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The #SpaceWatchME IBC 2016 Interviews: Mark Rigolle of LeoSat – A Paradigm Shift in the Satellite Market

LeoSat CEO Mark Rigolle - Credits: Leosat
LeoSat CEO Mark Rigolle – Credits: Leosat

SpaceWatch Middle East conducted a series of interviews during the International Broadcast Convention 2016 in Amsterdam in September. This interview is with Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat.

Emerging LEO satellite operator, LeoSat is creating a buzz that is being widely felt across the satellite industry. The constellation’s development is well underway and features technology that has not yet been seen in commercial satellite deployments. Serving the B2B market and using a combination of satellite and network technology, the 78-satellite constellation is set to be transformative.

LeoSat is developing a very unique constellation of satellites. Tell us more about them and what features will make them stand out in such a competitive marketplace.

LeoSat is offering the market something which does not exist today – a global, low-latency, very high-speed and ultra-secure network for data transportation.   The new type of satellite constellation we are developing has been designed from the ground up and our system will provide as much uplink as downlink bandwidth, which makes us different from all of the other satellite constellations which have been launched or announced.  The LeoSat constellation will feature 78 satellites in polar orbit in six planes, providing total ubiquity. We’ll have better coverage in the higher latitudes than any other system, including GEO and MEO satellites.   Uniquely, the data will be delivered point-to-point via a fully-redundant mesh network using inter-satellite links.  Each satellite will have four laser links and will be connected to the satellites ahead of it in the same plane as well as to the adjacent satellites in the two adjacent planes. With each satellite connected to the others in the network, every spot on the globe will be covered by at least two satellites. LeoSat’s mesh network interconnected through laser links creates in effect an optical backbone in space which is about 1.5 times faster than terrestrial fibre backbones, without the need for any terrestrial touchpoints. This unique set of features enables us to provide instant infrastructure from anywhere to everywhere which is fast, secure and reliable.

What type of clients do you want to attract and what will be your unique selling points to them?

LeoSat is very firmly in the B2B sector, offering the first commercially available, business grade, extremely high speed and secure data service worldwide. As such, we are targeting customers in industries such as Energy, Maritime, Government, Corporate Networking and Finance.  By combining satellite and network technology, we are entering unchartered territory, which comes with great opportunities for our customers.  Some of our unique selling points are:

  • Latency – our low latencies are absolutely unique in both the fiber and satellite world
  • Security – because we carry our data in a physically separated network, security is already ensured on the physical level. In addition, we also use high level encryption.
  • Ubiquity – through our polar orbits we can meet customer requirements anywhere on the globe. We cover the entire earth and in doing so we are able to work in the harshest environments and the most remote areas to offer a service without any compromises.
  • Redundancy – at any given time there are multiple satellites in our network in view of every spot on earth. This creates a high level of redundancy compared to traditional GEO satellite services.
  • Symmetry – traditional satellite solutions are inherently asymmetric; speeds of the forward and return vary. In today’s data networking all connections are symmetric.  So we are too.
  • Capacity – the total capacity of our network is well above 1.5 TB and we are able to offer full duplex links up to 5+Gb/s if necessary. These are speeds necessary for today and tomorrow’s data networking requirements
  • Rapid Deployment – we can effectively set up a high capacity, high-speed link between any two points on earth within minutes. This is truly unique and not possible with any other type of infrastructure.

With these unique capabilities, we have a lot to offer a wide range of companies looking to satisfy their data communication requirements. The Energy sector is typically interested in the ubiquitous nature of our solution in combination with low latency.  Corporate Networking is more about security and symmetry.  Government applications are more about rapid deployment in combination with low latency.  Ultimately, it is about the ability to set up instant and superior infrastructure from anywhere to everywhere.

How will the problem of RF interference be addressed for such a global constellation?

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is facilitating a coordination process between Ka-band LEO, MEO and GEO operators to protect the business of the users of this spectrum. They have decided to licence up to five LEO constellations in Ka-band.  Our filing is number two, so we are well positioned. The fact that our antennas will be gimbaled, is a key advantage in tackling adjacent satellite interference (ASI).  We have set up our constellation such that, when one of our satellites comes within 3 degrees of another satellite, the traffic will switch to the next satellite to avoid interference.  This will be fully automated.

Leosat satellite - Credits: Leosat
Leosat satellite – Credits: Leosat

Your main clients will use any kind of data services from IOT to high volume video footage. Where will the data land on earth? What law/jurisdiction will be applicable for the data?

Through LeoSat’s unique architecture of interconnected satellites, it is possible to operate the constellation with a minimum of gateways and to allow the customer to take its data from source to destination without any intermediate gateway to do a turnaround. We have come to refer to that as ‘from rooftop to rooftop without any terrestrial touchpoints’. Using that architecture, LeoSat has limited the amount of ground infrastructure which certainly eases the regulatory requirements when compared to traditional satellite infrastructure. That said, as any other satellite company we will be required to have our licenses in place to facilitate antenna operation at both the place of data origination as well as its place of destination.

