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2017 - A Year of Emergence

By Ian Hilditch, CEO, ETL Systems 

2017 has been the year of emergence. On the one hand, broadcasters, one of the biggest users of satellite technology, are faced with emerging competition from a wide range of different companies, such as over-the-top providers, including the large contenders Netflix and Amazon, as well as small niche content providers. This is causing them significant challenges to stay competitive in an evolving market. For the satellite industry, a threat to broadcasting, is of course a threat to our entire industry. At the same time, we are seeing massive movement for satellite technology in emerging markets, where satellite is delivering much needed connectivity.

Ultimately, all of that means technology needs to continue to offer performance and cost-efficiency, so enabling satellite users to compete in this competitive environment.

Challenges and Successes

High Throughput Satellite (HTS) has really been taking off this year, with many of the major operators adopting the technology, including SES, Inmarsat, and Intelsat. With that comes a number of challenges. HTS has been a hot topic providing higher throughput with no additional spectrum requirements, meaning smaller antennas and a reduced cost per bit. Naturally that makes it perfect for VSAT applications, including marine, oil and gas, and broadcast, as well as for the countless Internet of Things applications that are data hungry.

ETL's ODU & IDU VSAT over Fibre solution

In particular, maritime and oil and gas satellite users are moving towards reduced cost and modernised VSAT terminals with the adoption of HTS. However, the biggest challenge is that of antennas being remote from modems in these types of applications. This drove ETL to develop a VSAT over Fibre solution, which was launched earlier this year. For us, the challenge was to design a fibre link with an outdoor unit on an antenna that was compact, low cost, with a rapidly deployable connector. The resulting solution was met with a great deal of interest from the industry.

Broadcast Challenges

Traditional broadcasters, including satellite broadcasters, are faced with stiff competition right now, not just from other broadcasters, but from a vast range of agile content providers, delivering compelling content over-the-top. That means massive cost efficiency of internet delivery, as well as easy delivery to multiple platforms and devices. And with that, the consumer demand for content anywhere is increasing and putting pressure on all broadcasters to move beyond just linear.

Naturally for a traditional satellite broadcaster that presents a number of challenges. On a technology front, broadcasters are suddenly faced with different modulation types. Broadcasters must to be able to provide coverage to consumers rapidly, from wherever a scene may be, and most importantly in good quality.

Having said this, the need for content everywhere, from anywhere is truly at the heart of the argument for maintaining satellite connections. Established broadband infrastructure is on the rise but no region in the world can boast quality, reliable fibre connections absolutely everywhere. Satellite is often the only answer.

With broadcasters under increasing pressure to provide content to multiple platforms, the need for redundancy has suddenly become all the more important to ensuring a continuous service. Recognising the need for a flexible redundant switch to be ready within a very short timeframe, we set about developing a new product to meet these requirements. Fortunately our engineering team is used to custom building RF products to individual requirements, which meant we were able to develop a solution in very little time, that met the market requirements.

ETL's new Griffin Redundancy switch




The resulting solution is the Griffin redundancy switch, which handles RF, L-band, and ASI signal types, whilst providing signal redundancy for satellite modulators, downconverters, or modems. Automatic switching to a standby path when an error occurs can be triggered by front panel, upon RF level detection, alarm contacts or connected to a Network Monitoring Solution. Minimal impact is from failure is reinforced by hot-swap switch modules.

Naturally, this is not just useful for the broadcast market and has had great traction across a wide range of verticals this year.

Emerging and Existing Markets

The emerging markets are a massive growth area for the satellite industry. In many of these markets, the communication infrastructure is lacking and challenging due to huge distances and very rural areas. Satellite can, and is beginning to, solve that, bringing much needed communication for video, phones, and internet. This is having a massive impact for the consumers across the region and will likely expand quickly over the coming months.

As a manufacturer of products for the satellite industry, we are witnessing growth of sales in many of those markets. Indonesia and Malaysia are, for example, particularly strong for us, however, this year lots of our matrices are being used in markets we hadn't even considered and therefore have not actively targeted.

ETL's new Hurricane Matrix (middle) at IBC 2017

with the Enigma & Victor matrix (left) and

new for 2018 Harrier Matrix (right)














At the same time, we are still seeing strong growth and demand across all verticals in existing markets. Despite its challenges, broadcast remains a big sector for us. We have had some major success with our Hurricane L-band Matrix in the government and broadcast sectors. This is mainly thanks to its compact size, as it is the smallest in the industry with integrated LNB powering, coupled with multi configurable inputs.

The Industry Outlook for 2018

As product manufacturers, it is vital that we keep up with the industry trends and challenges for our customers. 2017 has been a year full of change, which has brought both challenges and opportunities for our industry. 2018 will be more of the same - satellite will continue to be important across all verticals, especially in those regions where it is the only option, but also in other markets where it brings its own set of advantages or additions.

As the demand for satellite bandwidth increases, especially to handle those data hungry IoT applications, HTS will continue to grow over the coming year. This also means a move from Ku-band to Ka-band to Q-band, to create further bandwidth to support the need for space on the satellite spectrum. This in turn will drive requirements for existing and new products, able to handle this new era of satellite communications. The other big thing we will see in 2018 is the launch of countless Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations. With a lot of concern around how these will affect the satellite spectrum, it is clear that good quality products will be crucial to ensuring errors are minimised as much as possible.

Resilience, Performance, Quality

The challenges of this year for satellite users is one of the very things that has meant it has been a successful year for us. We have a strong focus on building in resilience, performance, and quality in all of our products. When faced with rising competition, differing formats, and new technology, those areas are all the more important to ensure better efficiency and ultimately that, no matter what, consumers get a continual, high quality service.

We already have a good footing across the Western markets. As mentioned above, we are beginning to see huge traction in the emerging markets, who have the benefit of learning from other markets to ensure they integrate professional systems with redundancy and good design at the outset. In 2017, we launched four new products, in 2018, we look forward to developing new solutions to solve the new market challenges that will emerge over the coming months.