SSL Telesat LEO pathfinder (Source: SSL)

Telefónica Tests Telesat’s LEO satellite broadband service

Last week, Telesat announced that Telefónica’s international wholesale services division conducted live in-orbit testing with Telesat’s pathfinder LEO satellites.  The Spain-based phone company is the third announced carrier to conduct detailed testing with Telesat as the company closes in on selecting a satellite and ground systems manufacturer.

“As we plan, design and build our offerings to provide best-in-class connectivity for our customers, we are eager to explore how cutting-edge technologies like Telesat LEO can integrate with our global connectivity infrastructure,” explains Gustavo Arditti, TIWS Satellite Business Unit Director.  “Across every application tested, Telesat LEO delivered an outstanding performance, with significant improvements over what we can achieve via GEO satellites today.”

Telefónica International Wholesale Services (TIWS) ran tests across a wide range of applications, including high-definion video streaming, video conferencing with teams, VPN connections without delay or outages, FTP encrypted file transfers and IPSec tunnel encryption with no reduction in link performance.   The TWIS applications tests would be typically what enterprise customer would want to see from a typical data connection.

Applications tested over the Telesat Phase 1 satellite had round trip latency between 30 to 60 ms without packet loss, a big selling point over existing 650ms latency issues with geostationary earth orbit (GEO) satellite communications links.  Jitter was under 10 ms, said Telesat’s Manik Vinnakota, Director, Commercial and Global Products.

Vinnakota described the customer testing process for Space IT Bridge as unique to each customer, with on-site testing as conducted by Telefónica and previously announced carriers Vodafone and Optus being the most elaborate, with equipment shipped to the carrier and the appropriate regulatory permissions secured for RF operations in the country where they are conducted.

“The way we test, we have one active LEO satellite,” Vinnakota said. “We have 5 to 10 minutes per pass. On an average day, we have about 4 passes to test at a particular site.”  Testing can run a week to two weeks, with up to 20 different tests performed.  The test equipment includes a pair of dual parabolic antennas to maintain contact with the satellite as it quickly passes overhead.

Other potential users may perform less elaborate testing, instead visiting Telesat’s ground facilities to watch a pass and review data, but anyone interested in early testing has until 2021 to schedule an appointment.  Launched in 2018, the Phase 1 satellite is designed to have a 3 year lifetime which means it will be phased out of service around the time Telesat intends to start launching production satellites in 2022.

Telesat expects to conduct initial production tests and limited service availability to the Poles and high latitude locations in 2022 with more advanced testing taking place worldwide with a global in-service date by the end of 2023. The company expects to have an initial 192 satellites in orbit for global coverage, scaling upward to 298 spacecraft or more over time as usage increases.

While Telesat has built a number of relationships and partnerships, such as with C-Spire’s rural broadband access coalition and a Canadian first-responder broadband alliance, the company is facing a critical period over the summer.  If Telesat truly plans to start launching satellites in 2021, it will need to select a satellite and ground systems manufacturer to start building a factory and hardware.

Telesat is working with all three primes on a production schedule taking into account “long pole items,” trying to select the best design while balancing schedule, risk and economic targets, Vinnakota said. A Telesat spokesperson on the call reiterated the company’s plans to announce a vendor this summer, but the company had initially planned to make such an announcement in the fall of 2019.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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