SKALA – how satellite managed services could deliver seamless emergency response connectivity

Today’s government needs satellite for its operations more than at any other point in history.

As network-enabled solutions have increasingly made their way into government and military operations, connectivity at the edge has become increasingly essential. Seemingly every government application, system, platform, or weapons system today is network-enabled or relies on access to data. Unfortunately, many government and military missions are conducted in places where terrestrial networks aren’t available.

In the case of our military, operations may be conducted in the middle of a foreign nation where they have yet to invest in building a terrestrial network infrastructure. Or, existing network infrastructures may be denied or untrusted for transmitting sensitive military data. Or, the mission may involve a ship at sea or a transport plane traveling well beyond the reach of any existing terrestrial network.

But this requirement isn’t limited to the military, and our government doesn’t only face this challenge outside of our borders. Large swaths of this nation – in many rural and remote locations – lack high-bandwidth terrestrial network connectivity. And places that do have terrestrial networks may find them compromised when they’re needed most – times like disaster scenarios and emergency relief situations.

In these instances, the ability for satellite to deliver connectivity to virtually anywhere, regardless of the presence of terrestrial networks is what makes it so essential. Unfortunately, satellite connectivity carries a stigma and misconceptions about ease of use and accessibility. There have long been concerns about the cost, interoperability, availability, and mobility of the ground hardware necessary to utilize satellites. And there have also been concerns among government users about cost and dependability.

Luckily, technological advancements and the introduction of new solutions and satellite acquisition models over the course of the last few years have gone a long way towards eliminating these challenges and misconceptions. Over the course of the next few articles, I’ll be joined by my associates at SES Space and Defense and other contributors to the Government Satellite Report as we look at some of the exciting new solutions, advancements, and offerings that are making satellite connectivity easier to use, more accessible and more available to the government organizations that need it in the field.

And one of the first offerings we’d like to discuss isn’t something new, per se. Rather, it’s a satellite managed service offering that has become a best practice in the private sector and is now being offered with the same dependability, reliability, and customer support that’s needed for government use cases – the SKALA Global Network.

Shared capacity on virtually any hardware
Traditionally, the use of commercial or purpose-built satellites by the government or military requires that the user builds the entire end-to-end infrastructure. Needless to say, this is an incredibly time-consuming and expensive undertaking with a return that may not be worth the investment. This is especially true for government agencies responsible for emergency and disaster response that will use their satellite solutions sporadically and only when disaster strikes.

But what if that agency could utilize the satellite hardware – terminals and antennas – that they already have to quickly, easily, and seamlessly connect via a commercial satellite solution without having to build the connection to the Internet and the uplink/downlink to the satellite? What if they could simply lease a small amount of capacity for a short period of time and have it function – when needed – without having to invest in and install hardware at a teleport? This is what satellite managed service offerings can deliver.

“With satellite managed service solutions, such as SKALA, agencies get just the satellite connectivity and capacity that they need for the short period of time in which they’re responding to an emergency situation…”

The managed service approach to commercial satellite acquisition is something that has become commonplace – or even a best practice – across the maritime industry in recent years. And it’s now something that’s available for government agencies through managed service offerings such as the SES Space and Defense SKALA Global Platform.

To implement SKALA, SES Space and Defense invested in and built the terrestrial network infrastructure necessary to make an end-to-end satellite solution function. Government agencies and organizations need only to have an existing contract with the company and load a configuration file onto their existing terminals and antennas to receive the satellite connectivity that they need.

With satellite managed service solutions, such as SKALA, agencies get just the satellite connectivity and capacity that they need for the short period of time in which they’re responding to an emergency situation. And they get access to that capacity without having to integrate their own hardware into a teleport, or invest in new hardware and terminals.

But there has been some concern within the government when it comes to acquiring satellite as a managed service because the satellite capacity of a spacecraft or transponder is available and shared between a number of different users. Sharing capacity through a satellite managed service has created hesitancy among government organizations that are wary that the capacity will be taken or monopolized by other users when it’s needed most.

Thankfully, this is another concern that has been eliminated via innovation and new technologies.

Companies like SES Space and Defense that are offering managed service solutions are embracing contention ratios that ensure that the number of users – and the number of terminals in use across those users – will never approach the bandwidth and capacity limits. They’re also utilizing next-generation network management solutions and spacecraft with steerable beams to ensure that the requisite, contracted capacity is always available when it’s needed most.

As government agencies and the military increasingly rely on network-connected solutions, applications, and systems to accomplish their missions, the need for connectivity will only grow. And the off-grid nature of many of those missions will only make satellite an increasingly essential part of their operations in the future. Agencies that have avoided embracing satellite because of the hardware requirements and fear of high costs no longer have to go without.

Managed services, like SKALA, are the solution – making it possible to get the requisite connectivity with the necessary reliability they need without the effort and expense of building their own end-to-end satellite system.

In the next article in this series, my associate, Ernie Higham, will take an in-depth look at innovative, all-inclusive mobile terminal solutions that are making high-throughput, low-latency connectivity possible practically anywhere on the planet.

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