It’s now been over a week since the Satellite Interference Reduction Group’s Annual Workshop and we hope you’ve all had time to digest the topics discussed. One of IRG’s main goals is to facilitate relationships between all of those with a stake in solving satellite interference. So, we hope that workshops like these go some way to fulfilling this goal.
This year, we had a brilliant mix of people in the room, from members of the RAF to commercial satellite operators, as well as broadcasters, independent consultants and experts in space tourism. It’s this kind of diversity that helps us get every sector to commit to an interference-free space, and get everyone working together towards one common goal.
There was much to be said on the subject of Artificial Intelligence. Phil Carrai of Kratos told us that Silicon Valley’s single biggest investment last year was AI, while Andreas Voigt of Eutelsat pointed out that there is now so much data available to us that it cannot be handled by humans alone. Our Executive Director, Martin Coleman, went further, suggesting that we could harness this data and use machine learning to help us solve interference and predict future incidences.
The importance of good quality equipment was again on the agenda and were discussed by several of our speakers including Martin Jarrold from the Global VSAT Forum. For some time now we’ve recognised that this, coupled with human error, seems to be one of the most common causes of interference, yet they could both be resolved by using SOMAP, the new approvals scheme set up by several satellite operators and, of course, education.
We couldn’t have avoided the topic of C-band or 5G and Richard Rudd from Plum Consulting sparked an interesting debate on day one of the workshop. On one hand, we had the opinion that spectrum sharing could be relatively straightforward, but we also had some in the room who believed that: “C-band carries many emergency services around the world. Do we really need to use this bandwidth to Instagram pictures of what we eat?”
It was great to hear the broadcaster’s side of the story too, as Nigel Fry offered his take on the state of interference as well as outlining the latest mitigation tools and techniques deployed by the BBC. One such tactic proving effective is to name and shame those countries allowing interference to happen, as well as filing complaints with the ITU.
Of course, as Manuel Metz told us, debris is now the new interference, so this topic was inevitably heavily covered. At the German Space Situational Awareness Centre, Manuel and his team are working on a re-entry model so that space craft demise allows quicker re-entry into the atmosphere, thus reducing debris. His talk was hard-hitting, especially given his prediction that: “It’s not a question of if you get hit, it’s a question of when.”
It wouldn’t have been appropriate to discuss space debris without giving the stage to the Space Data Association. Guy Wilkinson attended the workshop to represent the group, offering an insight into SDC 2.0 and how the Space Data Center could dramatically improve the space environment. This was backed up by Dan Oltrogge of AGI both scientifically and with an informative graphical presentation explaining the situation and the effects of debris. Again, powerful information!
The military sector has long relied upon dependable satellite communications, so it’s only natural that they should also be involved in the fight to keep interference to a minimum. We were really pleased to have so many from the sector in the room with us at our annual workshop, and especially happy to welcome Squadron Leader Chris Dunn from the RAF Air Warfare School to speak. He outlined the importance of being able to anticipate potential conflict in the domain as well as increasing the resiliency of mil-sat operations. It was great to hear Chris label international collaboration as the key to mitigation success, as well as his belief that the military and commercial sector must work closely together.
As always, IRG is striving to be at the forefront of technological innovation. At the Annual Workshop, it was great to finally give the floor to QuadSat, a relatively new company bringing drone technology to the satellite interference game. Particularly for Comms-On-The-Move services, this technology could prove revolutionary. For one, it eliminates the need for vessels to enter port for antenna performance testing, and this would surely increase the number of vessels doing so. According to Joakim Espeland from the organisation, many vessels currently find it too expensive and disruptive to halt operations for antenna checks, which only serves to counter-intuitively increase the likelihood of interference.
Although on the whole it seems that 2017 has been a unique year in that there seems to be a perceived balance of understanding and control, there is still a way to go and we are nowhere near an interference-free spectrum.
Bob Potter brought us all back down to earth with a crash on the second day stating that 93% of satellites in the industry suffer the effects of interference. He also added that 40% of all interference occurrences worldwide are due to VSAT and across the US this rises to nearly 80%. On top of this, VSAT interference is responsible for 50-70% of downtime. So clearly, we have a problem here. What with terminals becoming cheaper, we’re going to see more installed and this will only exacerbate the issue, according to Bob. It was great to see that the outcome of work in this has been fulfilled with the advancement of Kratos’ SatGuard product – something the group helped instigate many years ago at an earlier workshop.
“Spectrum in space is a precious resource, and it’s only through cooperation that we can keep it clean” – Bob Potter.
Once again, we’ve come away from a workshop feeling energised and ready to face the future. With so many technological advances and cooperation between sectors and operators, we truly believe we could one day see a world free from interference. But we cannot be complacent.
Next year we will be continuing our mission by holding several workshops across the world. We invite all of those with a stake in combating satellite interference to attend, and if anyone should like to suggest a speaker, please contact us.
Once again, thank you to ETL Systems and GovSat for kindly sponsoring this workshop.