Space odyssey – how satellite backhaul is improving terrestrial infrastructure

Intelsat offers high performance data connectivity across the globe

Read this article to learn:

  • Intelsat’s history and offering to the telecoms infrastructure industry
  • How Intelsat’s solutions are working in the field
  • How the European market is responding to satellite solutions
  • What the rollout of 5G will mean for satellite communications in telecoms infrastructure

Commercial satellite communications provider Intelsat is the largest company of its kind in the world. In this interview, Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, shares his insights into how satellite communications can be used to complement telecoms infrastructure with the best, most efficient solutions for deployment and how satellite services can support small cell and densification efforts both in urban and rural areas.

TowerXchange: Please introduce Intelsat, your history and the company’s footprint in Europe

Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, Intelsat:

Intelsat was founded over 50 years ago as the world’s first provider for commercial satellite communication services. Our reach is global rather than only covering Europe.

The company is the largest operator, with close to 60% of its revenues generated by serving Mobile Networks and VSAT Operators.

Intelsat’s global network delivers efficient data- connectivity allowing for a rapid extension of high-speed mobile broadband to thousands of sites. Cell backhaul via satellite scales extremely well where the business case for terrestrial connectivity solutions is currently absent or not attractive. With roots in the telecoms sector, Intelsat engineers closely liaise with operators and their infrastructure-partners to develop and drive profitable new revenue streams while ensuring effective, flexible, secure and reliable communications.

Intelsat EpicNG next generation satellite technology – six High Throughput Satellites (HTS) by 2018 – is a proven game changer for the sector. The EpicNG satellites were specifically designed to provide high performance data connectivity for mobile networks with improved business models and economics.

TowerXchange: Intelsat has a great offering  to tower owners – can you give us some examples of how Intelsat is working in the field? Do you have any case studies? 

Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, Intelsat:

Today, approximately 100 of our customers use our satellite-based backhaul services as a core component of their network infrastructure. This includes 9 of the top 10 mobile groups worldwide, who serve a third of the world’s subscribers.

The projects cover all the scenarios including quick deploy rural solutions, upgrades from 2G to 3G/4G LTE, better, shared backhaul, usage based billing, disaster recovery and addressing new market segments with deployments in developing and developed regions. Deployments range from basic voice in the Democratic Republic of Congo to providing 4G/LTE in Japan, the USA, Latin America and throughout the EMEA region.

Connectivity delivered via satellite is flexible and can be applied to meet the USO requirements of the mobile spectrum license holders. Satellite also scales well enabling management of traffic growth, for example for video delivery via mobile networks, and to manage large shifts in network traffic; this can be effectively managed without over-investing in your network by sharing capacity amongst multiple sites.

TowerXchange: Tell us about how you view the European market; with towers owned by MNOs, MNO-captive towercos, JV infracos and independent towercos all operating in the market, how do you find these different market segments respond to your solutions?

Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, Intelsat:

The European market is diverse, highly sophisticated and competitive.

There is also demand for quick deployment solutions outside of metropolitan areas that enable MNOs and infrastructure partners to cater for a rapid rise in mobile data demand. In price-sensitive markets we have deployed carrier grade solutions to help operators meet their USO demands and we also work on infill solutions. About 30 percent of Europe’s estimated 600,000 cell sites are currently managed by tower companies, and this is expected to grow further. Satellite can help bring new towers into service faster than terrestrial solutions, typically allowing a tower to be in service for up to 6 months earlier than it would be if waiting for fiber or microwave connectivity to reach the site. New satellite technologies provide a competitive alternative to terrestrial network for cellular backhaul, in particular in a 4G environment where usage patterns are asymmetrical and bursty, as they are driven by data and video. Intelsat currently supports the majority of planned LTE satellite rollouts, some in highly developed countries, providing end-to-end management of the solution.Within this context we provide towercos and their customers with a highly efficient option to expand mobile data coverage. HTS allows for cost-effective enhancement of the data connectivity with a carrier grade quality of service.

TowerXchange: How do you see the need for densification and the increased focus on small cells affecting how the European market develops?

Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, Intelsat:

Densification will radically change the operating model with the massive proliferation of small cells.

Our experience is that in metro-areas connectivity is usually provided via terrestrial means, but satellite can provide additional capacity for special events or unexpected traffic peaks.
In lower density population areas, large macro cell sites are often not economical and a small cell solution, focused on the places where people live, work, study and socialize is more cost-effective. Intelsat has developed an optimized rural small cell solution and can help tower companies deploy these networks more flexibly and cost efficiently.

TowerXchange: Given your global reach, can you share with us your views on how the European market differs from the rest of the world?

Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, Intelsat:

Europe is a highly diverse market, an environment in which our larger customers already have a lot of experience. Europe is arguably a more competitive environment for MNO brands than the USA.

This requires them to differentiate, and one of the ways to achieve that is by capturing and retaining

customers that require connectivity anywhere. The biggest difference with Africa is the degree in which consumers from developed markets have been able to embrace mobile data connectivity. With a median penetration for basic mobile voice at 82% most of Africa’s growth in the years to come will be in a shift from basic mobile voice to mobile data, while Europe will see more expansion with upgrades to 4G and better connectivity.

TowerXchange: Please share with us Intelsat’s vision for the future of the European market and how you fit into it.

Gerry Collins, Director Product Management, Mobile Networks, Intelsat:

Europe has the highest regional level of subscriber penetration. The region is seeing rapid adoption of 4G services and 5G is gaining momentum. 4G connections will reach 61% of total connections by 2020, and 5G will reach a third of total connections by 2025. Satellite connectivity provides specific benefits to existing and future 4G/5G networks: Help service roll out in underserved areas, reinforce service reliability by providing service continuity, and increase service availability everywhere. Satellites can also enable network scalability through efficient multicast/broadcast capabilities for video delivery towards the network edges or directly to the end user terminal. We view satellite connectivity as complementary to terrestrial network connectivity.

Satellite allows you to get into the periphery and swiftly cater for any seasonal or daily shifts in network traffic. This applies to the current generations of mobile networks and for future network requirements such as 5G sites in ultra- high capacity network designs with traffic rates at 10x LTE-A. We are geared to help mobile networks cope with such a rapid rise in demand for data connectivity. With far more user generated content than ever, including video, we must also account for bi-directional networking requirements which we are able to support with our High Throughput Satellites. We realise full well that our solutions must be cost-effective for operators and tower companies alike and are convinced that we have a highly interesting proposition for network engineers and integrators to play with.

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