Satellite and IP communications begin to merge
All-IP and satellite communications are words that typically have not been used in the same sentence in the past. But TeleCommunication Systems has been making some significant inroads into military communications by marrying IP and satellite communications to enable broadband data speeds and VoIP over small, transportable dishes.
The company’s solutions have been used in situations ranging from disaster recovery after Hurricane Katrina to tactical communications in Afghanistan. And during 2008 and this year, TCS has been racking up the contracts with the U.S. Army, Marines and other government agencies for its satellite solutions and wireless point-to-point links. The company won the largest contract in its history last year under the worldwide satellite systems contract called SNAP, which stands for Secure and Non-Secure IP Routing Access Points. The contract has a potential value to TCS of $246 million for about 1500 SNAP systems during the next three years.
As such, the company’s SwiftLink very small aperture terminal, or VSAT, systems have been gaining significant traction. These systems operate over Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) and Global Area Network (GAN), as well as the Ku and Ka satellite bands. The company has been pushing the envelope on data speeds, with terminals measuring 1.2 meters and transmitting data at 18 Mb/s. Meanwhile, the Stingray VSAT solution has pushed the envelope on both size and bandwidth with a dish that measures 0.45 meters capable of transmitting data such as maps and other tactical information at 4.2 Mb/s.
“While all of this increase in bandwidth has been happening, we had customers who kept asking us to make the dish smaller because they wanted to set it up in 15 minutes,” said Tim Lorello, senior vice president and chief marketing officer with TCS. “They wanted to tear it down fast but also have high bandwidth needs.”
Now, as TCS gains significant traction in the military market, its marketing mantra is “everything over IP,” including encrypted voice communications. TCS proved this concept during the disaster recovery effort after Hurricane Katrina. It brought in VSATs and created VoIP banks so FEMA workers could communicate.
“We have systems that in some cases … people are taking a GSM-type phone and using the satellite IP connections, and it works in-theater,” Lorello said.
In the future, it is expected that an effort known as Internet Routing in Space (IRIS) will usher in true IP layer 3 routing to commercial communications satellites. IRIS, which is part of the Department of Defense’s joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) and involves satellite players like Intelsat and router specialist Cisco, is expected to launch its satellite in June 2009. The satellite will be designed to feed packets to other satellites and essentially create the first permanent IP network in space.