Tuesday 26 November, 2013, 03:55 - SatellitesDo a search for 'Dish Of The Day' on Google and all manner of results pop up, many cooking related, but none more dishy than sexy chef 'Pinny Rollings' here on the right. But even Pinny's dishiness pales into insignificance compared to the downright deluge of dishes on the roofs of buildings in downtown Abu Dhabi as the picture below attests (click it to see the full version and look at each building - many have dozens of dishes on their roofs).
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One can but wonder whether any of these dishes actually work, or even how a situation as silly as this came about. Presumably people installed a dish to watch satellite TV and then found the service provider had moved to a different satellite. So instead of re-pointing the dish towards the new service, they installed a second dish. And then they decided they wanted services on another satellite, and instead of installing an arm capable of holding multiple LNBs, they installed a third dish. Then they found that that one of their dishes didn't work because someone else mounted a dish in front of it, so they put up yet another. And so the story goes on.
Whatever the reason, with so many dishes in close proximity, it is almost inevitable that some won't work, some don't work and some haven't worked in a long time. Surely there's a business opportunity for someone here. Firstly to go around and remove all the unused dishes (and sell them on to other people) and secondly to install CATV type systems that allow the distribution of one dish to multiple households.
There is also another question... which of these dishes is in which satellite band. There is increasing pressure for regulatory to allocate the extended C-Band (3400 - 3800 MHz) for wireless broadband services. In Europe, this spectrum is already allocated for such services through Commission Decision 2008/411/EC. If even 10% of the dishes on the roofs of Abu Dhabi are for C-Band services, then the introduction of wireless broadband services in those frequencies is a complete no-go - not without causing harmful interference, and lots of it. So in the United Arab Emirates, there is little chance of the C-Band being used for anything other than satellite reception.
But probably the most disturbing thing, is that the proliferation of dishes means that it is unlikely that Lady GaGa will perform in the country any time soon. Ms GaGa likes to stand out and what with so many other dishes around, her own dishy outfit would go largely unnoticed...
Friday 1 November, 2013, 13:00 - SatellitesRecently Wireless Waffle reported on the launch of the first four satellites in the O3b fleet which were intended to launch a service to provide high speed wholesale broadband services in remote areas. We suggested that there were many business and technical challenges that O3b might face in commercialising their service. It seems we may have tempted fate a little - oops!
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Rumour has it that a power component in all of the satellites currently in orbit has failed meaning that they will have to be scrapped. In addition, the launch of the next set of satellites will be delayed by up to a year whilst they are re-fitted. The reason for this is not certain, but might be related to the orbit of the O3b satellites being in the Van Allen belt.
Whilst the technical failure can be recovered from, there are, of course, commercial implications of these problems. Firstly there is the cost of replacing the first 4 satellites - although this should be able to be claimed from insurance (which all satellite launches have). Like any insurance policy though, the broker will want to investigate the fault in detail, identify who is culpable, and assess what payments are due and this will certainly add delays to any re-payments and may not necessarily result in the recovery of all the losses.
Then there is the also cost associated with the need to re-fit the yet-to-be-launched satellites. But perhaps the biggest loss may arise from the delay associated with the launch of the service. Like any project requiring infrastructure, O3b will be relying on funding from banks and other organisations to finance the launch of the service. And like any loan, there will be expectations on repayments. Delaying the launch will delay any revenues and thus the abililty to service debts. This might even result in O3b breaching its banking covenants.
Technical failures of satellites are not uncommon but such a major fault on multiple satellites leading to delays in the launch of a service that will, in the long term, be replaced by fibre connectivity, will make the business model look less attractive to investors. The question now is whether the service will become O3bsolete before it gets off the ground!
Wednesday 24 July, 2013, 07:44 - SatellitesSatellite officionados will no doubt be aware of 'O3b' but to the rest of the world, the launch of their first four satellites probably passed them by. O3b stands for 'other three billion' and is meant to highlight the plight of the significant proportion of the world's population who do not have access to high speed internet connections. O3b's role is to provide a 'backbone in the sky' which will allow places that are remote from terrestrial infrastructure to have high speed connections.
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The idea is not that new. 20 years ago, Teledesic had much the same idea. The two networks share a lot of common features:
- They both use Ka-band spectrum (around 18 and 28 GHz). At these frequencies, even small dishes have very narrow beams, requiring accurate pointing.
