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The selection process for the market's third operator was a spectacle to behold
Intelsat successfully launched its second high-throughput satellite (HTS) under the EpicNG brand – and the first covering Asia – on Wednesday in its ongoing bid to bring its satellite services into the broadband era.
Intelsat 33e – which was manufactured by Boeing and launched by Arianespace – covers the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia from its 60°E orbital slot. The satellite’s Asia footprint covers South Asia, Southeast Asia, China and the west coast of Australia.
The payload includes 65 Ku-band spots and seven C-band beams, but the real attraction of the EpicNG fleet, says Terry Bleakley, Intelsat’s VP of Asia Pacific, is that the payloads are fully digital, an industry first.
“That means you can switch between any of the beams without having to go through a gateway,” he says. “So it gives our customers a lot of flexibility – they can shift capacity in 2.4-MHz chunks to match their usage needs in a particular region or timeframe.”
Bleakley says the EpicNG satellites can deliver throughput speeds of anywhere between 25-60 Gbps (depending on application and ground antenna size), compared to the 4-5 Gbps delivered by traditional satellites.
Intelsat has already signed at least nine customers for 33e who will use it for applications such as cellular backhaul, mobility services (i.e. aeronautical and maritime broadband) and enterprise VSAT.
A likely future HTS application is the Internet of Things, Bleakley adds. “As we develop smaller antennas on the ground and reduce their footprint, we can move into applications like connected cars and agriculture, for example.”
Intelsat 33e’s next-gen architecture – which is backwards-compatible and interoperable with the operator’s existing satellite fleet and terrestrial infrastructure, so existing customers don’t need new equipment to use it – also promises better efficiency gains and economics in terms of cost per Hz.
This isn’t theoretical, says Bleakley. “The first EpicNG satellite, 29e, was launched in January, went into service in April, and customers that transitioned to it are seeing 2x throughput efficiency. For some customers on the ground it’s up to 5x improvement.”
Intelsat 29e customers are also realizing better economics, he adds, “though it’s hard to say by how much because it does depend on the application and the amount of capacity being utilized.”
Bleakley adds that cost efficiency is important, “because satellite is perceived to be expensive, and we have to improve the economics to move forward in the world to make satellite more accessible.”
Intelsat 33e and 29e are the first two of seven planned EpicNG satellites to be placed in orbit by 2019. The next one for Asia is Horizons 3e, which is being developed via a joint venture with SKY Perfect JSAT. Intelsat and JSAT have already launched two satellites under the Horizons name, as well as Intelsat 15/JCSAT-85), but Horizons 3e will be the first using the EpicNG architecture. That satellite is scheduled to launch in the second half of 2018.
Meanwhile, the same Ariane 5 booster put another Intelsat satellite in orbit: Intelsat 36, with a Ku- and C-band payload designed to enhance Intelsat’s media neighborhoods serving Africa and the Indian Ocean regions at 68.5°E.