Network architects and solution design engineers mostly consider satellite networks as the final option – only to be used when fibre, microwave or wireless networks cannot meet user needs. While this might be true for many applications, this approach might very well lead to implementation of solutions which are not optimum for the specific application.
The reason why network architects might not consider satellite as prime connectivity option might very well be because they have not had a good experience, or alternatively, might not be fully informed about the technology. Because satellite is a niche solution, it is also seldom included in mainstream discussions and even very influential industry events might not have satellite as part of the workshop topics to be discussed.
Here are some guidelines around designing effective satellite network solutions and unlocking the business benefits of using satellite:
1. Why Satellite?
If the answer to this question is “because nothing else is available” then, in all likelihood, the final outcome of the satellite solution and user service will be poor and disappointing. The reason for this is simple: Satellite cannot be a replacement for fibre, microwave or wireless. It is an alternative connectivity solution, not a replacement technology.
Fibre networks are mostly comprised of high capacity point-to-point links, whereas satellite networks are large-area point-to-multipoint distribution networks. To use satellite as a replacement for fibre will be almost as effective and efficient as it would be to use fibre to replace satellite for the DStv service in Africa.
Satellite technology should be used in line with its core strength, i.e. high reliability, distribution or aggregation of data over large areas to a large number of endpoints. Typical scenarios are DStv distribution, ATM data networks, point-of-sale solutions and some niche broadband services.
2. Design to fit
Eskimos have 50 different words for snow, and in the same way, satellite networks are a very specialised field. Although they are normally considered a “one-size-fits-all” type of solution, very different architectures are possible within the domain of satellite network design, with each servicing a very specific business need, from back-up services for high-capacity branch networks to primary packet data networks for ATM points.
To ensure sustainable business success, the satellite network must be designed for the specific user application. Even if the specific customer sites form part of a general service provider network, the design must still be able to ensure a functional match of these specific sites to user needs.
It is exactly this specific network design element that makes implementation of successful solutions on satellite networks challenging, to say the least. Often, large telco’s and service providers are reluctant to implement “customer specials” either because their business processes can’t accommodate special projects, or they lack the 3rd level satellite network engineering capabilities. In these cases, providers sadly push for implementation of the “standard solution” leading to a poor functional fit with the requirements and ultimately poor network performance.
3. Business Models
The possible business models for satellite networks are very powerful and can be leveraged to almost match any business case requirement. For example, satellite networks can enable full-time dedicated contracts per site, or “on-demand” services or even “pay-per-use” options. To define, support and operate these business models requires dynamic and agile organisations.
Using specialist billing and provisioning platforms linked to very customer-centric service models, it is very possible to provide data access services at cost points below 3G or any other alternative connectivity medium. In these scenarios, organisations can then be enabled by using satellite access networks with high availability, more flexible implementation at any location, at lower cost points.
Starting from making sure the solution is suited for satellite networks, then completing a very focused and specific design integrated with a customer-centric provisioning and billing structure is essential to successfully implementing satellite networks as reliable and cost-effective data access networks.
On this basis, satellite networks will continue to enable business and unlock new horizons, bring connectivity to challenging environments and lower operating costs in other large-scale networks.
By Dr Dawie de Wet, CEO of Q-KON