April 1, 2020

A Truncated Satellite 2020 Portends Turbulent Times for the Industry

By Elisabeth Tweedie, Satellite Markets & Research

The industry’s premier show, Satellite 2020 in Washington, D.C., was almost a surreal experience. I don’t know the precise numbers, but from walking around the show floor, I would guess that attendance was down by 30-50%. There were large gaps where booths should have been.

Tuesday, the opening day for exhibits, had the same feeling and volume of foot traffic as a usual last day of a show. Although this year, there really wasn’t a last day. The show and conference sessions were due to close on Thursday, but early on Wednesday afternoon, the Washington, D.C. Health Department issued an order banning events of more than 1,000 people, so the organisers cancelled the last day of the show and advised attendees that they had to be out of the convention center by 17.30 that day.

Attendance at the sessions, which started on Monday, varied tremendously. Some were nearly full, others devoid of both audience and speakers. Most were missing one or more speakers. For attendees, it was also a mixed experience. Some reported so many cancelled meetings, that the whole experience was a waste of time. Others felt that the meetings that they did have were much more productive, due to all the extra time available.

ST Engineering iDirect Provides a Glimpse of the Merged Company’s Vision and Direction

Satellite 2020ST Engineering iDirect took the opportunity of Satellite 2020 to have a briefing for the press, to talk about the vision for the combined company, (Newtec and iDirect). Kevin Steen, CEO opened by stating that right now, there is an unprecedented amount of money going into the satellite industry, and as a ground service provider ST Engineering intends to be at the center of this. He pointed out that satellite is a key segment for the parent company, and the intention is to integrate satellite into its other activities, namely Smart Connectivity, Mobility and Security. He also mentioned that this is an opportunity for the company to “move up the value chain.”

Thomas Van den Driessche, President of the Executive Strategic Board and Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) continued on to say that through the merger, the company now had access to capital at a lower rate than previously, so is now able to be a financial partner, and become the ground system integrator for LEOs and MEOs. The company will also move into an OPEX model, offering Platform as a Service (PaaS). Since the new combined (Newtec and iDirect) platform will be software defined, it will be flexible enough to serve all the new LEOs, so the company will not be dependent on the success of one operator over another.

Bart Van Poucke, VP Product Management explained how the combined company is in the process of rationalizing the product portfolio progressing towards a converged technology platform. This is now being tested with a few customers to make sure that nothing has been missed. The modems are software defined but will not be interchangeable between sectors, for example an aeronautical modem will be different to a maritime one. For the last three or four years Newtec has been working on waveform convergence, and this will be integrated into the new platform. Mx-DMA for its spectral efficiency combined with scalability (up to 5,000 terminals on a single demodulator) and agility (to cover bursty applications). The combined technology is known as Mx-DMA MRC (Multi-resolution coding) and according to Van Poucke, is the optimal converged waveform for all applications and VSAT services, providing a common self-organizing forward and return path. This will first be launched on Dialog platforms, but will obviously be included on all Datapath platforms in the future. Van den Driessche added that this is “the most efficient, most advanced return technology that you can imagine……the efficiencies are incredible, the overhead is very low and it scales 10,000-100,000 sites, it’s the most advanced VSAT return technology ever built.”

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