The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a stark increase in the need for remote technology within satellite, as with all other areas. Deploying and maintaining networks efficiently and error-free remain important issues for satellite users, and for some time there has been an emphasis on gradually virtualizing this technology and moving towards remote management across the industry. COVID-19 has accelerated this drastically and has made it more important than ever that the satellite industry can ensure remote installation and maintenance, minimizing the need for travel and human interaction during a global lockdown.
Many satellite services are inevitably essential and in order to stay operational, any remote capabilities that satellite users and operators already had at their disposal have been put to the test over the past few months. So what’s the case for continuing this progression towards remote network management as the world slowly begins a return to the ‘new normal’?
Bridging the Gap
It’s no secret that there is currently a gap between experienced satellite engineers close to retirement and potential new recruits fresh out of school or university. This is going to cause a real skills shortage in the coming years. When it comes to setting up a satellite network, it often involves physically sending engineers to a site to assist. The engineer can be out of action for days travelling between sites, which not only costs time but also money and resources. With remotely managed setups, specially trained engineers can monitor and oversee operations from one central location (the NOC, for example), with no need to physically deploy to sites. They could also then be monitoring several operations and multiple satellites at a time and setting up multiple operations back to back error-free. This is because once they have done the necessary for one operation, they can immediately start on the next with no down time or travelling in-between jobs.
With a specially trained engineer on hand to spot errors, mispointing terminals for example, there is much less chance of experiencing errors and service degradation. If an operator’s customer is having problems, having the ability to remotely access and step in to amend setups and resolve issues in-house can save huge amounts of operational expenditure, not to mention keeping customers happy. Our remote network management technology (Satmotion) is currently being used to aid in-field set ups and reduce the need for site re-visits, and we’re anticipating that COVID-19 will accelerate the demand for this capability. The new Satmotion API is being integrated with a huge variety of automated antennas to not require anyone at the site to commission.
A Competitive Market
Automated remote technology will also be key if we are to continue winning against damaging satellite interference. The ability to use technology to detect errors and then being able to investigate and solve these errors remotely in real-time will be hugely beneficial, as it means that services will be affected for less time, if even at all in cases where the interference was detected straight away.
With so much competition facing satellite currently, we simply can’t afford to setup the link and then leave satellite operations to their own devices. Not only could this result in spotting errors after a service becomes affected, therefore lowering the quality of service for the end user, but it could also affect the reputation of satellite communications on the whole. With proper monitoring on a constant basis, done remotely by a specially trained engineer using automated and virtualized technology, it is possible to prevent errors from even causing service degradation in the first place. Integrasys’ clients have been putting these exact setups to the test using our Controlsat and Vectorsat remote Network Operations Center tools and we have received some very positive feedback – virtualization is here!
If satellite is to take advantage of the opportunities presented by 5G and the growth in connected devices, then we must ensure we are able to guarantee error-free services. This means we must constantly look to new technology and other means of increasing efficiencies in operations to maintain affordability and reliability. Moving operations towards remote management can help to this end. The complexity of LEO operations are another concern to be aware of in the near future, as closely monitoring and proactively managing these networks looks set to become increasingly necessary to ensure errors are detected and incidences of interference or service-degradation are minimised. Within the busy LEO environment, being able to manage spectrum and identify potential RFI will be critical.
COVID-19 has shown us that we massively need to increase our remote capabilities, not just because there could be another situation like this in the future, but because it makes sense for the industry both financially and in terms of boosting the reliability and efficiency of operations in preparation for future opportunities.