Something New for Military COMSATCOM Users – Gateway Options

When service providers in the commercial satellite communications (COMSATCOM) industry talk about their service offerings and solutions for the government and the military, they tend to focus on their satellite constellations. They lead with the number of satellites that they have in orbit, the amount of capacity available on those satellites, where they can provide coverage, and the amount of latency users will experience.

It makes sense. That information is critically important for the government and military decision-makers looking to lease space on satellites or looking to purchase managed satellite services. Also, space is exciting! These spacecraft of marvels of modern technology, developed in state-of-the-art facilities and then launched into space on literal rocket ships.

But what often gets ignored or swept under the rug in discussions between COMSATCOM providers and their government customers is the other part of the satellite equation – the satellite gateways. These unsung heroes of satellite communications are essential components of a functioning satellite network, but they’re infrequently discussed in the marketing materials and sales slicks of COMSATCOM providers.

But that needs to change.

Recent satellite technology advancements and some exciting new satellite services that are about to come online are poised to give government and military users more gateway options than ever. The result will be government and military users having choices in how they want to transmit their data, and how they want to secure it.

But before we take a deeper dive into the future of the satellite gateway, we have to better understand their essential role in the larger satellite network.

Gateways 101
The gateway has a function that its rather descriptive name implies – it is the gateway for the satellite signal. The data that is in that satellite signal needs an entry point in which to enter the ground terrestrial infrastructure, which will then deliver that data to the various end users that need it. The gateway serves as that essential entry point.

Whether the data that is being transmitted via that signal is an email, a voice call, or vital satellite or ISR imagery that’s imperative to the mission, it needs to be fed back into a terrestrial network somewhere. The gateway is the connection between the users on Earth and the satellites, helping move the data around the globe.

Historically, when a government or military user has leased satellite capacity from a COMSATCOM provider or leveraged a managed satellite service, they’ve only had one viable gateway option. In that scenario, they’ve been limited to using the gateways owned and operated by that COMSATCOM provider. But this is where things are starting to change and where the government and military are starting to have more options.

One size does not fit all
There are a number of reasons why using a COMSATCOM provider’s gateway and terrestrial network infrastructure is a perfectly acceptable option for government and military users. This infrastructure has already been purchased and deployed. It can be leveraged immediately with no additional upfront cost to the customer, and there are often service level agreements (SLAs) that ensure a certain level of uptime and resiliency.

This makes using the COMSATCOM provider’s gateways and networks more rapid, economical, and hassle-free. That could be incredibly enticing to individuals who don’t really care about the network that they use, the equipment that is in the gateway, or the security of the data – they just want to get up and working quickly and at a more reasonable cost.

However, there are also valid reasons why a government or military customer might not want to use their COMSATCOM provider’s equipment and infrastructure.

For a large global military with a large amount of resources, building out a gateway might not seem that expensive or difficult. And that added cost and effort could be considered well worth it for added flexibility, mobility, control, and security. In some cases, that need for control of the equipment and the security of the data could be a roadblock that keeps some military customers from adopting COMSATCOM services altogether.

Thankfully, the advanced technologies inherent in a new generation of satellite services – including the O3b mPOWER satellite service – give military and government users incredible flexibility in their gateway options. Upon launch of O3b mPOWER, four different gateway types or configurations will be available to users. These include:

  • Commercial managed service gateways: These gateways are the previously discussed gateways owned and operated by the COMSATCOM service provider. In this arrangement, the user simply purchases the satellite service and the provider – in this case, SES – provides all of the requisite satellite capacity, gateway services, and even the terminal if the customer requires. In this scenario, the gateway, equipment, and network belong to the satellite provider – the end users simply get the service.
  • Sovereign gateways: These gateways are at the opposite end of the spectrum from managed service gateways. In this arrangement, the customer is the owner and operator of the network – including the gateway, equipment, and terminals. They’re responsible for the purchase, installation, management, maintenance, and security of that hardware. The COMSATCOM provider owns and operates the satellites, transmitting the signal and providing the customer with bandwidth.


  • Hybrid sovereign gateways: As the name implies these gateways are a hybrid of both commercial and sovereign methodologies. In this arrangement, the customer places their hub equipment within a commercial gateway, leveraging the use of the COMSATCOM fleet owners commercial terminal to link with the satellite, but using their own equipment to connect to their network.  The COMSATCOM provider provides space within their gateway for customers to put their equipment so they don’t have to build their own gateway.


  • Transportable government gateways: These gateways, often abbreviated TGG, are smaller, more mobile versions of the large 5.5-meter permanent gateways, and are designed to be transported to where they’re needed. They can be used as a temporary gateway in cases where a customer may not need a permanent version, or as a back up to a permanent gateway.  They can also be used when a customer wants to be able to move their gateway to a variety of locations for mission reasons.  The TGG is transportable on both military and commercial aircraft, and comes with its own power source and a climate controlled unit to hold hub and other rack equipment.  The TGG is a essentially a sovereign gateway, smaller in size for transportability, but capable of performing full gateway functions on a customers network.

With the emergence of advanced satellite services like O3b mPOWER, government, and military customers are no longer stuck with a single gateway option. So, when choosing a satellite provider, they need to look at more than just the constellations in orbit – they need to look at and evaluate the gateways and terrestrial network options back on Earth to ensure they meet their requirements.

A commercial managed service would be the best choice if a government customer wants to get up and running with their satellite service quickly and at a lower upfront cost.. However, if security and control are essential, sacrificing that control for ease of deployment is simply not an option, a sovereign gateway or hybrid sovereign gateway would be the best choice.

To learn more about the gateway choices available to O3b mPOWER users, click HERE to watch my lightbox video.


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