September 19, 2018

Reflections from WSBW and IBC – The Software Transformation

Denis SutherlandBy Denis Sutherland, Vice President, Strategy and Technology

With the constant changes in market demands satellite operators are looking for technology that provides them the flexibility to dynamically allocate their ground and in-space assets to meet ever-changing end-customer demands. At last week’s WSBW 2018, SES executives reiterated its desire to purchase satellites that have a common architecture across DTH and VSAT payloads. These software defined payloads will be reconfigured while in orbit to allow SES to build greater service flexibility into their business plans.

Software has been eating the world for a number of years. In fact, Marc Andreessen famously predicted in 2011 that more and more functionality would move from hardware into software. Today, we most notably witness this trend in our smartphones. Nowadays there is a big discussion about a hardware omission or inclusion; for example on the debate around the iPhone microphone jack, most of the physical buttons have become software.

This transition to software is happening across many industries. Walking around IBC 2018, I was amazed at the array of software solutions being offered, however the most notable place where software will impact the VSAT ground segment is with 5G and our integration into the larger mobile network. 5G is allowing for new data architectures to be built, and importantly for the VSAT industry, programmable networks to be constructed. And, this work is all being done via software.

This new approach to network architectures will enable the convergence of cellular and VSAT into one seamless solution, from the core networking to multi-orbit access delivery. It will empower end users, wherever they may be, with consistent, reliable, high-performance experiences. This new network brings together the traditional core IP network, the Evolved Packet Core (EPC), OSS/BSS and VSAT network. Some of the key innovations that will enable this new hybrid network are:

Virtualized Network Functions (VNF) – This is the process of taking functionality that was previously implemented in hardware and changing that into a software module. For example, a hardware firewall, BGP Module, ARP module and call it a VNF.

Cloud Computing – By placing this VNF functionality on the cloud, we gain the advantages of cloud – most notably cloud scale, elastic resources and automated provisioning.

Now we have a software defined architecture, including Software Defined Networking (SDN), we can implement orchestration. This has the advantage of allowing the satellite network to be part of an automated chain of services, inserted into a service through automation.

Evolved Packet Core (EPC) – We take all these great ideas on how to scale and automate the network and integrate them with the EPC; this gives us access to the OSS/BSS and policy engines at scale, developed for cellular-sized network. We know that any global multi-access deployment requires fairly complex service chaining across terminals, hubs, gateways, IP routers and switches in virtualized networks. Once everything is in place, you now can automate services with the press of a few buttons, setting up virtual networks and tailoring services to each customer’s needs.

We have converged the VSAT and 5G networks with software.

iDirect views these innovations as critical steps the industry needs to take to achieve the needed flexibility to deliver truly dynamic services as part of a converged VSAT and 5G network.  By putting functionality into the software, we’ll be able to achieve the hyper scale needed to address future networks.  And it’s not all hype as we recently demonstrated at  EuCNC 2018, with our foundational architecture based on EPC.

The next step is to integrate satellite payloads. The prospects for software defined satellites integrated with software defined ground segments will bring new flexibility to Service Providers.