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Unleashing The Power Of Software: Defined satellite capabilities come down to the ground game
Intelsat Editorial Team


Software Defined Networking, or SDN, is getting a lot of well-deserved adulation. Delivering benefits such as faster speeds, improving IoT applications, and enabling edge computing, SDN is having a profound impact on the communications industry.

Not surprisingly, the satellite industry is seeing significant interest in the same capability on a global scale. Like it’s terrestrial cousin, satellite networks will largely accomplish this by virtualizing network components. Services that run over the virtualized infrastructure will be managed by a software stack.

For satellite networks, this means software-based control at the network management level, on the satellite itself all the way through the remote terminal. By leveraging the potential of SDN and Software Defined Satellites (SDS), providers can unlock a host of benefits and propel the capabilities of their satellite networks to new heights

However, there is a catch….

SDN enables network devices and the services that run over them to be managed using software, enabling dynamic network management, configuration and optimization. While the satellite manufacturers will include some software

for the new generation of software—defined satellites that can be used to change settings and configurations on the satellite, on its own it will require manual operation and that means capacity adjustments that require time to complete and won’t scale well.

To achieve the dynamic resource management necessary to deliver the full suite of nexgen capability, or to interconnect with other networks, service providers must effectively integrate the satellite, the hub and the remote modems into a resilient, seamless global network that can benefit from the software administration.

Worth The Effort

While traditional satellite networks have been successful in delivering last mile connectivity to remote areas, there are significant advantages to implementing a SDN satellite network.

Service that follows the customers
Software-defined satellite capabilities provide organizations unmatched flexibility and agility in managing their satellite networks and shifting capacity based on changing customer requirements. Through programmable software interfaces and virtualization, satellite operators can dynamically allocate resources, move beams, reroute traffic, and adjust network configurations on demand.

However, optimizing the ability to respond to changing requirements, traffic patterns and emerging technologies dynamically requires an advanced software system that automates the interactivity between the satellite and the ground system. Intelsat is developing such a system which results in a service that dynamically follows the customers (and changing demand).

Capture more traffic
SDSs bring significant efficiency gains to satellite networks. By distributing network management and control functions, operators can streamline operations, reduce complexity, and improve resource use.

Virtualized network functions enable efficient sharing of physical infrastructure, eliminating the need for dedicated hardware for each service or application. This consolidation leads to increased traffic capacity availability when and as needed on your network, and savings through lower overall costs — ultimately maximizing Return On Investment (ROI).

Mitigates obsolescence
SDNs provide the ability to upgrade or replace functionality of services through software downloads vs. hardware replacement, making it easier to adapt to changing business or consumer usage requirements and technological advancements.

This is particularly important in markets where users may be rapidly changing access devices, last mile transmission, or integrating new applications and solutions. SDNs provide a future-proof foundation that can evolve and incorporate new technologies, making it easier to anticipate changing requirements as well as adapt the network to overcome them.

Rapid service deployment + Innovation
SDN over satellites accelerates service deployment and fosters innovation. With software-defined capabilities, organizations can rapidly introduce new services, protocols, and features without significant hardware changes.

Service provisioning becomes more agile, enabling faster time-to-market and the ability to adapt to emerging user needs. This flexibility encourages experimentation, promotes innovation, and paves the way for new applications and business models in the satellite communication landscape.

Improved network performance + Quality of Service (QoS)
Perhaps most important to long term impact is effective planning, development, and operations of SDN and SDS that removes the limitations of the end user, allowing them to use the bandwidth for the services they need today and in the future. Software-defined satellite networks enable enhanced network performance and QoS.

Dynamic allocation and optimization of resources allow operators to prioritize critical applications, ensure bandwidth availability, and manage traffic congestion effectively. By intelligently routing traffic and adapting to changing conditions, SDN over satellites can deliver consistent and reliable connectivity, even in challenging environments, or when there are rapidly changing usage patterns.

While all this is invisible to end users, the increased reliability and capability of the network builds brand affiliation and customer loyalty in what is becoming a very competitive space.

What Are The Risks?

The weakest link
Just as Software Defined Networking has the capacity to positively impact aspects across the entire network, optimizing for maximum success depends on the ability to deploy and manage software systems that can leverage the new capabilities from one end of the network to the other.

Without a fully integrated system that can provision capacity or services that maximize the flexibility of satellites as well as integrate the SDN with 5G, multi-orbit networking and various terminal technologies, operators will be left maintaining legacy systems with legacy procedures resulting in multiple layers of inefficiencies.

The unknown
SDN’s provide a great deal of flexibility to adapt to changing usage patterns or address new requirements, and while no one can predict the future, the more variables you can accommodate, the greater the opportunity to take full advantage of the network capability. This is especially true when you factor in a satellite.

Adapting various elements of the satellite, the network and the users’ impact on each other requires very specific expertise. Understanding the various relationships these elements have with each other helps design the solution to mitigate potential issues and deliver better results.

Optimizing the investment
Software defined satellite networks require a significant investment in space assets as well as terrestrial management solutions. There is a substantial ROI opportunity, but only if each link of the chain is developed correctly. Any misstep in the design, planning, launch, operations, etc., will constrain much of the opportunity and limit the potential return.

Partnering For Success

Software-defined satellite capabilities have the potential to revolutionize the satellite communication industry, offering unmatched flexibility, efficiency, and performance. While the complexity of implementing SDN over satellites cannot be ignored, the benefits it brings to organizations are well worth the effort.

Successfully implementing SDN over satellites requires partnering with the most appropriate company. A trusted and experienced partner can optimize investments by providing expertise in network design, deployment, and management. They can ensure mission success through comprehensive planning, testing, and risk mitigation strategies. More importantly, proper network deployment increases end user customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

Since its founding six decades ago, Intelsat has been synonymous with satellite industry “firsts” in service to its customers and the planet. Leaning on a legacy of innovation and focusing on addressing a new generation of challenges, Intelsat team members now have their sights on the “next firsts” in space as they disrupt the field and lead in the digital transformation of the industry.

Intelsat’s global team of professionals is focused on providing seamless and secure satellite-based communications to government, NGO and commercial customers through the company’s nexgen global network and managed services.

Intelsat is the partner to help service providers optimize the power of software defined networking, from one end to the other.