SP: Please provide a summary of your professional background and current responsibilities at LeoSat. What drove you and Phil Marlar to fund LeoSat?
Anders: Phil and I spent many years working with Schlumberger in several different capacities. I was in R&D and then senior management of technology teams. Most projects I worked on involved data and voice systems in harsh environs. The lack of availability of sufficient data networks for Schlumberger’s wide activities was always a problem. At one time, SLB Oil-Field Services had their own satellite program, which was sold to Harris. Phil worked in a different part of Schlumberger, but was certainly aware of the company’s ever growing data needs. When Phil and I left Schlumberger, we teamed up on a couple of businesses and continued to develop data communications systems. We finally ended up with a company in Florida that is working with the Cruise Industry, to help solve their need for a better solution than the 2-10Mbs GEO Satellite services. We developed a near shore (out to about 50-60miles depending on base station height) high speed, high-performance solution.
In meetings with each of the large cruise lines, we continued to hear the identical requirements. They all wanted a truly robust high performance, reliable worldwide network that worked the same everywhere in the world. If they had such a system, we heard many kinds of activities they would like to deploy.
So we were in another large industry that had very much the same needs as the ones that Schlumberger had been seeking. We evaluated the existing satellite systems and the announced systems that had not yet come online. We determined that even after the newest systems were fully operational they would not meet the requirements of these industries.
We set out to qualify and quantify the market that existed, and would exist, if we could provide the functionality and performance, these industries were seeking. I had been working with investors for several years after leaving Schlumberger. We put together a package and obtained the funding necessary to investigate the opportunity.
We then put out a bid for a marketing company to perform the analysis necessary to provide a determination if there was, in fact, a market for what we had in mind. After a process taking about four months, NSR provided the survey results. The results not only found that what we had in mind was viable for the markets we had identified, but that there were two additional large markets that would also find such an offering appealing. The fundamental features and capabilities were common across all four markets. Armed with this information we sought experts in the satellite industry to help us with the technology hurdles. We worked on two designs of the type network we thought would be best and we continue that work today. We have filed an early patent on part of it and will file a second patent in the next two months.
We have been very successful in meeting the right people within the industry to help guide us to our goal. Our first engagement was with Professor D.K. Sachdev. I had asked Phil to see if he could locate a true satellite industry insider who had a good reputation. Phil found DK, and we have never looked back. DK has been an inspiration to all of us and provided the guided hand through the industry. He has also been able to arrange key meetings with key industry players. DK is amazingly as up to date on both the technologies and the businesses as anyone we have met. He has and continues to provide sage advice and analysis.
SP: Overview of the planned satellite constellation: Number of satellites, orbits, altitude, frequency band, throughput per satellite, ISLs, satellite redundancy, latency, etc.
Anders: Our constellation will consist of up to 108 satellites, although we will be able to start services well before reaching that total. We are in an LEO orbit around 1400Km’s in altitude and using Ka band. Our satellites are linked with high-performance ISL’s and we are starting with seven gateways strategically located around the world. We will have spare satellites both in orbit and on the ground. Our “per satellite throughput” is substantially different than the existing satellite systems. We have the unique ability to transport every bit of data we can theoretically receive from our clients off of every satellite simultaneously. Through a combination of the ISL’s and Gateways, there is no blocking, bottleneck or capacity problem on our satellites. Each satellite has the ability to transmit and receive just over 20Gbs, all of which can be terminated.
We also will provide extremely low latency and thus high-performance networking. Since we don’t use a bent pipe architecture, we measure latency by how many hops the client’s data must pass to its destination. We project being able to carry high-bandwidth data from New York to Tokyo with a latency of under 140ms RTT. That is faster than the fastest fiber routes in existence today.
We have found that the numbers used by some are just the sum of their client beams. However, they do not take into account that they have no method to transport anywhere near that level of data through their gateway radio/antennas. Therefore, the word “throughput” isn’t being taken literally. In our case, it is.
SP: At what stage in the planning phase is the constellation and when do you expect the system to be launched and operational?
Anders: We are moving into the second phase of our project with making some final vendor selections and finalizing our last design issues. During the feasibility stage, we came to a couple of areas where there was more than one way to accomplish what we wanted. We are evaluating the options in those areas and will make the determinations with our vendor partners in the coming months.
Our schedule at this time is to have our first satellite in space in late 2017 or early 2018. This satellite will not have all the solutions on board, but will give us an opportunity test, many of our systems and importantly our ground terminals. The way we have designed the system, we will be able to start providing services in the Polar Regions with just a few satellites in operation. As we move through our deployments, we will see our areas of continuous coverage grow from the poles toward the equator. We are fully operational at 78 satellites. At this time, we are projecting to be fully operational in late 2019 or early 2020.