- They both use low(er) orbits than the geostationary arc. The lower orbits reduce the time delay normally associated with satellite communications but require that the dishes are able to track the movement of the satellites.
- They both have big-name backers. Microsoft was an investor in Teledesic. Google is an investor in O3b.
Wireless Waffle has discussed the different bands used by satellites before. Ka-Band is the band of choice for new broadband satellites as it's used less than the now almost saturated Ku-Band. The thing is that there are an increasing number of satellites using the band, the majority of which are in geostationary orbits. As the O3b satellites are in a medium earth orbit (MEO), and thus move through the sky when seen from the ground, it is quite feasible that they could end up positioned between a dish on the ground, and a geostationary satellite. In these cases, there is the potential for the O3b satellite to cause interference to the dish on the ground. As there are potentially millions of such dishes, ensuring that the O3b constellation is 'switched off' when it is in a position to cause such interference is an interesting technical challenge.
Then there's the issue that as the satellites appear to move in the sky, ground stations for O3b would require tracking dishes. Much development has been done to try and develop dishes which can track the movement of satellites without the dish itself needing to move. Such dishes would be ideal for use on trains, aircraft or cruise ships to circumvent the need for tracking dishes on moving vehicles. The same idea could be applied to ground stations that are fixed but satellites that move. However this is not the plan for O3b. The plan is to have traditional steerable satellite dishes which track the satellite through the sky. And as it takes time to move a dish around, two will be used with the second picking up a connection from a second satellite as the first dish loses its connection when the satellite passes over the horizon.
Two steerable dishes makes for a complex system and one which will require significant and regular maintenance costs, and maintenance by skilled engineers who are not (currently) likely to be present in large numbers in the kinds of areas that O3b wishes to serve. There is also the question of what happens when the service is handed over from one satellite to another. Such a hand-over could introduce a variable delay in the connection (technically, known as 'jitter'). One solution to this would be to have a buffer to stabilise the connection, but adding a buffer adds a delay and it is precisely to try and reduce delay that the satellites are in a lower orbit to start with. Oops!
Current Ka-band satellite services typically offer connection speeds of around 20 Mbps and use 65 or 80 cm dishes. Delivering 600 Mbps requires a bit more effort and as such the steerable dishes for O3b will each be 4.5 metres in size! At Ka-Band this means they will have a beamwidth of less than 0.2 of a degree, requiring highly accurate tracking. Not to mention the fact that 4.5 metre dishes are large and heavy and take up a lot of space. If you think about the intended market for O3b, which is rural area far from traditional infrastructure of any kind, running two, highly accurate, steerable 4.5 metre dishes is not the kind of technology which would easily blend in with the environment. And where do you get a power source to drive them with?
Putting these technical issues aside for a minute, there is then the question of speed to market. Many of the far flung places that O3b is looking to serve are already beginning to be connected via fibre, whether undersea or overland. Take the Pacific Islands, slowly but surely, these are being connected to the world via subsea fibre. Fiji, Guam and Hawaii have long had connections, but Norfolk Island, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Wallis, Samoa and American Samoa are due to be connected via a project called Hawaiki Cable (though it's fair to say that a previous such projects known as SPIN did not materialise). Perhaps O3b has the upper hand here, then again if Hawaiki goes ahead, it will offer connection speeds nearly a thousand times faster than O3b.
Would you pour your hard earned money into O3b shares? Don't decide just yet as there's one other issue we need to talk about... the Van Allen belt. You may have heard of this. It's a region of space above the Earth which is full of particles charged by solar energy but trapped by the Earth's gravity. It is one of the more unfriendly space environments and the O3b satellites flying at just over 8000 km above the Earth will sit right in the middle of it. This gives them around 100 times the dose of radiation that a satellite in geostationary orbit would experience and as a result makes them more susceptible to radiation damage of various kinds. There are currently no commercial satellites (other than O3b) operating in the Van Allen belt.
Of course all these obstacles are worth the effort if the end services can be supplied more cheaply than competing technologies. O3b's pricing is not yet clear but it will have to compete with other Ka-band services such as Inmarsat's Global Xpress. This will give you a connection of up to 50 Mbps for prices purported to be around US$3000 per month. At rates of income in some countries, it would require an awful lot of users to club together to raise that kind of finance. It is therefore to be hoped that O3b can offer a service that is more cost effective. With the cost of the dishes alone likely to be at least US$50000, that seems rather unlikely.
