Telenor Satellite has been described as the most versatile satellite operator in Europe. How have you achieved this position?
It’s a bald statement, but as a small/medium satellite operator you must think very carefully about satellite design. With THOR 5, 6 and 7 we have fully utilised the accessible frequency spectrum licensed at 1 degree West, including a Ka-band payload on THOR 7 alongside our FSS and BSS transponders.
Our key markets for broadcasting are in CEE and the Nordics and some broadcasters and DTH players would like coverage over a larger part of Europe to reach CATV headends, expats and other markets. We have multiple areas of focus when designing our satellites – option to switch transponders between spotbeams in case market development takes a U-turn, and 1 degree West spare-transponder philosophy on every satellite in order to perform damage limitation should a satellite crash and burn. Is it desirable to be able to move spot-beams? Could a situation arise where we have to uplink from one beam and downlink in another? Uplink in Ku-band and downlink in Ka-band, or vice versa?
So, when your flexibility is not on a multi satellite, multi orbital position level, you have to include flexibility and versatility on every satellite – and between the satellites. I think we have maximized the design every time, and it has proven necessary and right to do so.
As a satellite operator, how do you use ground infrastructure technology to enable operation for the DTH pay-TV sector?
Key for our customers is quality – both operational and visible – and quick response to changes. To fulfil the quality aspect, we have recently focused on converting all feeds from play-outs and studios to Mezzanine format. We have full control of the encoding and transcoding quality at our Nittedal Teleport and, together with our customers, we test and tune the setup until they are satisfied with the end result.
The IP network at Nittedal Teleport enables us to easily add transcoding resources if a channel is being prepared for ABR and IPTV production. We can also add broadcasting channels from remote operated video-servers hosted at Nittedal Teleport, or add sources made available through Zixi, SRTor other internet solutions.
A modern infrastructure mixed with IT competence and broadcasting know-how enables us to move fast and adapt to customer demands.
I should also mention that for the last couple of years our focus has very much been on IT-security. How to best protect production and control-systems from harmful intrusion.
Telenor Satellite’s largest Teleport is in Nittedal just north of Oslo. Can you describe how it operates?
Nittedal Teleport is the heart of our operations. Just shy of 60 engineers are organised in specialist-groups including a 24/7/365 NOC (Network Operation Centre) as well as Broadcasting, Data Services, RF and Infrastructure, and an ever more present and important IT and Network group. These engineer groups function as support for our NOC and as sparring partners for our customers.
What in your view are the latest developments in satellite design?
Never has the industry seen more alternative design initiatives as in the past 3-5 years. For broadcasting, I would like to see satellite- and launcher-development adapted to the changes in the DTH and broadcasting markets. Shorter contracts, rapid change to channel profiles, dedicated channels for live events such as football leagues, new geographical territories. Everything should be more dynamic and agile.
Can we see the re-usable launchers capable of multi-passenger opportunities developing – with dramatic reduction in prices? Development of “inexpensive” smaller DTH satellites with fewer transponders, shorter lifetime – maybe 6,7 or 8 years – very low weight and low complexity? I think that could guarantee a prosperous long-term market for broadcasters, DTH operators, satellite capacity providers such as ourselves, and the satellite manufacturer industry.
Quite a few years ago something similar happened in the encoding industry. Coming from a position with very complex and very costly encoder design – with complex infrastructure at the teleports, hard to operate, and very time-consuming to perform adaptations and changes – some manufacturers started to offer simpler encoders at a fraction of the price.
This situation triggered us to create a different infrastructure at our teleport. Instead of 1+n philosophy we could think 1+1 and IP. Seems like a small change, but really, it was a game changer.
Imagine if the same revolution happened in the satellite manufacturing industry. We could provide terms and conditions for our DTH and broadcast customers reflecting the rapidly changing environment they experience. It’s a win-win situation. And you could add another “win” for the satellite manufacturers because we could commit to more satellites at a quicker pace than we are able to today.
Looking to the future, what are Telenor Satellite’s main priorities and how can you see it developing in the course of the next 3-5 years?
We shall continue to grow our market share with our Data Services in the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean. We have been very successful with our Anker Maritime Managed Services. And Telenor Satellite needs further satellite capacity both in Ku- and Ka-band to continue feeding market demand.
On the broadcasting side and supporting our success migrating the entire Nordic DTH population into 1 degree West, our main focus is to ensure we have sufficient satellite capacity for our customers and partners in the CEE market. DTH experiences fierce competition from fibre infrastructure on the technical side and viewing habits on the end-user side. Each country and market differ, so understanding which products to provide where – and when – is key. We can only be successful, and ensure our customers are successful, if we continue to communicate and discuss options, functionalities and adaptive solutions reflecting the rapid changes in their marketplace.
Alongside our satellite products, we have a sharp eye on our non-satellite products in the Nordics. More than 300 ABR services, and over 600 IPTV services are produced at Nittedal Teleport. This is also an industry in full speed ahead, and we work closely with our main customers and their supporting CDNs to ensure we are maximising their ability to provide the functionality and products demanded by their end-users.