Another Dull Year for the Satcom Antenna Industry

Another Dull Year for the Satcom Antenna Industry

While the market for antennae for satellite communications for broadcasting cannot be termed as a dying one, it seems moving forward, this segment shall not see too much traction.

There has been very low procurement in the antennae for satellite communication segment over the last couple of years. And moving forward too, it seems this sector will continue to have low sales. The ownership model has shifted to the rental model or opting for alternative technologies, where possible.

The Indian antennae market for satellite communications, in line with the technology changes has also undergone a major change over the last two years. No longer are the broadcasters or the DTH service providers making huge investments in large antennae (7.5M, 9M, and 9.3M). With the availability of teleport services from Indiasign and PlanetCast (earlier Essel Shyam), the investment in teleports has also come to almost naught. With camera backpacks available, the antennae market for DSNG vans is also slowing down. The competitive pricing of broadband data has increased TV and video viewing on mobile screens, smartphones, tablets, and laptops in preference to the linear TV.

The growing popularity of IPTV for streaming media to access TV channels is attributed to several distinct advantages it offers over traditional cable and satellite pay-TV services. Cable operators and satellite broadcasters in developing and developed channels are increasingly using IPTV to provide additional channels to their subscribers. This is a key factor attenuating the market. The availability of high bandwidth requirement is also propelling popularity of OTT services.

In 2017, Doordarshan procured three units of large antenna (7M, 7.6M, and 9M) from Arraycom, who in turn sourced it from Decibel. Other three tenders for eleven units, seven units, and one unit are still pending. The public broadcaster also procured nine units of 1.8M Ku-band antennae for Rs. 4 crore (USD 600,000) for its DSNG vans from Horizon.

The antenna market in 2017 is estimated at Rs. 11.9 crore. The major suppliers are Decibel (Sat-lite), Horizon (Vislink), General Dynamics, Anartek, Arraycom, Comsat, and Optimum Viking Satcom (AVL). TV Today, Quint TV, Polimer TV are some of the channels which had antennae installations in 2017. In response to the dismal buying by the broadcast sector, the suppliers have moved their focus to buyers such as Army, Navy, ISRO, ONGC among others.

Globally, the satellite antenna market is estimated to be valued at USD 2.05 billion in 2017 and is projected to reach USD 2.99 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 7.85 percent over the next five years. However, this includes a parabolic reflectors, flat panels, FRPs, horns, RV, iron antenna with mold stamping, and others. The ecosystem of the satellite antenna market comprises manufacturers, suppliers, and technology support providers. Airbus Defence and Space (France), Honeywell International (US), General Dynamics Corporation (US), Cobham Plc (UK), and MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates Ltd. (Canada) are some of the established market players. These leading players offer advanced technology systems, products, and services.

Moving Forward

While an earth station antenna still looks pretty much the same as it did before the world moved on, there have been advancements in this area. By simply running out of traditional Ku-band frequencies and moving to the higher frequency range of Ka-band, the antennae manufacturers have had to refine their production lines as extreme reflector and feed precision are required.

An example of how to tackle the issues that come with transmitting in Ka-band is with sub-reflector tracking (SRT) which provides reduced mechanical wear and increases reliability on the one hand, and on the other also provides for thermal beam steering – that reduces thermal defocusing.

An increase in TWTA (travel wave tube amplifier) output powers is also generally seen. While 750 W TWTA’s used to be the most powerful HPA (high power amplifier) on the market, for Ku-/DBS-bands today that power has doubled (or more) to 1500 or 2000 W. The same is true for Ka-band, where 100 W was initially the maximum, yet today, 500 W is widely available.

Why is higher power needed? The days of 32-m antennas are a thing of the past and adverse weather conditions are becoming more frequent than experienced ever before. If this trend continues to worsen, more technical enhancements will be required in this field.

There is another opportunity for teleports to expand their offerings and their services. Though not directly related to satellites, over-the-top (OTT) services can certainly complement the services of a traditional broadcast teleport. While a satellite is associated with linear broadcast, today’s viewers expect to be able to watch their favorite shows, movies, or events whenever it suits them and not just when the program airs. The viewer has become the final editor and is no longer bound to linear television schedules or traditional TV screens.

While OTT brings new commercial opportunities, it also comes with a few new technicalities that were not needed by traditional teleports. However, the novelties are not drastic and, if a teleport has a team of good and out-of-the-box thinking engineers, it is certainly not a problem to incorporate and add OTT in its portfolio of services.

Delivering media content over the Internet requires huge bandwidth capacities. Fortunately, the headend can be in the teleports hands while the edge servers and infrastructure can be rented from various content delivery network (CDN) providers. The synergy in analogous to the teleport/satellite owner relationship.

This is just one example of technological advancement, but there are many more existing and potential technical challenges ahead.

One element is certain – technological advancements will not stop. In fact, quite the opposite – these advancements will occur faster and faster. Eventually, when the Ka-band becomes saturated, the satellite industry will have no option but to expand to Q- and V-bands and teleports will follow suit.

With ever increasing frequencies, hardware vendors will need to adjust to the increasing precision-demanding production processes. Unless the need for satellite communication will cease to exist – the satellite will die comments have been listened to for the past 10 years or more – clearly, that has not occurred. In fact, the opposite has happened, and an ever increasing demand for satellite capacity is being witnessed.

While the traditional broadcast market may be generally saturated, there are still many regions that are starting the transition to HD only now, plus the Internet of Things (IoT) is only in its infancy. That, combined with the ever increasing demand for more and more bandwidth in mobility and other areas of communication, assure all – especially the industry – that the satellite is far from extinction.

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