Perhaps a better description of O3b would be 'over 3m big'. Still, it looks as if their dishes will provide good protection against angry dinosaurs!
Wednesday 27 February, 2013, 08:20 - Amateur Radio, Spectrum Management, SatellitesOver in Brussels, the European Commission, through the direction given to it by the Radio Spectrum Policy Programme (RSPP), is trying to identify 1200 MHz of spectrum that can be made available for 'wireless broadband' services. At present there is 1025 MHz of spectrum available for such services including:
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|Digital Dividend||791 821 // 832 862 MHz||60 MHz|
|900 MHz||880 915 // 925 960 MHz||70 MHz|
|1800 MHz||1710 1785 // 1805 1880 MHz||150 MHz|
|2.1 GHz (FDD)||1920 1980 // 2110 2170 MHz||120 MHz|
|2.1 GHz (TDD)||1900 1920 MHz
2010 2025 MHz
|2.6 GHz (FDD)||2500 2570 // 2620 2690 MHz||140 MHz|
|2.6 GHz (TDD)||2570 2620 MHz||50 MHz|
|3.6 GHz||3400 3800 MHz||400 MHz|
Finding another 175 MHz to make the goal of 1200 MHz is therefore surely not such a big ask. However, there are issues with the spectrum that is currently available. The 3400 3800 MHz band accounts for 400 MHz or a good third of it and despite already being allocated to broadband wireless in Europe, it has not been very popular. The slow take-up is partly due to a lack of mass market products for the band and the poorer propagation at these higher frequencies, but is also due to the need to protect certain C-Band satellite downlinks which remain in the band. This also forms the 9cm amateur band. It therefore seems sensible that if new spectrum is to be found, it ought to be below 3 GHz in order that it will prove popular enough to actually be put into use.
To try and identify 'underused' spectrum, the European Commission is conducting a spectrum inventory whose purpose is to firstly examine the availability and use of spectrum and then to consider the future needs to try and match supply with demand. The first part of this inventory, a study which examined the extent to which each spectrum band is used was published in late 2012. The initial findings of the consultants who undertook the study were that the bands with the lowest current usage and thus which might be candidates for re-allocation were:
- 1452 1492 MHz. This band is set aside for DAB radio services, however it has remained virtually unused. The ECC have now recommended the re-allocation of this band for mobile services after pressure from Ericsson and Qualcomm to do so. This is therefore a 'no brainer' or a 'done deal'.
- 1980 2010 // 2170 2200 MHz. This band is currently allocated for 3G mobile satellite services to complement terrestrial 3G services. One satellite (Eutelsat 10A) was launched with a payload that is active in this band, but it failed to deploy the dish correctly and as such the band remains largely (though not completely) unused. It would seem churlish to take this away though, when there is still scope for it to be commercialised for its intended purpose. Perhaps some form of sharing using a complimentary ground component could be envisaged.
- 3400 3800 MHz. This was identified as being underused 'Quelle surprise' as they say in Brussels!
- 3800 4200 MHz. This is also part of the C-Band satellite downlink frequency range but has also been used for fixed links in some countries. Fixed links can be carefully controlled so as to avoid interference to satellite ground stations: it is unclear how a more widespread roll-out of services in this band would be feasible. This also fails the 'below 3 GHz' test.
- 5030 5150 MHz. This band is allocated for aeronautical use and was intended to be used for a new microwave landing system (MLS) to replace existing landing systems and for aeronautical mobile satellite services (AMSS). Very few airports or airlines have adopted MLS (London Heathrow and British Airways being two of the few who have done so) and no AMSS services in the band have been launched. If 3.5 GHz is not popular though, it seems unlikely that 5 GHz will be any more welcome.
- 5725 5875 MHz. This is a band which is available on either a licence exempt or a lightly licensed basis in most European countries for use with WiFi (802.11a) and other low power services. Being well over 3 GHz it is unlikely to be popular. It also forms a large chunk of the 6cm amateur band.
