June 25, 2012
Credit: Credit: Space Systems/Loral
As emerging and established satellite fleet operators bank on the promise of Ka-band broadband to deliver fast, cheap Internet service, Intelsat has remained largely unconvinced. But with demand for smartphone and tablets growing at an astonishing pace, the world's largest operator of fixed-satellite services is taking aim at the mobile broadband market nonetheless.
Intelsat says it is about to order the first of a new line of satellites, dubbed Epic, that will feature characteristics associated with the Ka-band portion of the radio frequency spectrum: High throughput, frequency reuse and the ability to utilize multiple spot beams. But the company says it will use its plethora of existing C-, Ku- and Ka-band frequency allocations to do it.
Intelsat is already in the process of launching the first Ku-band network provided by a single fleet operator for global maritime and aeronautical mobility coverage, a constellation of seven satellites with 10 beams covering the entire globe. The network is slated for completion in early 2013.
The first of the Epic satellites, to be ordered from a yet-to-be-identified manufacturer, takes Intelsat's mobile play one step further by adding broadband to its portfolio. With Epic, Intelsat seeks to buttress its entry into a mobile sector already dominated by industry heavyweights Inmarsat and Iridium, while established fixed-service competitors including SES and Eutelsat move toward the mobile markets in search of growth.
New entrants like ViaSat are also a threat, although they are constrained to the limits of frequency rights in available Ka-band spectrum, where signals can often fall prey to atmospheric conditions.
“Many of the recent high-throughput projects were from new entrants that had no choice but going to Ka-band because those were the orbital rights they had access to,” says Thierry Guillemin, Intelsat senior vice president and chief technical officer. “It led to, in my view, a confusion in peoples' minds between Ka-band and high-throughput.”
Over the past decade, intense crowding in lower-frequency C- and Ku-bands has spurred satellite broadband providers to explore the electromagnetic wilderness of the Ka-band, a portion of spectrum offering orders of magnitude more capacity compared to lower frequencies.