game must catch up to the satellite space race.
To close the Earth’s coverage gaps, GEO and LEO/MEO technology must not only work in symphony to communicate with different types of terminals, but the demand for antenna systems must match what’s physically feasible. With phased array systems rapidly maturing, the promise of these LEO/MEO and GEO systems interoperating excites the CEO of Phasor Solutions, David Helfgott, who calls the potential “transformational.”
“There’s so much capacity coming online that the economics of connectivity with the satellite will improve dramatically, allowing it to be adopted farther and farther downmarket,” says Helfgott.
Following seven years of development, Phasor’s electronically steered antennas began testing in commercial use cases this year. These antennas are barely 2.5 centimeters thick, and are designed to be conformal in order to look at a wider angle 180 degrees, with dual-beam technology making them LEO and GEO interoperable.
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