Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Three satellite eras

Dramatic increases in the number of two-way satellite terminals is a key issue in current spectrum policy, e.g. the argument between satellite and cellular interests in the millimeter wave bands. Most Earth stations used to be TV receivers. However, the growth of satellite broadband service is increasing the number of Earth station transmitters.While it's an over-simplification, but it helps me to think of the number of earth station transmitters (often referred to as uplinks) growing in three overlapping and cumulative eras.

"Broadcasting era" - TV and radio
  • Mid-70s onwards
  • There have been millions of DTV Earth station receivers for decades, and it's still the dominant revenue stream in the satellite business. According to the Satellite Industry Association's 2017 report, satellite TV and radio accounted for 80% of global satellite service revenue in 2016, at $102.7 million.
  • However, there were very few uplink Earth stations; essentially just gateways providing video streams for redistribution of course.
  • US uplink transmitters, ~1980: order (10's thousands)

"Enterprise data era" - VSATs
  • Late 80's onwards
  • Uplink stations begin to spread to end users, but numbers remain small since they're limited to enterprise-oriented services, e.g. LINKABIT, Spacenet, and the Hughes lottery system.I use VSAT to refer to two-way ground stations with dishes typically less than a meter or so; served by GSO satellites; and typically used for narrowband data (e.g. PoS transactions, SCADA), cf. wikipedia.
  • US uplink transmitters, ~2000: order (millions) see e.g. Comsys VSAT Report

"Consumer broadband era" - internet access
  • Mid-2000s onwards
  • Broadly deployed uplinks, including for end users
  • Started with broadband terminals in rural areas, and on boats and planes; the number of terminals is still comparatively small (e.g. the US commercial aircraft inventory is ~ 8,000 units, and SIA reports 1.9 million satellite broadband subscribers world-wide)
  • Just getting started, will grow dramatically with GSO HTS and NGSO
  • US uplink transmitters, ~2020: order (10s millions)

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