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Australasia Satellite Forum 2019 

Optus to tender for next-generation satellite to serve broadcast, 5G needs

Optus is preparing to launch a request for tender to replace its D1 satellite that provides broadcasting coverage over Australia and New Zealand. However, in a sign of the massive improvements in the latest generation of high-throughput satellites, it will also consider launching a new satellite that can replace both its D1 and D2 satellites.

The announcement was made by Optus director of satellite sales Nick Miller last night at the closing keynote of the Australasia Satellite Forum in Sydney. Speaking to CommsDay on the sidelines of the event, Miller said that Optus had been visiting manufacturers over the past month and had done a lot of research and modelling in preparation for the RFT.

D1 was the first of three D-series satellites and was launched back in 2006. Last year Optus signed an extended service agreement with Sky TV in New Zealand for a further 10 years. However, that deal is conditional on Optus launching a new satellite to replace the existing D1.

“Such is the development of technology, it may be that this new satellite can also replace D2. We are now looking at satellites that have capability far beyond existing and first generation HTS satellites with fixed capacity and beams. We are looking at flexible and adaptable power and coverage,” Miller said.

While the Singtel-Optus board has yet to approve any satellite investment, Miller said the operator is taking the necessary steps now for its future satellite strategy. This will see Optus widen its scope to new satellite areas such as mobility for aviation and maritime customers.

The extra satellite capacity also fits in with Optus investments in 5G services, according to Miller.

“5G is such an important part of our ecosystem, and indeed our future, that whatever we do with a satellite now, needs to support and grow with our 5G network in the future. Just like LEO constellations, 5G networks will take time to complete. As we rollout and as we expand, it is envisaged our satellites will be providing that much needed content distribution enabling us to reach more Australians with 5G faster,” he said during his ASF keynote last night.

Speaking at an earlier panel session at the forum, Miller said Optus revenues had been heavily weighted by broadcast users. However, he sees the diversification of the satellite business as its biggest challenge in future.

“Our broadcast business is about 70-80% of our revenues so we need to look at how we can actually find new ways of growing in other areas, like other providers are doing globally. So it's Internet connectivity and maritime and mobility in general, so that's going to be a big challenge for us over the next few years,” he said.

In its approach to market for a new satellite, Miller said Optus would be aiming for two things: driving a harder faster return on its investment and working with manufacturers to place a spacecraft on orbit for less. Some of the advancements it is now looking at are software defined payloads that would allow it to redeploy bandwidth and power where required.

“On the extreme of commercialised communications technology right now is beam forming on the fly – previously a domain of military only, adaptable beams can track individual aircraft or vessels as they travel across a geographical region, providing flexible power, frequency and capacity,” Miller said.  “At Optus, we currently have a large amount of broadcast beams. In the future, these beams can adapt to a blend of hybrid broadcast and broadband or change to fully broadband as customer needs dictate.”

In addition to acquiring HTS capacity, Optus will look at other models including MEO and LEO capacity in a blended ecosystem of connectivity. Optus this month will receive Telesat’s ground terminal for its testing of Telesat LEO Phase 1 for broadband and cellular backhaul.

“Part of our strategy is looking at the whole mass file distribution on a broadcast sense, multicast sense across Australia and New Zealand and working out how best we can best mesh that into the 5G requirements for distributed content,” he said of the coming Telesat trials. – Geoff Long, Commsday / talk Satellite