By Patti Aston
Lately there has been an increase in Ka- and X-band terminal manufacturing and investment. A new focus on mobility — the application for which X- and Ka-band frequencies are particularly well suited – and on smaller antennas, are driving terminal manufacturers to innovate in ways not seen before. Simultaneously, manufacturers are bringing to market terminals that readily accommodate multiple frequency bands and as a result more effectively match requirements to capabilities. Where it makes sense, government users will continue to use Ku-band – as they should. But, there is little doubt they will increasingly switch to Ka-band and X-band for on-the-move applications that require better performing, more affordable, and more agile transmissions.
Drilling down a bit further, government users are quickly realizing that X-band is superior for many mobile applications. Ka-band is severely affected by rain attenuation and Ku- band can require power-consuming spread spectrum technology to mitigate interference and get the higher data rates required. X-band, on the other hand, works superbly in even the harshest environments and doesn’t require spreading due to its own orbital spacing. As users realize these key differences and increase X-band demand, terminal manufacturers are following suit. X-band now comes in many multi-band configured terminals as well as new group of X-band specific terminals designed for very small aperture signals on mobile ground and airborne units.
This coming-of-age of X-band and related terminal technology is a windfall for users now tasked with transmitting large volumes of data to and from mobile platforms. While the physics that make X-band excellent for airborne operations always existed, the lack of terminal hardware and its high cost were a de facto deterrent to X-band use for mobility. Today’s improvements to X-band terminals in size, weight and power, along with increased production leading to decreased cost and a more ubiquitous supply, all result in a decidedly lower barrier to entry for users seeking X-band capabilities. This is particularly true for users both within the U.S. who have access to WGS but perhaps may not be able to risk being preempted as well as international users whose governments do not own their own X-band space assets. For this set of special users, commercial X-band is an excellent supplement or alternative to other sources of space segment. Commercial X-band provides every advantage offered by its government-owned counterpart, but it is contracted on flexible, commercial terms and, in XTAR’s case, non-preemptible service.