Everybody’s talking about them and there are many satellite operators building them, some launching them, and some thinking about them. High Throughput Satellites and the next generation capacity they provide are poised to be the next big thing for our industry.
However, it is fair to say that opinion is very much divided on the requirement for High Throughput Satellites in Asia. Some say that an increased amount of throughput will be welcomed to support applications such as DTH, cellular backhaul and airborne and maritime applications. Others say it is too soon and that the applications that would require high throughput support are not yet established in the region. Others say that it is simply not an urgent requirement at present, and that this is something that can wait. Whatever the argument, and for whichever point of view, HTS are here to stay, and are expected to propel the industry forward as never before.
In 2014, the demand for HTS continued to increase significantly. Euroconsult’s October 2014 report on the HTS market projected that total HTS supply will nearly triple over the next three years from 600 Gbps in 2014 to 1720 Gbps in 2017.
“The vast majority of today’s available HTS capacity supply is in Ka-band, although Ku-band has recently seen increased adoption from operators such as Telesat, SES and Eutelsat, while Intelsat plans to include C-band spot beams on IS-33e and IS-35e,” said Nathan de Ruiter, Senior Consultant at Euroconsult. “Ka-band HTS should remain the dominant frequency band in all vertical markets in terms of capacity usage; nonetheless, Ku-band HTS capacity usage is projected to accelerate from 2017 to reach around 150 Gbps by 2023, largely driven by professional user markets which often have high reliability and availability requirements.”
It is expected that the increasing amount of available HTS capacity will drive opportunities in all major market verticals and also in all geographic regions. This, in turn, is also expected to drive demand for capacity, reaching just over 1300 Gbps in 2023.
Euroconsult expects consumer broadband services in North America to remain the largest user of HTS capacity by 2023, utilising 35 percent. Demand from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa and Asia-Pacific for civil government and enterprise networks and cellular backhaul and trunking is also expected to grow significantly by around 34 percent each year to 2023. The analyst firm also predict a rise in commercial mobility markets and a gradual increase in demand for video services.
Asia has always been considered an early adopter of technology and adoption of HTS by regional operators is something that is being discussed, but it is still in its nascent stages. Asia presents its own unique set of demands, with countries at varying levels of development. Thaicom 4, Asia’s first HTS was launched back in 2005, but found it very difficult to gain traction in the market, although it is doing very well today.
“There is considerable discussion over HTS. Though it is gaining attention in Asia, it is only in its infant stage. Going forward, it is important to work out how to design HTS in a way to meet the specific market requirements in Asia” said Bill Wade, President and CEO of AsiaSat.
Some feel that Asia is ready for the next generation of satellites, but that models used in Europe and the US will not be an appropriate fit for Asia. Others feel the region is truly ready now, and that HTS can support a variety of much-needed applications right across the continent. AsiaSat is currently looking into the development of HTS. Wade explains: “Yes, we are looking at how to design a Ka-band HTS system that fits Asia-Pacific requirements. We have put Ka-band payloads on our recent satellites in order to help us understand our customers’ needs in the region.”
Other regional operators such as APT Satellite are taking an even more cautious approach. Huang Baozhong, Vice President at APT Satellite, said: “We may consider having a HTS payload together with other conventional payloads on our future satellites, but may not be dedicated HTS satellites. Demands are always there, however QoS must to be verified. Thaicom-4 is in use in several countries but in a different way from what it was designed for at the beginning.”
There is a future for HTS in Asia, as there is across the world. Regional operators however, are cautious and are not getting too carried away with the HTS hype. HTS will need to be carefully developed and tailored to suite different market needs. There can be no doubt that data is going to be the biggest driver for HTS. Demand for Internet and data services on mobile devices is enormous and is beginning to consume Asia as it is globally. HTS will be a key enabler for rural connectivity. The lower cost of HTS services may also be an important selling point in Asia, where poverty is still very much a problem. However, more people are now prepared to pay for their connectivity today.
Huang Baozhong is concerned that the initial flurry of HTS capacity could lead to more long-term problems for satellite operators. “There will be a market for HTS in Asia and it will grow. But quickly the supply will turn to over demand since nearly all the existing operators already have or are planning HTS satellites or payloads.”
HTS is also almost certainly creating a ‘me too’ attitude within the industry as satellite operators perhaps feel this is something that they will have to explore and factor into planned spacecraft. But, as Bill Wade points out, this is progression in a business where spectrum is short and emergence of other bands is inevitable: “The introduction of HTS and Ka-band satellites is a natural development as Ku-band and C-band are filling up. It is still early for HTS in Asia butexpect it will evolve quickly over the next 2-3 years.”
So, evolution of HTS in Asia is in process and although global operators are keen to push their services, regional operators are taking their time. Operators focused upon broadcast perhaps naturally do not have the same urgency as ones that focus largely on data networks, but can still see the value of HTS. So, is Asia ready for HTS? Yes. Does it make sense for Asia? Yes, but adoption could take time as operators find the best fit, especially for Ka-band high throughput services.