Taking connectivity to the next level

By combining GEO and MEO solutions in its portfolio, SES Networks is all set to give a tough fight not just to other satellite players, but fibre companies as well
Satellite, GEO, MEO, SES, SES Networks, 03b, O3b mPower, Low latency, Satellite communications, Satellite vs fibre

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The main highlight of SES at CABSAT 2018 was to inform the market about its differentiated and new services in the video and data businesses, following a decision to create SES Networks that comprises O3b Networks and all data-centric business of SES.

CommsMEA spoke to Simon Gatty Saunt who heads EMEA fixed data sales at SES Networks.  “As part of the SES Networks, we combined O3b and SES data groups together to form one company. As a result, we have a much differentiated kind of product in the marketplace compared to other satellite operators. We are the only satellite operator to be selling satellite managed data network solutions across the geo-stationary orbit at 36,000 kms and low latency O3b services”

Another interesting development from the company is that now it’s also offering full turnkey managed end-to-end solutions for certain market segments. “Now we have the capability to offer end-to-end managed solutions to the end-users. That’s another part of the business we will be scaling up during 2018,” says Saunt.

In Middle East, the areas where SES Networks has had most of its success are cellular backhaul for enterprise customers. It also has a lot of service provider customers in the UAE who are providing services out of their teleports into other areas, for example, maritime networks or enterprise networks into Africa.  In the mobility space, the company has a number of customers in the region in aerospace including flydubai, as well as several maritime customers. “Another very important part of our business which is growing in the region is the government business,” Saunt says.

Going ahead, the big strategy for SES Networks in the region is focused on the telco and MNO side of the business, Saunt tells us. “Our MEO O3b services are very much geared around offering low latency and high throughput services in the region. Because of the low latency and cost points we can get to with solutions like these, we are competing with other fibre companies instead of competing with other satellite companies.”

Satellites vs fibre

Thanks to its O3b system, SES Networks is all geared up to put up a tough fight not just against other satellite players in the market, but also the fibre companies. So, what are the USPs of the O3b system?  “The number one factor is the latency; the round-trip time on one of our O3b satellites is 120ms, which is very much comparable with that of fibre. The other big advantage of O3b is that we can get up to 2Gigabits of bandwidth into one beam into one location,” Saunt says.

Based on its characteristics, the O3b constellation of satellites works very well especially while providing fibre-backup services or even in some cases, fibre extension services. On the present date, SES has 12 satellites in the O3b orbit, with four satellites launching in March and another four launching in 2019.

One of the most exciting things to look forward is to the next generation of O3b which is called O3b mPOWER. “This is going to be a complete game changer in our business, Saunt says.

O3b mPOWER is going to be in the Medium Earth Orbit and will be very much compatible with all the current generation O3b technology and equipment. However, there are going to be a few big differences in the way that its services can be used. One of them is the amount of throughput one can get per beam. “For example, in dry areas like the Middle East, we can get up to 2 Gigabits into one location, one antenna with the existing systems. What we can do with O3b mPOWER is we can get up to 10 Gigabits of bandwidth going into one terminal. With new beamforming architecture on-board, we would be able to focus the power down to a 100km spot beam which will provide up to 10 Gigabits of bandwidth for one customer,” Saunt says. “Another aspect is the amount of beam- we are going to have 30, 000 beams on the initial seven satellites globally which we can deploy pretty much anywhere. Since all of them are steerable beams, we can put the power where it’s needed as opposed to lighting up an area which has no demand.”

And the advantages of O3b mPOWER don’t end there! While the current 03b satellites have to send services through one of the international gateways of SES, with mPOWER SES would be able to provide gateways in every single country. “This will help us get around the whole issue of data and internet filtering in the Middle East and a lot other countries, whereby they prohibit data coming in from an international teleport,” Saunt says.

To optimise the potential of this new satellite system, SES Networks is already working with a number of flat panel antenna manufacturers which will enable the foray of O3b mPOWER into to a number of new vertical markets like business jets, commercial airliners, solar powered cell backhaul sites, etc. which can’t be captured with the current generation of O3b satellites.

Over the next three to five years period, the growth for SES will be coming majorly from the SES Networks side of the business, according to Saunt.  “If you look at the investment SES has made in new satellites over the last couple of years, all of that is pretty much geared around data business. We have two satellites with high throughput capabilities -- SES-12 and SES-17  -- Govsat-1, eight O3b current generation satellites to be launched and then coming up next is the O3b mPOWER which is a completely new satellite system.”

The company is all set for SES 12- its GEO HTS satellite for the region which would be launched in couple of months’ time.  The SES-12 satellite will expand SES’s capabilities to provide DTH broadcasting, VSAT, Mobility and HTS data connectivity services in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region, including rapidly growing markets such as India and Indonesia.

GovSat-1, a satellite dedicated to government and defence users, will also provide highly reliable and flexible interconnectivity within Europe, Middle East and Africa.

There is definitely a lot of optimism around the satellite business, as we see. But then, which are the main challenges the operators still have to battle on their way ahead? According to Saunt, the primary hurdles are dealing with the pricing in the satellite market which has come down significantly over the last few years, the competition against fibre and the increased competition in the market overall. “There was a big push to launch new satellites over the MEA three to four years ago and those are now coming to fruition. As a result, there’s a lot of bandwidth available out there. At SES, we believe no capacity is equal and that providing differentiated capacity for our diverse customers is what sets us apart. More importantly, we value the customer connectivity experience, and therefore find it important to offer managed service offerings,” Saunt adds.

Saunt tells CommsMEA how the business is transforming. “I think the days of being just a satellite operator selling transponders are going to be pretty short-lived. We need to be able to provide services on the back of satellite capacity so we can provide high-quality connectivity experience for our customers and their end users. A closer and better relation with end users helps us design our satellites as well. We design them around what our customers are looking for as opposed to just putting up bandwidth over a region and hoping to sell, which is what the old model used to be.”

There’s a lot of competition, which is why it’s important to differentiate oneself. “We are differentiated since we can play in both GEO as well as MEO, and this is becoming more and more attractive to customers,” Saunt says.

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