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SATCOM Industry Embraces Transformation With Intuition
Julie Bettinger, Chief Marketing Officer, ST Engineering iDirect


The Satcoms industry is on the cusp of transformative change. And this year is a pivotal moment for ST Engineering iDirect as we unveiled our next-generation ground system, Intuition, to answer the industry's evolving needs in a time of rapid growth.

A crucial juncture

Intuition arrives at a crucial juncture in the satellite communications landscape. With the industry poised for unprecedented growth, driven by emerging technologies and new market demands, the need for innovation has never been more pressing. As satellite operators launch more satellites across multiple orbits, and with prices becoming increasingly attractive, the potential for expanded connectivity is immense. Intuition is our response to this shifting paradigm, offering a virtualized, cloud-native, standards-based, multi-orbit architecture designed to meet the demands of a burgeoning market.

Before telling the Intuition story, let me zoom out and put this industry’s pivotal moment in context.

I’ve been in the satellite communications industry for nearly two decades. For all of that time, the goal was singular: to bring connectivity to the people, the businesses, the schools, the government agencies that cannot easily be served by mobile wireless and other terrestrial-based networks.

It’s too challenging to find a fast and cost-effective way to extend cables to villages in remote mountains - and there’s no way to wire the oceans and the skies. So, the satellite communications industry opted to tackle the, by no means easier, challenge of sending a connectivity signal to space and back. 

But we figured it out, and we made it faster and more affordable one hard-fought innovation at a time.

The moment we are experiencing now is this: moving out of the pioneering phase to an era of rapid growth potential. We have proven the model, and now the model is ready to go live on a bigger stage. That’s why we’re seeing companies like SpaceX and Amazon enter the game and provide the capital to grow satellite capacity at a scale we’ve always imagined but have never seen until now.

Today, our industry’s challenge is shifting from how we can make satellite networks faster and more affordable to how we enable satellite network operators to get to market faster and scale their operations more affordably.

As an industry, we now need to set our collective sights on some new ambitions. 

One is interoperability. Our industry’s moment is similar to where mobile operators were when they built out their individual networks, but realized the only way to cover their entire landscape – and to make their service seamless for their customer – was to work together.

The idea of a “network of networks” based on industry standards has become and now is the only model for the connectivity industry. The satellite industry must embrace that same model. We need to adopt standards such as 5G, 3GPP, and DIFI, building our networks with a common architecture and ensuring interoperability. And it also means that multi-orbit networks need to be a reality.

A second goal is to transform how we deploy and upgrade satellite networks. Today, we need to pause operations on busy cruise ships and airplanes, and deploy new hardware, and personnel to install it, to accomplish this. We need to wait through long intervals to deliver all-at-once feature advancements. These disruptive deployments and forklift upgrades need to give way to a better approach. When it comes to ground infrastructure, that means virtualized hardware and cloud-enabled platforms. 

A third goal is focused on orchestration, how we better manage a hybrid network. At a recent event, our CEO, Don Claussen, spoke to this issue as we unveiled our next generation ground system, Intuition. I was struck by these words from Don.

“When a business faces rapid growth, you need to ask how well it can handle that growth. We’re going to operate at scales we’ve never operated at before, so we need a lot of emphasis on the back end of these networks.”

If you think that through, it becomes daunting. An operator’s satellite network must integrate seamlessly with non-satellite networks and with networks operated by its competitors. An operator’s service delivery, network support, and customer billing also need to accommodate that same model of integration.

But, as Don explained, ST Engineering iDirect – along with our customers and technology partners – has thought through all these coming changes and the innovations needed to drive our industry’s progress. And with Intuition, we’ve anticipated a future state for our customers where they are interoperating seamlessly, deploying effortlessly, orchestrating efficiently, and, as result of all that, scaling rapidly.

Peak performance – whether we’re talking about how a global network operates, how a football team competes and wins on the World Cup stage, or how an orchestra flawlessly nails Beethoven’s Fifth – is all about change and elegance in motion. 

This is the central idea at the very core of Intuition.

A connectivity network is in continual motion, adjusting to constant demands, from every direction. That will only accelerate as networks scale and support more end users with diverse needs.

The goal of Intuition is to learn and anticipate, to understand patterns in the network, and to make the right decisions in this environment of increasing complexity. With Intuition, we make satellite networks intuitive, adaptive, and flexible.

Intuition represents more than technological innovation – although it certainly is that; it embodies a strategic vision for the future of satellite communications. With its ability to scale rapidly and cost-effectively deliver enhanced services, and unlock new revenue opportunities, Intuition offers a comprehensive solution to the challenges facing the industry.

Proving the point

At our recent unveiling, we had the privilege of showcasing Intuition in action through a showcase of proof-of-concept demonstrations. The overwhelming positive response from customers reaffirmed our belief in Intuition's potential to transform our operators’ networks.

The demonstrations underscore the feasibility of virtualization, interoperability, and cloud deployments within satellite networks. As part of the DIFI Consortium, we’ve actively contributed to the development of the DIFI v1.1 and v1.2 standards, aimed at digitizing the interface between modem and RF components. We recently collaborated in a successful demonstration of this technology in partnership with ETL Systems.

Collaboration with Microsoft yielded promising results to virtualize our satellite hub network processing and modem capabilities, leveraging commercial off-the-shelf components and cloud computing to their fullest potential. Previously, we showcased the modulation and demodulation capability of an iDirect virtualized high-speed SCPC modem running as containerized software on a COTS server located on Azure. Building upon this success, we expanded our proof of concept to include the virtualization of the hub network processing capability, marking a significant step toward full cloud integration.

We also presented the details of the successful demonstration of multi-orbit switching via a single tracking algorithm and showcased our cloud-based Intuition NMS, which leverages the latest industry standards, features higher network scale, offers rich APIs for seamless integration, and optimizes the overall user experience.

A future within reach

As we look to the future, the potential for innovation in the satellite communications industry has never been greater. With Intuition leading the way, ST Engineering iDirect remains committed to shaping the future of satellite innovation. We are excited to embark on this journey with our customers and partners and we look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Download the Intuition eBook at this direct link...

Julie Bettinger

As the Chief Marketing Officer, Julie Bettinger is responsible for overseeing ST Engineering iDirect’s marketing initiatives and strategies to increase brand awareness, drive customer engagement and acquisition, and generate revenue.  Bettinger joined ST Engineering iDirect in 2007 as the Vice President of Marketing and was named to her current position in 2023.  

Prior to joining iDirect, Bettinger was Vice President of Marketing at TANDBERG Americas, a global leader in visual communications. During her tenure with TANDBERG, she held various marketing leadership positions that were instrumental to the development of the global marketing organization and TANDBERG’s leading market position prior to the acquisition by CISCO.

Bettinger holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Hallam University, Sheffield, England.