Gilat Satellite Networks, which is a satellite communications ground segment supplier from an Israeli, has connected 1.7 million terminals to the internet around the world so far. And what is its most recent focus? In an interview, Gilat’s CTO Dubi Lever mentioned inflight connectivity, linking 4G cell towers, providing communications for the ships at sea, and more.
Lever has been with this company for more than two decades, witnessing the industry grow and extend into new regions. “People used to think of satellites as a niche sector, but they’ve suddenly moved to center stage,” he remarked.
“The majority of satellites are GEO (geostationary) satellite constellations that orbit around 36,000 km (22,200 miles) above the Earth’s atmosphere and are used for communications, but we’re now seeing a boom of non-geostationary satellite constellations.” We want to be able to link people all around the world. There are a lot of plans and investments for getting into space, Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have some great ideas, but we’re also well-positioned and equipped for the NewSpace age,” Lever added.
Gilat Satellite Networks, not to be confused with Gilat Telecom, a subsidiary that provides broadband services, designs, and builds the ground segment for the communication satellites. The company was founded in 1987 and went public in 1992, first on Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and subsequently on the Nasdaq. It now employs upwards of 1,000 people worldwide, notably at its Petach Tikva headquarters, where satellite modems are developed. WaveStream Corp, a subsidiary based in the United States, develops high-power amplifiers for transferring high-powered signals from satellite gateways.
Gilat also creates flat panel antennas for the mobile applications and on-the-go communications. It also provides consumer internet equipment to houses in France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. The company constructs “hubs,” or central stations, as well as remote terminals which connect to the hubs by satellite. The equipment is divided into three categories: gateways, which house modems, antennas, and amplifiers; data centers, which house data processing like encryption and compression; and Network Operating Systems (NOC), which house Network Management Systems (NMS).
Using space to make phone calls and providing in-flight WiFi
While traditional cellular communication requires corporations to deploy fiber optics cables to connect cellular towers in various locations, doing so in remote regions is difficult: laying fibers is expensive and time-consuming. Gilat offers cellular backhauling as an option, which links cell site air interfaces to the wireline networks which connect to data centers, allowing phone users to be able to access content and apps previously only available to mobile customers. Currently, it works with NTT Docomo Inc, SoftBank, KDDI, and Rakuten to provide cellular backhauling by satellite to all mobile network carriers in Japan. It works with British Telecom in the UK and T-Mobile in the United States.
Backup in case of disaster
The possibilities for a regional Israeli satellite network are endless. A local satellite network could solve problems like allowing Bedouin nomadic communities to learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting the military and civilians driving through terrorist-prone areas by allowing them to call for help when needed, and engaging with cameras at road and rail intersections that can monitor traffic and provide roadside assistance. A network like this has recently been built up, but terminals have yet to be deployed, according to Lever.
Satellites of the future that travel at super-fast speeds
While there aren’t many active MEO satellites right now, Gilat has teamed up with Société Européenne des Satellites (SES), which is a prominent Luxembourg-based satellite operator, to build a ground segment for its next-generation product, dubbed mPOWER, which will launch into space in 2022. MEO satellites can give access in remote regions where building fiber optic cables aren’t practical, such as on cruise liners. “You can’t exactly build cables that link to ships,” Lever said, but Gilat allows military applications, fishing vessels, cruise ships, trade ships, and more to connect.