Carrier Ethernet over Satellite: A New Growth Opportunity for Telecom

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Satellite has often been viewed as a transport of last resort. Costly capacity, expensive equipment and the lack of interoperability with telecom standards have made it difficult to unleash the full power of satellite connectivity and drive new revenue opportunities for communication service providers. This is, however, rapidly changing as satellite networks digitally transform and adopt standards to become like today’s mainstream telecom networks.

The Digital Transformation of Satellite Networks

The driver of this transformation has been the tremendous increase in bandwidth that new software-defined satellites and multi-orbit constellations have brought to the industry. This is driving the satellite industry to scale faster than ever before to provide services to a much broader base of users.

To enable this level of scalability, the ground systems that will support these new satellites are being driven to digitally transform. The typical satellite ground system is very similar to a telecommunications central office in the late 1990s, filled with racks of analog hardware, often purpose-built and many times proprietary. 

These ground systems are being modernized by taking advantage of IT infrastructure in the data center and the cloud, orchestration tools and workflows to automate operations and embracing standards proven in the telecommunications industry. This is enabling service deployments to be provisioned in minutes as opposed to taking weeks and months in the past.

Mainstreaming Satellite Brings Growth Opportunities for Communication Service Providers

Standards such as Carrier Ethernet play a critical role in enabling satellite and telecommunications networks to converge and integrate more easily. By making satellite networks like any other access network technology through Carrier Ethernet, communication service providers can deliver a standard portfolio of enterprise services using satellite, just like when using fiber or cellular.

The transformation enables satellite to no longer be the transport of last resort, but to become a mainstream means of delivering connectivity, whether that be on an airplane, ship, or a small remote community across the globe.  

Analysts from Analysys Mason argue that the satellite and space sectors are increasingly converging with the mainstream telecommunications industry. This is driving telecom service providers to develop a satellite strategy to succeed and differentiate in a market worth $146 billion in 2032.

By using satellite, telecom service providers can drive new revenue streams, build customer loyalty and differentiate their services, optimize costs and offer back-up and disaster recovery solutions. There are also increasing opportunities today for satellite and telecom networks to support use cases including IoT, backhaul and broadband.

By taking advantage of Carrier Ethernet over satellite, telecommunications service providers can deliver services such as enterprise network extension, SD-WAN and IP services, extend cloud connectivity and move towards 5G applications in a much more seamless and automated manner. 

The unique benefit of satellite is that it can reach anywhere on the Earth’s surface, so telecom providers can extend their service to remote users that do not have access to terrestrial networks. Today, 8% of the global population, or around 500 million people, live in a coverage gap outside the range of a 3G, 4G or 5G mobile network without access to the internet, according to the GSMA. There is a massive growth opportunity for telecom service providers to partner with satellite operators to fill this gap.

Enabling Seamless Satellite and Telecom Service Delivery Using MEF Standards

By using Carrier Ethernet over satellite, a communications service provider can sell a service to a large enterprise and if some of the sites are hard to reach, satellite bandwidth can be deployed in minutes to reach the sites cost-effectively.

A great example is when an enterprise customer comes to a telecom service provider and requests Carrier Ethernet to be delivered to all their global sites. The telecom carrier would deliver the service to the majority of the sites which are accessible by their network. For any sites that are not reachable by their terrestrial network, the telecom service provider could partner with a satellite operator to provide connectivity.

In the past the provisioning of such a service was painful for a telecom service provider due to the lack of interoperability, as well as the proprietary nature of satellite networks. The service could take weeks and months to deploy using manual and time-consuming approaches. But as satellite operators and ground system providers embrace MEF standards that is changing the experience and making satellite a much more attractive option with its unmatched reach, lower cost bandwidth and ability to scale.

Today, the service could be delivered much faster and in an automated fashion when all the service providers and partners are using MEF standards. For example, the telecommunications service provider could take the service request from the enterprise customer and communicate the details seamlessly to a satellite operator using Lifecycle Service Orchestration (LSO) Sonata APIs that enable business automation between service providers and supplier partners.

The necessary satellite service requirements could then flow down through the same APIs to the ground systems operator, which would then use LSO Presto APIs to orchestrate the virtual infrastructure and resources needed to deliver the end-to-end automated service to meet the customer request. In this way, MEF LSO APIs can be used to orchestrate the entire service lifecycle from the initial request from the telecom service provider to the satellite operator and then to the ground system provider, all using the same standards.

Now, the telecom service provider can deliver standard connectivity using Carrier Ethernet over satellite in the same way that they deliver all their other enterprise services. They can automate the delivery of E-Line or E-Access-type services in minutes to remote sites that are otherwise unreachable. The enterprise customer gets connectivity much faster to all of their global sites and the telecom service provider can easily view performance of the end-to-end network from the terrestrial to the satellite side and manage the SLAs to ensure a high-quality customer experience.

Next Steps: Moving from Concept to Reality

With the increasing convergence of satellite and telecom networks, a growing number of satellite companies have joined MEF over the years, including leading satellite operators and technology providers. Based on increasing customer demand, satellite players are more interested in delivering Carrier Ethernet services or enabling the services to run over their satellite networks to support new customers.

A great example of advancement is Intelsat’s work with Kratos to enable satcom services to run in a standardized way for terrestrial partners. Intelsat, one of the world’s largest commercial satellite operators, will employ Kratos’ software-defined satellite ground system as part of their advanced network being built to deliver services over their new family of software-defined satellites.

Intelsat is the first GEO satellite operator and Kratos is the first satellite technology vendor to achieve MEF 3.0 certification. Together, Intelsat and Kratos will offer end-to-end network interoperability from the satellite to the ground system to enable seamless and orchestrated services to support telecom service providers and their customers.

Other MEF members including G&S Satcom, Rivada Space Networks, SES Networks and Telesat are also embracing telecom standards to advance satellite networks.

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Greg Quiggle

SVP Product Management | Kratos

Greg Quiggle serves as the Senior Vice President of Product Management at Kratos, where he is responsible for overall product strategy and ongoing lifecycle management of Kratos’ commercial product portfolio.

Prior to joining Kratos, Quiggle served as the Vice President of Emerging Products for VT iDirect, during which time he played an instrumental role in developing the company’s 5G/SDN strategy and ecosystem. Additionally, he has served as the Executive Vice President of Marketing for Tollgrade Communications and the Vice President of Marketing for Acterna Corporation (now Viavi). In these roles, he has spent over 25 years conceptualizing and executing successful, corporate-level product and technology strategies within the communications industry.

Quiggle earned his BS of Electrical Engineering degree from Purdue University and an MBA from the University of Maryland.