By Dr Dawie de Wet, CEO of Q-KON
Heroic or grand in scale or character: That is what the word EPIC means according to Google’s dictionary. EPIC is also the product name for the recently launched Intelsat satellites which are all part of the latest technology developments in the satellite industry, referred to as high throughput satellites (HTS).
The aim of EPIC, and other high throughput satellites (HTS), is to aggressively drive an increase in possible speeds while at the same time reducing effective service cost. Tests done by the Q-KON engineering team obtained 5x higher uplink speeds (12Mbps) than the previous generation satellites (1,5Mbps) at an expected cost reduction of 50%. This is a possible overall improvement of almost 10x, quite impressive by any standards of today’s technology enhancements.
The reason why the satellite industry is investing heavily in opening new technology frontiers is clear when considering that according to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, Africa’s IP traffic will grow at a rate of 41% – the fastest annual rate in the world – by 2020. Over the next five years, it is expected that an additional 168 million people will be connected by mobile services across Africa, reaching 725 million unique subscribers by 2020. It is clear that Africa will require any and all types of connectivity that can practically be provided.
With the Intelsat EPIC satellites already in operation over Africa, the obvious question is when these benefits are going to impact on the market, and more particularly, which markets will be addressed by the EPIC and similar satellite services. To provide perspective to these questions we can briefly discuss some of the driving elements for this business case:
Undoubtedly, one of the key advantages of the EPIC satellites is that users will be able to use existing ground terminals with no additional CAPEX requirements. Q-KON currently operates thousands of 1.2m satellite terminals and we used a standard user terminal in our EPIC performance tests. Being able to increase the uplink speed from 1.5Mbps to 12Mbps will not only be a big improvement for satellite Internet users, it will also open new service market options.
End-to-end specialist services.
With the enabling technology now in place, the next step is to develop and launch the end-to-end service bundles and solution portfolios that can be used to open new market sectors. For example, EPIC will enable the effective deployment of “fibre-restoration” services using mobile trailer deployments, either on an ad-hoc basis or short term, to combat cable theft among other reasons. It will also be possible to use slightly bigger user terminal equipment to provide 100Mbps / 20Mbps broadband services for outdoor sport or music festival events.
In short, we are now getting to a point where the convenience and flexibility of satellite are integrated with the performance of fibre, which will lead to very capable service solutions. Developing and bringing these services to market is exactly what Q-KON, as a specialist network provider, will be focussing on in 2018.
To effectively open the African market, the investment can not only be in the sky. It must also be on the ground and in the local market. The masterminds of EPIC and other HTS networks will also need to invest in major ground segment equipment that can directly connect to the local markets. Without investment in the local infrastructure, the data communications will be from the user terminal, over the satellite, to terminate at ground stations located in America or Europe. This configuration can work for standard broadband services, but it is not suited for business and local content applications and will limit the large-scale adoption of the new generation satellite services.
In summary, EPIC and other high throughout satellites are a reality and have major potential to provide connectivity to existing and new sectors. It will just require some new vision as to what needs to be done for Africa. The EPIC technology from Intelsat and a bit of advanced system engineering can open new frontiers and develop previously untapped market sectors.