SES to link new digital satellites to Azure data centres

Exclusive: SES to link new digital satellites to Azure data centres

28 April 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Four of the eight sites that will be used to manage Luxembourg-based SES’s new fleet of satellites will be co-located with Microsoft Azure data centres.

SES intends its new O3b mPower satellites to be used for data, taking the company further away from its TV broadcast origins.

“The bandwidth to a single [customer’s] antenna will be from tens of megabits a second up to 10Gbps,” Stewart Sanders (pictured), SES’s executive VP of technology told Capacity. “And we can keep scaling: we can put more satellites up.”

SpaceX will launch the first three satellites in the third quarter of this year, in the same orbit as the existing O3b fleet of medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites, which will stay in business.

SpaceX is also booked to launch satellites four to six in the first quarter of 2022, and another three in the second half of the year.

“We want to go into service in September 2022,” said Sanders, who is programme manager for the mPower project. “Data is now a significant and growing part of O3b’s portfolio.”

The market SES is aiming at includes parts of the world “with not enough fibre”, plus fibre back-up and the maritime market, he told Capacity. The company is targeting fibre infrastructure operators with its services — not the direct-to-home market.

It is also talking to governments about providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) connections, using what Sanders called “secured steered beams”.

O3b classic — as SES people call the original fleet — and O3b mPower satellites orbit at 8,032km above the surface, giving them a six-hour orbit period. The all-digital O3b mPower satellites are designed for maximum flexibility, with each satellite able to link securely to thousands of independent end-points.

The company has signed up Greece’s OTE and Australia’s Pivotel to dedicate two gateway stations as control points, along with other partners in Merredin, Perth, Australia; Phoenix, Arizona, US; Chile; the UAE; and Senegal. SES will also use its own satellite ground station in Hawaii.

Customers will be able to use their own satellite ground stations at each end of a connection, said Sanders.

“Some of the gateways are co-located with Microsoft data centres to give direct access to major points of presence,” he said. “That will give an almost cloud-like experience. The Microsoft relationship is the most important one, but it’s not exclusive.”

Another two satellites will join the first nine O3b mPower satellites in 2024, taking the planned fleet to 11.

The original O3b Networks, founded in 2007, was backed by SES as well as by Google, Liberty Global and others. It was absorbed into SES five years ago.