David Gelerman Interview with Teletimes International
David Gelerman, President and CEO of SpaceBridge, talks to Teletimes International
Khalid Athar: How did the year 2020 play out for the satellite industry especially in context to the global pandemic that hit the world?
David Gelerman: 2020 was a challenging year that presented unique challenges for the Satellite industry. Short term delays were observed, as COVID affects work environments and possibly slows manufacturing, logistics, etc. But the longer-term planning remains unchanged. New services, such as new Very High Throughput Satellites (VHTS GEOs and new constellations, like MPower and alternate MEO constellations, and many LEO constellations), will continue to move forward through 2021 and beyond. SpaceBridge has remained vigilant on fulfilling the needs of our customers. Our amazing team continues to innovate and work just as hard as they had, prior to the COVID pandemic, and I would actually say even harder. I am very proud of our team for our persistent pursuit in innovation, quality, reliability and regulatory compliance for all our products and solutions; that are not only relevant to our customers, but also provide them with the capabilities to make their operations more agile and versatile.
KA: What were the major projects and milestones achieved by SpaceBridge in the last year?
DG: Though 2020 was uniquely challenging, it has now led us onto a strong growth trajectory. We are hiring additional team members for key positions and seeking top talent, to continue to shape our future growth and innovations. In terms of technology and products, we took the opportunity to review our portfolio, revamp our plans for new terminals and service offerings, and realign our strategy for new markets in-line with our core competencies, thinking more in the direction of simplifying our customers life from a financial investment perspective, bandwidth efficiency, and also technical; assisting them on overall total cost of ownership of new ground segment platforms and technologies throughout innovative implementation of creative business structures. We have remained focused on the evolution of our WaveSwitch™ solution. SpaceBridge ASAT™ WaveSwitch™, is a first in-class innovative, award-winning technology that enables dynamic return link selection and switching to the most appropriate waveform. WaveSwitch enables our customers to define custom tailored triggers that are programmed and then implemented by Artificial Intelligence (AI) to provide the appropriate MF-TDMA, A-SCPC, and SCPC waveform traffic selection and delivery in real-time. Thereby optimizing satellite resource usage for satellite networks and operators. Real-time waveform switching provides ample savings for applications seeing drastic traffic density changes, such as cellular backhaul and trunking. We continued our efforts to provide improved end-to-end platform efficiencies in the Datalink layers by innovating new compression mechanisms, and in the physical layer we have improved dynamic high arrays of MODCODs, providing a very efficient total cost of ownership. We have also added several new hardware platforms with advanced computing capabilities, enabling value added services to be provided in EDGE computing devices. We can confidently disclose that our HTS experience is profoundly enabling end-to-end Layer 2 connectivity, integrating with MPLS or SD-WAN network services.
KA: How important are partnerships going to be, going in the new decade to bridge the digital divide and connect the unconnected?
DG: SpaceBridge welcomes all kinds of partnerships that can secure and execute needed initiatives that together, effectively provide quality and more affordable solutions for our customers. It is true that competition makes for a stronger industry. But when we are able to join efforts in these joint missions, we are able to make large strides forward in closing the digital divide. At the end of the day, a lot of it boils to time-to-market. We are more than capable to bring a complete platform solution of our own. But in many cases, it makes more sense to leverage the experience, market reach, and manufacturing capabilities of our partners that specialize in certain areas. We would like to remind our customers and prospective customers; as a SATCOM powerhouse, we hold the unique end to end integration capabilities to provide our customers with a holistic, flexible and comprehensive ground segment solution. We are very happy with the various business ventures we are part of, whether made possible by revenue share or managed services. We notice that these offerings enable us to provide a good price point and excellent performance. End users choose our services for these reasons, and we are very pleased with this trend.
KA: How is SpaceBridge helping its customers monetize upon the offering of their value-added services?
DG: On the services front, we launched a new service that offers seamless connectivity on a pay-by-the-byte basis with no upfront CapEx. We are actively engaged with several partners for providing capacity over several regions. In addition to the savings that are made possible by WaveSwitch, where waveform switching provides substantial savings for applications with drastic traffic density changes, such as cellular backhaul and trunking. SpaceBridge also provides autonomous managed services for our customers. These managed services help our customers to eliminate initial large CapEx investments and save on network management OpEX, while also speeding time-to-market.
KA: Can you tell us a bit how SpaceBridge is assisting in providing backhaul connectivity over satellite to unserved remote areas without or limited cellular coverage in Africa?
DG: SpaceBridge is working with the largest MNO in Africa, to provide connectivity to unserved communities that are equipped with SpaceBridge’s WaveSwitch technology, offering VSAT stations that can switch on-a-fly, between MF-TDMA, A-SCPC, or SCPC waveforms. Such flexibility will enable the population to receive adequate service for years to come and at the same time at better transmission quality, providing faster Internet access for sending pictures, videos, texts and superior voice communications. For MNO, various communication protocols, network security, Abis/GTP traffic optimization, and TCP acceleration inside the GTP tunnels are important features required for successful 2G/4G deployment. SpaceBridge embedded optimization software provided space segment savings of up to 40%. As well as the use of native Layer 2 and the ability to prioritize data transmission between Control Plane, Management protocols, and user traffic with high rate of packets per-second. SpaceBridge Cellular Backhaul equipment provided the mobile operator with the ability to fully meet its network growth requirements and seamlessly connect the satellite network to its established network, as an integral part. The major operators are trying to improve the space segment network resources utilization, and paired with the SpaceBridge multi-service platform, are able to provide corporate services and 2/3/4G in the same exact platform, enabling optimized precious resource unitization.
