Cisco yesterday announced the first software upgrade of an IP router on a commercial satellite and the first VoIP call made without the use of any terrestrial infrastructure to route the call.

These breakthroughs were part of the Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) testing done on the Intelsat 14 geostationary communications satellite that was launched last year with a Cisco 18400 Space Router on board, said Greg Pelton, Cisco’s IRIS general manager.

“IRIS is our attempt at Cisco to really transform the satellite market and satellite networks and bring all the capabilities from the Internet that we’ve brought to other markets to the satellite industry,” Pelton said. “We feel the time is right, because the satellite industry is going through a bit of an inflection point right now.”

Traditionally, one of the problems facing the satellite industry has been that the functionality of the satellite has been based on its hardware configuration at the time of launch, resulting in static functionality as long as the satellite remains in orbit.

“We think that’s a very difficult way to build a business, when you look at how markets are changing and networks are changing and end users’ needs are changing over the 3-year build cycle and the 15-year lifespan of a satellite,” Pelton said.

However, with the software-defined Space Router, the functionality of the satellite can be enhanced via software upgrades. During the recent testing, software upgrades have allowed the Space Router to improve encryption, upgrade to IPv6 and enhance management capabilities.

In addition, the software upgrade included multicasting capabilities and Unified Communications Manager Express, which enables “dial tone from space,” Pelton said.

“All you have to do is pop open a satellite terminal, connect to it, and the satellite will make the phone call for you — it will route your calls,” he said. “All of that capability is waiting in space for you to use in the case of an emergency, and you don’t have to deploy any infrastructure on the ground.”