Streaming The Sky: Connecting Your Small Business With the Masses

As a child, I remember all the comic strips and cartoons heralding an era in the future where communications would connect people together no matter where you lived. Internet users have increased to over 3 billion people, nevertheless, in many countries, only a small percentage have access, with penetration rates varying from a high of 74% in Australia to a low of 29% in Africa. In order to reach more people, continuing development of communication technologies is critical to lower costs, which is the main reason many countries lack the basic infrastructure needed.

Using air as the transmission media, or radio communications, instead of copper or fiber optic cables, is a way to keep costs low since expensive earth-moving construction projects would not be needed. Beaming signals from high above, with satellites, high-altitude balloons, or solar powered airplanes soaring for months at a time, would bypass geographical impediments such as mountains, lakes, rivers, and deserts that constitute the main reason ground-based radio or cable communications are more expensive.

Radio uses frequency bands from the electromagnetic spectrum allocated for a specific use by governments and world institutions to create channels. Each communication channel has a bandwidth, or how much of the frequency spectrum it can use, to transmit information coming and going from military or commercial communication devices such as cellular phones. Large bandwidths translate into higher capacity channels, which translates into more and faster data transmission rates allowing bandwidth intensive applications such as real-time over-the-air video streaming, an unheard of capability for ordinary citizens a few years back.

As more and more companies introduce new and novel ways to use and consume radio communications bandwidth, an analogy has been made where channels are compared with restaurants. Restaurants start the day almost empty, and for the few people there it's easy to maintain a conversation. As more and more people start to arrive for lunch, and it gets more and more crowded, the noise level increases and you may have to repeat what you just said slowing communication.

NASA forecasted this trend many years ago and started working with other government agencies to make available a new radio spectrum called Ka Band to speed up the transmission of huge quantities of data coming from space missions. Compared with S-band, an old standard radio spectrum, Ka-band works at 26 GHz, allowing transmission rates hundreds of times faster. The "kay-ay band", as it sounds when spoken, is part of the K band commonly used in the microwave band and its uses include communications satellites, military airplanes radars, vehicle speed detection, and the James Webb Space Telescope to download its data to Earth.

Down-to-earth, private, commercial communications services are being considered for this band. While the increased bandwidth of Ka band provides for faster communications and other advantages in the design of receiving and transmitting equipment, there are also disadvantages that must be considered. Its higher frequency makes it susceptible to noise interference caused by weather events such as rain and snow. Another factor is that older established technologies are available in more places requiring less up-front investment in communications equipment.

Among its advantages is a smaller antenna, significantly reducing weight and space needed, minimizing transportation costs and allowing the equipment to be used in mobile applications around the world where older technologies could not be used. New technologies such as Mx-DMA, FlexACM, and Cross-Layer-Optimisation, are being developed and tested to counter the weather interference problems. New system designs, such as High Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems can overcome weather issues by using narrower beams of energy that have a greater ability to penetrate through atmospheric conditions. HTS systems can dynamically adjust beam power to account for different weather conditions at the receiving end.

Many believe that these new systems and technologies, in addition to faster throughput, offset its disadvantages and Ka-band is considered the future of high-speed radio communications.

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