Rolling out Ka-band satellite in the UK

Telling the Ka-band story in the UK

The launch of two Ka-band satellites in recent months by Avanti Communications Group and Eutelsat has the potential to significantly change the UK’s consumer broadband satellite market.

Telling the Ka-band story

The launch of two Ka-band satellites in recent months by Avanti Communications Group and Eutelsat has the potential to significantly change the UK’s consumer broadband satellite market. Because of the benefits Ka-band brings in terms of higher capacity and lower end user pricing, many in the sector believe that commercialisation of the technology marks a step change in broadband satellite services. They foresee that satellite can play a major role in helping the UK Government, and indeed governments worldwide, to achieve their broadband targets.

Ka-band finally gives the industry ‘a story to tell’ in the consumer sector. For Steve Petrie, Regional Director of Northern Europe for Skylogic, Eutelsat’s affiliate, Ka-band takes the industry out of niche markets in the IP world and into a mass market. “It makes us much more competitive with terrestrial technologies in pricing and speeds; it means we can stand up against them and compete with them.”

Early consumer satellite internet-access products were one-way (using a telephone fixed-line for a return path) but two-way products soon followed. Until this year, however, systems covering the UK and Europe had been based on general purpose Ku-band transponders using frequencies between 12 and 18 GHz designed primarily for broadcast television. Despite being two-way these systems are perceived as slow and expensive. Ka-band uses higher frequencies, between 26.5 and 40 GHz, which enables the transfer of more bits per second. Analysis shows that Ka-band satellites can deliver broadband services 20 to 30 times more efficiently than legacy Ku-band satellites.

There are also improvements in end user equipment with dishes for Ka-band services being smaller than those for older technologies. Avanti using Hughes equipment provides a 74cm dish while Eutelsat’s Tooway service requires a 77cm dish. The dish is then connected to a new modem in turn connected to the consumer’s PC or Mac via an Ethernet connection. Equipment costs have been falling with a unit now priced around £300 compared with over £1,300 in 2007.

The UK distribution channel

Several satellite operators provide coverage in the UK. Following the launch of Avanti Communications’ Ka-band satellite there are now three that offer services specifically designed for consumers – Avanti Communications, Eutelsat through its subsidiary Skylogic, and SES ASTRA. These operators provide wholesale capacity to intermediary satellite internet service providers. In addition Hughes Europe, using capacity on Avanti’s HYLAS 1, now offers consumer-focused offerings for the first time in the UK.

With potential satellite customers thinly scattered across the whole UK, service providers need low-cost wide-ranging distribution channels to reach them economically, including a number of intermediary satellite internet service providers. Companies such as Avonline Plc, Bentley Walker, Broadband Wherever, Eurosat (beyondsl) and Tariam (owned by Satellite Solutions Worldwide) purchase services wholesale, package them either under the satellite operator’s brand, or add their own branding, wrapping different features around them as well as additional services. VoIP and television, for instance, may be part of a distributor’s package. Table 1 summarises the key satellite providers and their main distribution channels in the UK.

These distributors in turn have agents and resellers. Tariam, for example, has three indirect sales channels under what it terms Programs 1, 2 and 3. Its ‘authorised agent’ status is suitable for small IT companies, privately-owned PC retailers, IT consultants and community representatives. These agents receive a one-off fixed commission once a customer’s equipment is installed while Tariam carries out the equipment supply, installation, airtime provision, invoicing and ongoing billing and customer support.

‘Authorised dealers’ are often Sky television installers who might be asked for a solution by ADSL-challenged customers and which can provide installation services and site visits. These aim to sell at least 11 units per month. Thirdly, ‘authorised resellers’ are larger companies with their own installation teams and billing departments. These companies should to be able to sell at least 110 units per month. For the latter Tariam provides customer equipment at wholesale pricing and network connectivity along with second and third line technical support.

Bentley Walker has around seven resellers or agents in the UK, and about 20 in Europe overall, selling its second-generation Tooway offering. For installation the distributor also uses a partnership model with installation and maintenance service company, Total Support Group, which has 220 engineers nationwide, installing both the distributor’s Tooway and ‘Freedom’ products.

In many cases resellers are supported by the satellite operators with training and research. Eutelsat, for instance, has six training centres in Europe, one of which is in the UK, and provides online training programmes. This is important because installers are essentially a satellite provider’s customer face.

Avanti Communications has nearly 20 distributors in the UK, include its largest Hughes. The satellite operator also sells direct to consumers under Government-funded schemes in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

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Table 1 Satellite providers and their main distribution channels in the UK

Satellite providers Avanti Communications Eutelsat SES Astra
Distribution AvonlineBroadband WhereverCoview SolutionsDawsonKBR UKPrime Satcom Consulting LtdAVC BroadbandBuzz NetworksHughes

Intouch Systems

Tigrisnet

Computerlinks

Krypton TV

Simply Balanced Business Services

Intelligence

Fitzrovia

Europe-satellite.com

Rural Broadband

AB Internet Ltd

Avonline PlcBentley WalkerBroadband WhereverOnwave LtdTariam Eurosat via subsidiary Beyondsl

Find out more

This is an edited extract from the Point Topic’s October 2011 Short Report; “Satellite broadband: Ka-band enters the UK.” Full contents include Introduction, The Ka-band revolution, Market structure, Broadband satellite distributors, The role of subsidy, Consumer broadband satellite service.

Subscribers to UK Plus can access the full report directly, or for more information email contactus@point-topic.com or call +44 (0) 20 3301 3303.

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