By Philip Harlow
The introduction of vast quantities of Ka-band to the market has created quite a stir. Bandwidth is plentiful and cheap; it’s going to take over the world! At least that’s what some of the hype suggests. As the frequency band debate rages on, and as we consider how Ka-band is going to affect the market, X-band should take its rightful place in the discussion.
Some of the Ka-band hype is true. Certainly I believe we should welcome this new capability into the industry. We should embrace it, recognizing its merits and limitations. More capacity means serving more applications and more geographies. As the cell phone industry has learned over time, new resources provide individuals and businesses incentives to identify creative and lucrative ways to use them.
What about the risk of de-valuing our staple diet – Ku-band? Sure, I see some short- to medium-term pressure on Ku-band pricing, but I do not see a market effect that will keep Ku-band prices down over the long term. Ka-band still has to prove itself, a factor that is naturally holding its prices down today. Customers and service providers must wrestle with how to build and support new Ka-band networks, stay with Ku-band, or consider hybrid options.
Ku-band market cannibalization by Ka-band is occurring in pockets across markets and applications, sometimes for good reason. Point-to-point services are well served by Ka-band in my opinion, as are networks with static sites that are not prone to atmospheric attenuation. Conversely, I am not convinced mobile networks will move wholesale to Ka-band in significant quantities, though there may be attempts to do so. Ultimately there will be a return to other frequency bands that are better suited for mobile applications.
We see the same interest in Ka-band for our government users vis-à-vis X-band. DoD has set its sights on using military Ka-band for mobile applications while continuing to use X-band for static site networks. Indeed, WGS has significantly more Ka-band capacity than X-band, an attractive proposition on the surface, but I do not believe that Ka-band will dominate the mobile marketplace for government either. I think that the operational necessity for assured communications in all weather conditions will drive to a more appropriate frequency band in the long term.
XTAR provides X-band capacity to a number of government, military and intelligence community users. We have seen an enormous increase in their airborne requirements in particular over the past three years. XTAR’s X-band has been performing immaculately on a number of different airborne platforms, achieving data rates unheard of at Ku-band, without the need to spread the signal and without interference. Ku-band most often cannot achieve desired data rates with the small antennas that these platforms must use (<18”). X-band has no adjacent satellite interference (X-band satellites are spaced further apart in space by ITU mandate), and less restriction on uplink and downlink EIRP density limits – we can simply do more without the need to spread a signal, and keep the transmit and receive densities within regulatory limits.
Near and dear to our government customers’ hearts is not buying more bandwidth than required; not spending a dime more than absolutely necessary.
X-band is proving itself a fantastic resource for mobile applications. When I came to XTAR five years ago, even I regarded X-band as a workhorse for basic point-to-point and network applications. Instead, I have witnessed XTAR achieve exceptional operational success and bandwidth efficiency resulting in a significant positive impact on our users. We’ve shown it time and again in tests and demos, and then again in operations – the value that XTAR brings to the market.
Each and every frequency band has unique advantages, places where it fits better than any other band. The new kid on the block, Ka-band, has its own set of pros and cons. It is clear that for government operations, X-band is usually far superior to Ka-band for mobility. XTAR’s satellites continue to offer unparalleled network availability, high throughput and reliability for mobile applications where mission up-time is paramount. Like Ka-band, XTAR and X-band has a clear place in the conversation that no professional in our industry can afford to ignore.