As a polar LEO constellation, LeoSat will be serving the entire world. This will transform polar connectivity completely. What type of customers are you hoping to attract from the polar regions specifically?

Data communication to and from the Polar regions is challenging and expensive. Building cable networks is not feasible economically and satellite communications using the traditional GEO arc comes with low speed, high costs and operational challenges. For bulk data there really is no solution and all too often the data needs to be physically carried out to its destination. This causes serious delays and additional costs. With the LeoSat satellites in polar orbits, the Arctic will be as well served as any other region of the world. We can offer the entire portfolio of LeoSat services to the entire Arctic region at speeds up to multiple Gbps. As such we will connect the Arctics to any location anywhere in the world – and to the internet – with fiber like speeds and often better latency.   To date, we have seen a lot of interest in LeoSat for data-intensive research activities – such as those of the National Science Foundation, which manages the US Antarctic Program.  We also expect high levels of interest from the energy and mining community for broadband communications services where they can be connected to any location anywhere in the world with extremely low latency.

How critical is the Middle East to LeoSat in terms of potential clients and also investment in the business?

The Middle East is a strong market for any satellite operator and LeoSat will not be an exception to that. From Government applications to Corporate Networks and from Cellular Data solutions to the Maritime sector: All markets are strong in the Middle East. It is for that reason that we are actively looking to find partners in the region that can help make LeoSat become a success in that region and in doing so, become very successful themselves as well. We have noticed that up and above the new low cost HTS broadband access markets, there is a market for Highly Secure Satellite Infrastructure with Fibre like capabilities. As the Middle East is continuing to expand its infrastructure to support its economic growth, future cable build-outs can now be weighed and compared to what LeoSat has to offer. We have already heard a couple of times from our Middle Eastern customers that the business case for e.g. a new cable system is difficult to close, but that with LeoSat the numbers are getting together – which results into an earlier approval of the project allowing the business to take off sooner. As such LeoSat is really proud to be able to contribute to the economic growth of the region.

How is LeoSat addressing the challenge of secure data communications and cyber threats?

Absolute security is a key feature of LeoSat’s advanced and unique system architecture.  Data travelling on our optical network in space never needs to go through a gateway or travel on any terrestrial fibre.  On top of that we use high-level encryption to logically separate and route the data as it flows through the system. This physical separation combined with encryption ensures complete end-to-end security.

LeoSat will use lasers for inter-satellite connectivity. What advantages will this technology bring to the table?

The LeoSat system will use lasers to interconnect all of the satellites in the constellation, thus creating a mesh network and an optical backbone in space with fiber-like symmetric connectivity. Transporting the data across this fully-redundant network in space means data can flow to its destination in one single hop with no terrestrial touch points. For Enterprise communications, this makes for a very transparent, simple and robust infrastructure with unique attributes in low latency, security and capacity.

Leosat constellation. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. - Credits: Leosat
Leosat constellation. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. – Credits: Leosat

This is a departure from the traditional ‘bent-pipe’ technology that we have been used to. Is the technology being used a risk for LeoSat?

Indeed, as we move to a more data centric world, the traditional satellite architecture of “bent pipe” is showing its limitations as it requires the use of many earth stations with antennas that are connected to terrestrial infrastructure to carry its traffic to its final destination beyond the reach of the satellite. The latency incurred is sub-optimal for data communications.  LeoSat’s “new satellite architecture” transfers data from satellite to satellite through inter satellite links (ISLs) without having to come down to earth. We do not believe this technology poses any issue for LeoSat as laser links have already been used in space (a good example is ESA’s EDRS system).  In addition, our plan is to have the first two satellites in the constellation used as demonstration satellites to show the ease with which these links can be established and maintained.  The experts building the system are very comfortable that this can be done successfully.

We have mentioned the competitive marketplace already. Does the slew of LEO constellations in development concern you at all or is LeoSat uniquely placed to stay well ahead of this curve?

We don’t believe we have any true competitors in the satellite/LEO sector. We are unique in the attributes we will be able to deliver over our network.  It is symmetrical and ubiquitous and extremely capacity efficient.  In other LEO constellations without inter satellite links, the satellites over areas of the globe with no population are literally doing nothing. In our network, when a satellite is not being used at full capacity for data going up or down, it can instead be used to provision other routes, enabling productive use of all satellites.  No other satellite constellation has been set up to do what we do.  Our constellation was conceived with a clearly identified target market and to serve unmet demand in the B2B sector.  With B2C models of other LEO constellations, the effort required to reach millions of homes is enormous, which makes the business model very challenging.  Going forward, our world is becoming increasingly interconnected, cloud-based and data driven and there is an ever growing demand to move large quantities of data quickly and securely around the globe.  Up until now, the perception of satellites for data communications was that of a last resort.  With LeoSat that is now changing.  We will not only bring about a paradigm shift in the existing satellite services market, we will help to expand these markets by enabling new opportunities through previously unavailable levels of performance combined with true worldwide reach.

SpaceWatch Middle East thanks Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat, for the interview.

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