What is mPOWER and when can we expect it? – a Q&A with Mike Blefko

In September of 2017, SES, one of the world’s leading satellite operators, announced that they’d be ushering in a, “new era in global cloud-scale connectivity and high power data services,” by launching a new networks system that they called, “mPOWER.”

This new network of systems would combine terrestrial networks and ground-based infrastructure with a constellation of seven extremely powerful and flexible high-throughput satellites (HTS) that would reside at Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). The result would be a system with the ability to deliver flexible, agile, fiber-like connectivity to practically anywhere on Earth.

Now, more than a year after that announcement, there are questions about the progress and status of the mPOWER MEO constellation of satellites. There are also some questions among the larger satellite community about mPOWER, itself, and how it differs from other satellite constellations in existence – such as the O3b MEO constellation already operated by SES.

To get some additional information on mPOWER, and an update on the progress of the system’s seven satellites, we recently sat down with Mike Blefko, the Vice President of Business Development at SES Space and Defense. During our discussion, we talked about the differences between mPOWER and the existing O3b MEO fleet, its potential use cases in the federal government, and when customers can expect mPOWER to become available.

Here is what Mike had to say:

Government Satellite Report (GSR): At the end of 2017, SES announced that they were introducing something called mPOWER. What is mPOWER, exactly?

Mike Blefko: mPOWER is our next generation Medium Earth Orbit constellation. It builds on the legacy MEO O3b solution that is operational today delivering services to many USG customers worldwide.

mPOWER continues our leadership at the MEO arc delivering high throughput, low latency services to our customers with orders of magnitude leap in capability. Our 7-satellite constellation implements over 30,000 beams allowing customers to connect with Gbps speeds at a latency of less than 150 msec.

GSR: How does mPOWER differ from the satellites and constellations that SES already offers? 

Mike Blefko: SES is the only true MEO/GEO global owner/operator.  We have 55 GEO satellites, 16 MEO satellites growing to 20 this Spring, and 7 next generation MEO mPOWER satellites launching in 2021-22.  We offer services at C, X, Ku, and Ka band both for commercial and military customers.

Both the current MEO O3b constellation and the next generation mPOWER are at the MEO arc. This medium Earth orbit O3b constellation enables truly remarkable data rates today for fixed, mobile, maritime and aero customers.

The cruise industry has been a significant commercial adopter of the technology due to the Gbps of capacity being delivered to each cruise vessel. Defense customers take advantage of the high throughput low latency services for terabyte size file transfer, 4G and next gen 5GTLE backhaul, 4k HD video dissemination and fiber like speeds and performance from the remote terminal back to the end user.

mPOWER also incorporates advanced electronically scanned phased array technology both in the air and on the ground. Our Boeing 5th generation phased array on the satellites will deliver more than 5000 beams per satellite and per region with bandwidth per channel that is scalable from 15 MHz up to 2500 Mhz.

This flexible coverage is delivered directly to customers without requiring a gateway infrastructure or a corresponding terrestrial overlay from that gateway, thus saving the customer money, increasing the security of the network, and making each circuit more reliable and more resilient.  mPOWER will support customers that have very low data rate requirements in the 5-10 Mbps range all the way up to customer doing enterprise redundant, protected backhaul in the 10 Gbps rate.

GSR: What differentiates the mPOWER satellites from the existing O3b MEO constellation? 

Mike Blefko: The current O3b solution will grow to 20 satellites by the end of Q2 2019. Each satellite in the current constellation has 10 customer beams. For mPOWER each satellite has up to 5000 beams, a 500 times increase.

For the current O3b constellation, data rates of up to about 1 Gbps are realizable. For the next generation mPOWER data rates up to 10 Gbps over a full beam are achievable. The beams for O3b have 432 MHz of capacity. For mPOWER the capacity per beam is over 5 times as much at 2500 MHz.

Unlike most GEO services, both constellations have a model where we sell a managed service to the customer by the Mbps. Customers contract for a certain non-contended data rate, 250 Mbps x 250 Mbps for example at a Service Level Agreement, and then we implement, monitor, manage, and control that service between the two customer ethernet ports in a true managed service delivery model.

Only 7 mPOWER satellites are needed to be launched and controlled to deliver this next generation differentiated service. This is in contrast to the planned LEO constellations that require 100s of satellites to be launched, configured and maintained to deliver contended services, 3-4 years from now.

GSR: What is the status of mPOWER? Are the satellites launched? If not, when will they be launched?

Mike Blefko: The mPOWER satellites are in development at Boeing and will be launched in late 2021, with services coming in mid 2022.

GSR: From a U.S. Government perspective, what agencies or government organizations would have need of mPOWER?

Mike Blefko: All of the COCOMs that have high throughput, low latency requirements in austere locations as well as at sites that require a true satellite backhaul capability would benefit from mPOWER. Given the low latency on the network implementation, cloud-based applications can be based on remote server access. Architectures that benefit from ‘anywhere to anywhere’ in a ±50° latitude around the planet can be implemented for these COCOM customers.

Navy vessels that require both enroute as well as connectivity at the final end point could have secure beams pointed at them to provide fiber like services. Comms on the move (COTM) land vehicles traveling across a continent could be connected throughout the entire movement with services that provide real time visibility to command posts in the rear or overseas. Airborne assets that require significant resources to backhaul collected information will be able to securely connect to remote locations while in flight as well as when they return to the base. Tactical teams that need a capable backhaul solution from their forward operational location could use small mobile terminals for 10s of Mbps connectivity.

GSR: What types of use cases would they need that level of bandwidth and throughput for? 

Mike Blefko: ISR backhaul, efficient video dissemination, 4G and 5GLTE connectivity for files and for voice comms, remote medical support, world wide database access for any server application via low latency connectivity, large file transfer to both upload and download files in real time reliably and affordably.

GSR: Flexibility seems to be one of the key differentiators and value proposition of mPOWER – the flexibility and agility that comes with shapeable and steerable beams. Why would this be particularly interesting for government users – especially military users? 

Mike Blefko: Our US Government warfighter missions are not static.  They change in real time.  Our warfighters need a flexible, agile, resilient network to meet their mission critical needs. mPOWER meets these demands with a secure, low latency, high throughput, flexible, agile network.

Beams are both fixed and movable providing resources for all forms of communications.  Bandwidth can be allocated from low to high throughput, and intentional and unintentional jamming is mitigated by the MEO orbit, multiple layers of redundancy including polarization, frequency, beam, and satellite diversity.

A wide ecosystem of terminals for the various fixed and on- the-move markets makes competition within the solution and benefits both commercial and military end users. For current applications SES Space and Defense has a 5-year Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) with DISA to streamline and rapidly contract for O3b services. Pre-negotiated rates for full and partial beams as well as purchase and lease options for the equipment and certified field service representative make the warfighter defense dollar stretch further.

For additional information about mPOWER and how it can be used in government implementations, click HERE to download the information sheet, “O3b mPOWER for U.S. Government Missions.”

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