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Digitization and Virtualization of SATCOM Networks – Part III

January 19, 2022

Virtualization of SATCOM Network Architecture

By Dr. Juan Deaton and Carlos Placido

Purpose-built modems have compounded the complexities and costs of managing SATCOM networks. In an exponentially growing SATCOM market, managing purpose-built modems has scalability constraints due to rack space, power, and operational knowledge necessary for managing many different models and vendors. A network with N different modems means a network with N times more rack space, switching equipment, network cost, and complexity. Additionally, with purpose-built modems, the design-integrate-deploy lifecycle is costly and time-consuming. These lifecycles will stifle the deployment of new technologies. With a rapidly changing and diverse space layer shortening lifecycles, purpose-built systems will create evolutionary bottlenecks. Virtualization will enable many different types of waveforms and modem features to be consolidated onto common hardware, thereby eliminating the need to manage purpose-built hardware and N different modem types. A digital IF architecture provides a smooth transition to virtualization since digital modem processes can now run-on COTS servers. As digitization enables network agility, virtualization enables modem and terminal agility by more effectively providing dynamic reprogrammable functionality onto the digital modem. A diagram showing the logical abstraction of a virtualized computing environment using a digital modem as the virtualization host is shown in Figure 3.


Virtualized SATCOM Functions

In purpose-built modems, several different SATCOM functions are provided. These SATCOM functions include, but are not limited to, waveforms, Wide Area Network (WAN) acceleration, Quality of Service (QoS) management, and more. In purpose-built modems, these functions are almost always conjoined to each other and the underlying hardware. Generally, these conjoined functions are not capable of operating independently or separated easily. In a virtualized architecture, these SATCOM functions are “softwarized” into their own virtual machine/computing environment called Virtualized SATCOM Functions (VSFs). These VSFs operate independently from other VSFs and the underlying hardware.

Leveraging virtualized SATCOM modem architectures will provide the following benefits:

  • Reduced Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)
  • Increased Operational Performance
  • Accelerated Speed of Innovation


Reduced TCO

Operating and capital expenses are key drivers in network sustainability. When VSFs are deployed, hardware migrations generally are turned into software migrations. Rather than replacing racks of purpose-built modems, migrations with virtualized architectures require only to deploy new VSFs. Because common hardware can be used for multiple architectures, new purpose-built hardware does not need to be purchased or managed. Additionally, consolidation allows more efficient use of existing hardware resources, which can support a multiplicity of functions and simultaneously take advantage of hardware and software economies of scale enabled by larger telecom and IT sectors.


Increased Operational Performance

The rapidly changing space layer requires the SATCOM network to quickly reconfigure itself to deploy new waveforms or capabilities; and to connect with multiple different orbits. With VSFs, these functions can easily be prototyped, tested, and deployed with minimal impact on network hardware. Additionally, by deploying functionality via VSFs, maturation cycles will be significantly reduced. Targeted services can also be rapidly scaled as required.


Accelerated Speed of Innovation

Since virtualization untethers hardware from SATCOM functions, best-in-class SATCOM functions can be selected independently from distinct application vendors. In this new paradigm, application vendors could offer VSFs like apps are offered in smartphone ecosystems. Additionally, pure software entrants are encouraged to compete since there is no need to develop hardware to enter the market. Virtualized architectures accelerate the speed of innovation by fostering a larger pool of competitors, where superior functions can be selected and deployed together.



Digitization and virtualization are the next steps in the evolution of SATCOM networks. Both principles, proven and accepted in the larger telecom space, provide significant savings in terms of operation/ capital cost, and increase SATCOM network performance. Incumbent equipment vendors and operators seeking to protect traditional market paradigms might be slow to adapt from their “purpose-built mentality.” Therefore, these incumbents could end up being left behind when the rapidly changing space layer drives these inevitable SATCOM network transformations. Given the new possibilities and capabilities with digitization and virtualization, non-traditional, innovative market entrants and partnerships have an excellent chance at replacing the old with the new.


For part I and II of this blog, visit our newsroom.

Dr. Juan Deaton is a Research Scientist for Envistacom’s Advanced Technology Group and Carlos Placido is a Consultant for Northern Sky Research.

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