KA: While the pandemic severely restricted travel, how quickly did the teams at SpaceBridge adapt to a more virtual world?
DG: While the effects of COVID are visible all around us, from tradeshows now going virtual, or the lessened amount of in-person interaction and travel, we have adapted our focus toward achieving the best touchpoints and interactions possible, adapting to the new working environment brought upon us by COVID restrictions. Our work environment has the flexibility to provide team members with the ability to keep our focus on their well-being and productivity at a maximum. In reference to R&D work, much of these operations can progress remotely regardless, especially with the rise of cloud hosted development environment. Many studies have evidenced that working from home can enhance development productivity, since engineers can more easily concentrate on work and have less disruptions than in an office environment. At SpaceBridge there are several development centers that are dispersed across the globe, and are already up and running virtually, as remote offices. There has been no impact on our connectivity and ability to scale to take on growing demands. This flexibility opens the door to new horizons, to hire capable, self-motivated individuals practically anywhere in the world.
KA: What is your prediction on demand for legacy wide beam capacity and current HTS?
DG: With the arms race of all LEO and MEO constellations, the industry is definitely experiencing a re-assessment, and consequential drop in orders for GEO satellites; with many satellite providers sitting on the fence until the expected network deployment, is becoming clearer. However, the full range of risks and opportunities in constellation formations does not leave industry leaders feeling indifferent. In our opinion, there are several regions in the world and a number of specific applications and customers, who for many, will reason and choose to continue to operate over GEO services. These are mainly SOTM applications that require wide hemi or regional beams, as opposed to spot beams. Applications for defense users that require information cyber security, encryption, TRANSEC, and of course, consumer applications where price elasticity has not yet reached the point of an affordable price level for the terminal (which is still a major task that the industry leaders are working on substantially improving in this area).
KA: How does the future look for classic satellite markets in remote and developing areas?
DG: We believe that the market will continue to consolidate. Satellite companies will have to acquire technology companies to realize the vision of providing services. Or inversely, the technology companies will move into the domain of satellite operators and service providers, utilizing the most advanced satellite technologies that include SD-WAN and Software Defined Radio capabilities. Also, the newly planned satellite LEO constellations with enormous amount of gateways and inter satellite link systems pose the real threat for traditional GEO operators. The industry will continue to accelerate its efforts to compete optimally with more available broadband services, and we will see an addition of about a million new users. This will eventually lead to further maturity of the satellite industry, and of course, continued efforts to become an integral part of any network broadband services. Our experience is leveraged to put forth the highest level of performance, quality, and reliability, at competitive prices; like any other communication medium, this is our main goal.
KA: Do you think that the trend towards multi-orbit-based constellations and services, integration with terrestrial networks and adopting cloud-based technologies will continue?
DG: Of course, the trend towards multi-orbit-based constellations and services, integration with terrestrial networks and adopting cloud-based technologies will certainly continue. It may be reasonable to see some impacts in timelines due to the changing worldwide financial arena. COVID’s “new norm” has revealed the overwhelming demand for bandwidth everywhere. On the ground, mobile operators are expediting the roll out of greater 4G/5G (already covers over 90% of NA thanks in part to Dynamic Spectrum Sharing), and tests of 5G over LEO experimental satellites are already showing high bandwidth with less than 50msec latency, which is at par with terrestrial networks. These findings should bode well for satellite’s future. However, we are constantly in need of re-building satellite value propositions in a world in which competitive technologies themselves become more pervasive and mainstream (fiber’s ever-expanding footprint, SDN/MEF, Cloud to the EDGE).
KA: Will the movement toward diverse and complex satellite constellations and convergence with the big telco world continue to drive all the peripheral technology ecosystem?
DG: The movement toward diverse and complex satellite constellations and convergence with the big telco world will remain a key driver for all the peripheral technology ecosystems in our industry. As LEO, MEO, and GEO satellite constellations are leveraged more and more, each day, the systems that support these constellations must also be prepared for the evolution cycles ahead, and how these systems integrate and communicate with one another. These are exciting times for the satellite industry. We are in a midst of a technological evolution that started last decade and will likely continue well into this one. The market drivers remain more-less the same, with a mix of the traditional ecosystem and new vertically integrated unicorn players with deep pockets; as well as the environmental and economic changes that COVID-19 imposed on everyone. But these factors did not significantly change the overall technology direction.
KA: How important is satellite connectivity in saving human lives, especially in context to natural disasters which may impact the on-ground connectivity services?
DG: Satellite connectivity plays a crucial role in providing connectivity when it is needed most. In the event of a natural disaster, or loss of connectivity over dedicated networks, reliance on backup connectivity solutions, such as VSAT or Cellular Backhaul, keeps emergency response networks established and available. In turn, safeguarding the connectivity and mobility of critical infrastructure communications that is demanded in the many challenging scenarios of disaster response. As our past experience shows, in the aftermath of many devastating hurricanes and typhoons, our fly-away VSAT terminals were the only means of communication that provided the connectivity to the region.