One option on the table, though not identified through the inventory, is the frequency band 2300 2400 MHz. It was identified at the 2007 World Radio Conference as a candidate for IMT (the ITU code for wireless broadband). It is already in the 3GPP standards for LTE, where it is known as the mysterious 'Band 40'. The ECC has considered the use of this band for wireless broadband services and concluded that it is quite possible. Sweden and Australia have already handed all of the band over to wireless broadband use, and many other countries (especially in Asia) have licensed part of it. One of the big problems with this band in Europe is that it is heavily used by governmental (read 'defence') services who are already smarting from the loss of many other bands over the past years and are in no mood for another re-farming exercise to release this band. Oh, and it represents the vast portion (and the most useful bit) of the 13cm amateur band.
Meanwhile, over in the USA, the FCC has also recently assessed the possibility of reallocating some the frequency band 1675 -1710 MHz for wireless broadband uses. This band is currently used for the downlink for meteorological satellite services, however few satellites venture above 1695 MHz (with the possible exception of a couple of NOAA satellites, the Chinese Feng Yun satellites and the polar orbiting METOP) and there is almost nothing above 1700 MHz, unless you count satellites yet to be launched (such as GOES-R).
Given the location of this spectrum, directly adjacent to the existing 1800 MHz band, and given that the associated pairing is also largely unused it might easily be possible to, say, extend the 1800 MHz band by 2 x 10 to become 1700 1785 // 1795 1880 MHz. Keeping the spacing between the up and downlinks would simplify the adoption of the new spectrum (in the same way that GSM became E-GSM). The 10 MHz gap in the middle is rather small which can cause handset manufacturers problems, but there are ways this could be dealt with. The loser here (other than some yet-to-be-launched satellites who could surely locate their downlink in the remaining part of the band) are radiomicrophones who are allocated 1785 1800 MHz. A screaming case of 'use it or lose it' if they are to retain this allocation.
And whilst we're pairing up things, how's about extending the 2.1 GHz band? The lower part of the pair, 1900 1920 MHz, is already licensed, albeit for TDD services. The upper part of the pair, 2090 2110 MHz is another of those military bands that would prove difficult to squeeze. The bigger problem here is that it contains sensitive satellite uplinks that are easily interfered with. Nonetheless, there was a terrestrial wireless network licensed in the band in the UK (Zipcom), if never actually launched.
So far, we have identified the following extra spectrum:
|L-Band||1452 1492 MHz||40 MHz|
|Extended 1800 MHz||1700 1710 // 1795 1805 MHz||20 MHz|
|Extended 2.1 GHz||1900 1920 // 2090 2110 MHz||20 MHz (20 MHz was already available)|
|2.1 GHz MSS sharing||1980 2010 // 2170 2200 MHz||60 MHz (shared with satellite)|
|2.3 GHz||2300 2400 MHz||100 MHz|
That makes 240 MHz of potential new sub-3 GHz spectrum without too much pain and done in a way that is largely compatible with existing mobile bands, though not with existing defence or satellite sensitivities. Given the recent auction prices for spectrum, 240 MHz across Europe is worth something in the region of 75 billion Euro. So what would it cost to release it?
- L-Band is free in every sense of the word. Except possibly in the UK where it is owned by Qualcomm but presumably as they have been lobbying for it to become available for mobile services, they would have no qualms about using it for such. Cost: peanuts.
- Extended 1800 MHz The main affected party here are some meteorological satellite downlink sites. These are few and far between and could be protected through the use of an exclusion zone. Cost: cashew nuts.
- Extended 2.1 GHz The number of military satellites using the band 2090 2110 MHz is difficult to ascertain (for obvious reasons). There is also a need to re-farm the band 1900 1920 MHz. Cost: macadamia nuts.
- 2.1 GHz MSS sharing In theory there is nothing to stop this taking place even with a satellite already launched. To be completely fair, it would only be reasonable to recompense the licensees (Solaris and Intelsat) for their investments. Cost: pistachio nuts.
- 2.3 GHz Those defence boys have big toys (and big guns) that would be costly to replace. That being said, only around 40 MHz of this band is necessary if the target is 175 MHz and not 240 MHz. Surely releasing 40 MHz cant be that difficult no matter how big your toys. The fact that the band is destined for TDD means that it doesnt even need to be the same 40 MHz in each country. Cost: pistachio nuts.
Alternatively, perhaps radio amateurs who stand to lose the 13cm, 9cm and 6cm bands might wish to launch a counter-bid? After all, theyre replete with nuts (in a good way) !