SP: Unlike other LEO-HTS projects with plans to provide ubiquitous residential broadband services, LeoSat has a clear B2B focus. What are the primary target markets?
Anders: Our targeted markets are Maritime, Oil & Gas, Telecom Backhaul and Enterprise Data Services. However, we do not see ourselves as competing with the existing HTS providers. Our services start from a minimum of 50Mbs and range all the way to a special setup of 7.2Gbs for a single customer. We can maintain that rate from any two points around the globe.
We see our services as moving the needle on what is possible with satellite data systems. We are including features that are specific to each of the target markets mentioned. We are building what we have been asked by industry participants to build.
NSR was a key to helping us understand the markets, and we have taken it from there drilling down in what each market would like to see in their HTS solution.
SP: The satellite industry had failed attempts in the past to deploy Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations of communication satellites. Given the industry´s renewed interest in LEO constellations, now with high-throughput payloads (LEO-HTS), what has changed in terms of technology and market readiness that makes these projects plausible this time?
Anders: The previous attempts, in our opinion, were ahead of themselves with the technologies of the time. None of them failed due to operational issues; they failed due to costs and funding. They were imagined more along the lines of the “build it, and they will come” philosophy. We took a different track, by identifying our markets and customers, long before the design. Once we understood our markets and customer’s requests, we set out to fulfill as much of those requests as we saw being technically feasible and cost justified today.
One of the major changes that have made an LEO constellation more viable today, is the coming of age of electronic bean steering antenna systems. The cost, maintenance and space required for mechanical dishes to follow very rapidly moving satellite was always an issue for the LEO’s. If a customer absolutely had the critical need for the system to always remain operational, it required a minimum of three of the mechanical dishes. To provide the “make before break requirement” of a continuous data connection, you always had one of the dishes connected and one moving to catch the next satellite. The mechanical dishes require maintenance due to the moving parts. A third dish is necessary to run, while one of the others is being serviced.
The electronic beam steering antennas change this equation in a very favorable way and are one of the key changes that have made the LEO’s more viable today.
We are quite cognizant of the other HTS solutions, and we expect they will find their markets. However, we measure our network’s performance on a different scale than the other solutions are using. We simply have a distinctive focus and a distinctive model for HTS services.
We are not seeking to serve millions of customers. Our focus is on a few thousand business customers.
SP: Since there are no LEO-HTS constellations yet deployed, we tend to view market potential via traditional GEO lenses (FSS & HTS) but could LEO-HTS systems serve, or even create new markets not addressed by GEO satcom?
Anders: A short answer is, definitely yes. There are several solutions we are aware of that have never even thought of using satellites due to the latency, reliability and lack of ability to be truly interactive. We see the satellite data market as growing as industries and markets realize that there is a new high performance network available. We also see that we can offer a great deal more security on our data paths than can be found on terrestrial solutions. The market will be driven by specific needs. If you need to move large data very securely around the world on an interactional basis, we are your new solution. If you need interactional control of something anywhere in the world, we are your solution. We see several other deployable technologies that will make use of our true worldwide reach with a high-performance secured network comparable to, but in some cases superior to, terrestrial solutions.
SP: The industry is increasingly putting focus on the ecosystem. For a successful LeoSat service, what are the key elements that should be aligned at both technical and commercial levels? What is the role of the CPE and developments in electronically-steered, flat-panel antennae?
Anders: As I answered in a previous question, we see the electronically steered antennas as being one of the key elements that will change how people look at the LEO solutions. They are a real game changer.
We believe that having the confidence in on board processing is also one of the elements that will start changing how satellites are operated. There has been enormous progress made in some of the sensors, cameras and other payloads with putting high tech electronics in space. However, the industry has shied away from doing much with the electronics on the satellites themselves. We have certainly heard the industry philosophy of leaving the satellites dumb, as “what can break, will break.” We just don’t believe we can stay in that mode forever and make the progress that is needed to grow the industry. We have come a long way in the reliability of electronics and processing today. There have been great strides in low power requirement processors who are quite powerful. The mass and costs of computing power have also vastly changed over the years. We have to take advantage of these advancements to stay relevant and grow.
SP: What are your views about integrating LEO-HTS and Earth Observation (EO) capabilities? It appears that integration could find capital and service synergies that could expand and diversify market addressability. Is EO being considered by LeoSat?
Anders: It has been in our discussions, and we are still evaluating how we might participate in this area. Stay tuned.
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