The not-quite-tangible reality of Virtual Ground Stations

The satellite tv for pc communications trade is on a mission to virtualize each doable piece of floor infrastructure to meet up with the age of cloud-based networks.

Changing {hardware} into software program put in and managed remotely through third-party information facilities would give satellite tv for pc operators extra flexibility over their networks and velocity up how rapidly they’ll reply to buyer calls for.

The trade may very well be simply years away from with the ability to faucet into digital floor stations that might haven’t any want for bodily modems and their cabling. Nevertheless, many technical challenges nonetheless have to be solved.

In September, satcoms gear maker ST Engineering iDirect and cloud big Microsoft Azure mentioned they’d efficiently demonstrated an essential milestone: the flexibility of a digital modem to extract data from a high-speed satellite tv for pc sign.

Modems are a important a part of the bottom section. They’re utilized in teleports and at buyer websites to translate the satellite tv for pc indicators an antenna receives and convert them for transmission by different networks.

From inside the cloud, their digital modem might additionally obtain satellite tv for pc indicators digitally through an ethernet cable. Alerts from satellites at this time are historically linked to bodily modems through analog cables that aren’t straight appropriate with cloudbased networks.

These are vital breakthroughs, in line with ST Engineering iDirect chief know-how officer Frederik Simoens, as a result of they pave the best way for digital modems working on third-party cloud infrastructure to switch their bodily counterparts.

There could be “no particular satellite tv for pc {hardware} wanted anymore,” he mentioned, as a result of information visitors might “go from a cloud atmosphere by the digital interface on to the antennas” that connect with spacecraft.

At the moment, if a satcoms buyer like a cruise line needs a brand new service, their supplier has to go to them and the satellite tv for pc gateway to bodily set up gear.

Sooner or later, this may very well be accomplished remotely with out shopping for and putting in satellite tv for pc modem {hardware} — though bodily antennas, amplifiers, and frequency converters would nonetheless be wanted to speak with satellites.

“Virtualization doesn’t imply that teleport operators can tear down their antennas and throw out their high-powered amplifiers,” says Robert Bell, government director of the World Teleport Affiliation.

“Nevertheless it does supply huge positive aspects in price in addition to lowering the complexity of operations and increasing markets.”

Bell mentioned digitizing indicators as near the downlink antenna as doable and changing them to analog as near the uplink as doable, relatively than shifting analog indicators round on interfacility hyperlinks, provides operators “extra alternatives” to enhance the pliability of their companies.

Nevertheless, it may not all the time be doable to completely implement virtualized community options at a buyer’s location even after they turn into accessible, not less than within the close to time period.

For many distant buyer terminals, “there won’t be a helpful information heart standing again to host a digital modem,” Bell mentioned.


For corporations like iDirect, shifting to software program would allow it to supply its communications know-how through a service mannequin.

As a substitute of shopping for community gear from iDirect below a “one-off” kind of deal, a satcoms supplier might get the potential with a subscription and pay just for what it wants and when.

A maritime satcoms supplier solely needing protection over the Caribbean in the summertime and the Mediterranean throughout different seasons, as an example, might reply to adjustments in demand remotely with just a few clicks within the cloud.

At this time, it might must have put in bodily modems and a larger stage of infrastructure in each areas with the capability to take care of most visitors hundreds.

“I believe it should revolutionize the trade,” SES CEO Steve Collar mentioned, “it’s one thing that’s been a aim for some time, however we now assume it’s in attain.”

SES and Microsoft not too long ago shaped an initiative they name the satellite tv for pc communications virtualization program to assist convert satcoms {hardware} from iDirect, Gilat, and others to software program.

Massive public cloud networks from corporations together with Microsoft, Amazon, and Google are seen as key enablers for integrating space-based networks with terrestrial communications, which might assist satellite tv for pc operators seize extra of the telecoms market.

The satellite tv for pc trade made about $279 billion in revenues in 2021, in line with a current report from BryceTech, whereas the worldwide telecoms market is measured within the trillions of {dollars}.

Their more and more nimble, cloud-compatible networks additionally come amid a broader trade shift towards extra versatile — albeit generally shorter-term — buyer contracts to compete on this trade.


SES and Microsoft plan to concern a request for proposals earlier than the top of this yr for these trying to be part of its virtualization program, which they are saying shall be a blueprint for aligning cloud and satellite tv for pc community architectures.

This system additionally seeks to speed up the adoption of requirements to switch buyer antennas with standardized and non-proprietary {hardware}.

SES is one among many satellite tv for pc operators searching for extra integration with cloud networks, though some, like Viasat and Hughes Community Programs, have constructed companies round proprietary antenna know-how.

Nonetheless, Collar believes it should in all probability be years earlier than the satcoms trade realizes its digital teleport ambitions.

“We are able to begin delivering some companies inside 12 to 18 months which can be absolutely cloud-based and never hardware-based,” he mentioned, “nevertheless it considerably relies on getting the trade on board.”

Some components of the bottom section are simpler to switch to the general public cloud than others.

Step one for iDirect shall be offloading processes which have already been virtualized below a personal cloud community, together with community administration methods, to the general public cloud.

Migrating different processes that at the moment run on devoted {hardware} is “extra tough,” Simoens mentioned.

Virtualizing this {hardware} must go hand-in-hand with absolutely digitizing how they interface with antennas, amplifiers, and frequency converters.

There may be loads of work to do to succeed in the extent of standardization that these interfaces will have to be extensively adopted.

“If we cloudify every part on the modem aspect, however there’s no antennas or amplifiers that may discuss the digital language, let’s say, then, after all, we can’t absolutely create a digital teleport,” Simoens mentioned.

Total, he expects it should take about three to 5 years to mix all these items of the puzzle.

Nevertheless, whereas public cloud suppliers are bringing new software program instruments to help the bottom section’s digital transformation, they can even must develop sustainable pricing fashions to make this a actuality.

The cloud would work very effectively for infrequent use circumstances and people purposes requiring loads of regional flexibility, Simoens mentioned. Nonetheless, it stays costly for companies that must run 24/7.

Nailing down cloud enterprise fashions for various house purposes is likely one of the areas SES and Microsoft are eager to handle.

This text initially appeared within the November 2022 concern of SpaceNews journal.


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