On January 25th 2015, Sky News successfully broadcasted the Greek elections live in HD over the first Inmarsat GX satellite. This was the first occasional use (OU) video transmission to go over the first satellite of the GX high-throughput platform that is expected to become fully operational in the second half of 2015 and offer global services. The successful experience was attributed to the reliability and high quality of the connection enabling a steady HD live broadcast as well as the ease-of-use of the Ka-band ground terminal, provided by a third party integrator.
To better understand the significance of this experience, it is necessary to examine the drivers and tools, which led to this event as well as future implications.
Transmitting breaking and scheduled events to audiences worldwide motivates broadcasters. A reliable connection, as well as steady uncontested bandwidth, is among the top priorities that result in a pre-engineered high quality transmission feed. GX by Inmarsat and EpicNG by Intelsat represent the only global HTS platforms to-date that could offer OU services into the most remote and hard-to-reach areas. Other regional operators such as Eutelsat (KA-sat) have also targeted HTS-based SNG via their advanced capacity.
The main drivers for broadcasters to utilize global HTS options are the availability of abundant bandwidth for high-resolution broadcasts as well as the relatively low price for bandwidth as compared to traditional FSS and MSS solutions. The intrinsic nature of HTS platforms in terms of offering multiple Gbps helps lower the price point for OU capacity based on economies of scale and the supply-and-demand equation, while FSS and MSS platforms can only provide limited supplies of capacity that are highly contended during the times of OU events.
A key factor in the choice for any platform for OU transmissions is the ground terminal equipment enabling the OU broadcast. OU events tend to be of a speedy nature and present limited real estate requiring small, easy-to-set-up terminals. Automated signal acquisition, backpack terminals and flyaways have been major contributors to the growth of OU over satellite platforms. The characteristics of HTS link budgets offering high bit rates at high reliability levels have enabled the development of user-friendly terminals enabling swift action when and where needed.
Another relevant characteristic in the toolkit of HTS platforms is the IP-centric nature. Hence, both video and IP feeds become possible out of one hand as well as the integration with other IP-driven technologies, such as 4G/LTE for the purposes of redundancy enabling seamless, uninterrupted coverage when using bonded-cellular technologies. This makes satellite an option not just in remote areas but in urban and suburban areas as well where terrestrial networks can get congested and a seamless automatic transition to satellite becomes necessary.
As NSR lays out in its Contribution and Occasional Use TV Markets, 2nd Edition report, HTS is well poised to win some OU business over from traditional FSS and MSS platforms as well as create grounds for new demand. An unfolding trend that goes hand-in-hand with the previously mentioned characteristics of HTS platforms is the uptake of OU capacity for enterprise data communication. With the need for constant uninterrupted connections for data exchange, enterprise customers such as offshore O&G platforms or maritime vessels are leasing capacities on a temporary basis for time-limited needs. This is also true for enterprise customers wanting to connect multiple in-land sites for short events.
Another source starting to drive demand for OU capacity is the government sector. With sequestration being slightly relaxed, budgets are not high enough for year-long leases, yet, they are sufficient for short-term OU needs. In fact, the continuing first quarter of 2015 has seen more OU capacity booked by governments than in the entire second half of 2014.
With the launch of their first satellites, HTS platforms have seen some initial success with OU. The low price points for high-quality bandwidth that enable steady live HD streams mainly drive this. With huge amounts of capacity, global HTS platforms can provide available uncontended bandwidth when needed to cover scheduled and breaking events from any remote spot in the world. Regional HTS platforms with coverage over specific areas also provide the same advantage, but over limited geographies.
As seen in the chart above, although growth is forecasted for all satellite platforms except for FSS C-band, HTS will compete with FSS for a portion of the business as well as generate new demand. The added demand will see a considerable portion attributed to Enterprise IP-communications taking up OU capacity benefiting from low prices and the IP-centric nature of HTS. Once the HTS platforms complete their constellations and become globally operational with the respective readily available ground technology going mainstream, HTS platforms will see a noteworthy increase in OU hours, establishing a new and considerable source of revenue.
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