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Interview with Elisabeth Tweedie, Owner at Definitive Direction

We sat down with the chair of VSAT Global 2019 and owner of Definitive Direction, Elisabeth Tweedie, to get her perspective on the satellite sector. With a plethora of commercial satellites, telecommunications and broadcasting under her professional belt, learn more about her views on everything from 5G deployments and integrations, to the main industry challenges and key "ingredient" to overcome these...

Find out more from this year's chair...

From your experience on working with businesses that range from start-ups to large corporations within the commercial satellite, telecommunications and broadcasting sectors – what would you say are the common pain points and challenges they’re presented with?

All companies, large and small face the challenge of clearly identifying their target market and then finding a successful and profitable way to meet the demands of that market.  In the telecommunications industry, there is the additional challenge of securing access to the necessary frequencies and then for the satellite industry, the further issue of obtaining the necessary landing rights.   Easy to sum up, much harder to do!  

Apart from capital, the key “ingredient” in this is right mix of people.   And we’re very lucky; this industry seems to attract some wonderful people.  The engineers who make it all happen, people who are flexible and creative enough to find ways round obstacles, people who have the patience to work within the regulatory frameworks and to fight for our spectrum and people who are willing to work with competitors to get something done that will benefit the industry.  But the key factor that sets us apart, is our willingness not only to embrace change, but to actively seek it. 

One of the key themes at VSAT Global 2019 is 5G opportunities in the telco sector. How would you say the satellite industry fits in with a 5G deployments and integrations?

For me, one of the most exciting things about 5G is that for the first time, satellite is being including in the standards.  The SaT5G consortium is expressly focused on this integration.  SES, Avanti, iDirect and Gilat are members of SaT5G and involved in demonstrations.  It would be nice to see more satellite companies, actively involved.  

At the EuCNC (European Conference on Networks and Communications) this June, six demonstrations of satellite integration into a 5G network were showcased.  These included video streaming, content caching, backhaul and airline connectivity.

Separately, Telesat working with the University of Surrey and Vodafone,  demonstrated 5G backhaul over a LEO satellite, including 8K video streaming.  Satellite can also play a role in delivering video to the edge of the network for onward distribution, and this was also demonstrated using 4K content.

The latest Visual Networking Index from Cisco projects that global mobile data traffic will experience a CAGR of 46% between 2017 and 2022, 79% of this will be video.  Mobile networks will need satellite in order to keep up with this growth.

Where do you see the industry trends going?

I know my company is called Definitive Direction, but I don’t really have a crystal ball!  The world is demonstrating an insatiable demand for data and video in particular.  The satellite industry is rising to the challenge and finding ways to deliver more bits to more people more economically.  And I’m not just referring to the LEOs.  GEOs have changed dramatically in recent years.

We’re also living in very turbulent times.  Natural disasters that destroy terrestrial communications seem to be increasing.  Satellite can quickly restore those communications links and I would like to see satellite as an integral part of disaster planning.

Maritime and aero are major focuses on the agenda too. How would you say the satellite industry can support these industries?

We’re still the only game in town for planes and off-shore vessels.  As the price per megabit continues to fall, the market will expand as broadband communications become affordable for smaller vessels and fleets.  Couple this with the fact that passengers and crew alike now want and expect the same access to communications: Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook, Netflix etc., that they have on land, and it is obvious that demand will continue to grow.

In addition, the Internet-of-Things is not confined to the land.  Sensors for engines, fuel, refrigeration, cargo etc. will be as important, if not more important for aeronautical and maritime vessels.  Satellites, whether GEO, MEO or LEO will be key to enabling this.

Since your discussion with Ronald Van der Breggen, Chief Commercial Officer at LeoSat last year, what are your thoughts on the rise in LEO constellation popularity and the ‘New Space race’?

It’s both exciting and frightening.  Exciting because we are now seeing the first launches for some of the constellations.   And, exciting because a successful LEO constellation has the potential to change many lives and many businesses.   As I said earlier, we are facing a seemingly insatiable demand for data.  This is not restricted to consumers wanting to binge watch their favorite shows.  For businesses and governments, data equals information.  Information that can be used to make more informed decisions.

Satellites are already playing a role here.  What the LEO constellations bring to the table is capacity and low latency.  One successful LEO communications constellation, will more than double the total amount of bandwidth available.  If their business cases are correct, and there are customers for all this bandwidth at their price points, they will have a major impact; moving satellite from a niche market to a major part of a communications network.  

Frightening because, there has been a plethora of LEO filings with the ITU, well over one hundred at the last count.  Obviously, there are going to be casualties along the way.  Many casualties.  Whilst it’s exciting to see so much energy and enthusiasm, it’s also frightening to think how many will not succeed in spite of all that effort, and in some cases considerable investment as well.

We’re also running an Innovation Panel this year. What changes need to happen over the next 5 to 10 years regarding the satellite ecosystem and advances in connectivity? What modern techniques would you say need to be rolled out to reach the consumer?

As Martin Coleman will tell you in his session, we absolutely need Augmented Intelligence.  As the number of satellites grows, so too does the amount of data generated by them.  This will grow exponentially with just one LEO constellation launched.  We have some brilliant brains in our industry, but no one can process that amount of data quickly enough so that it becomes actionable information.  Only AI can do that.

Can you share with us what you enjoy most about being a part of the VSAT Global series – how does it stand out to you from other conferences and how do you think it has evolved?

The Global VSAT  conference was developed and for many years led by Comsys.  It was a very successful conference, bringing together participants from across the industry to share their experiences and perception of the future.

In the last few years, the pace of change has accelerated so it is very appropriate that the conference has been renamed VSAT and Next Generation Satellite Applications.  We need to be constantly looking ahead, and this conference is a great forum in which to do that. 

Which VSAT Global session topics interest you the most and why?

All of them!  It’s virtually impossible to stay on top of everything that is happening in the industry, it’s changing so fast.  So this conference is a great opportunity to learn, catch-up and talk to the people who are making it all happen.


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