Maintaining Network Order During Chaos

By Peter Ralston  |  March 15, 2016

One of the many exciting aspects of our satellite industry is the sheer geographic diversity of earth station locations. Regardless of where you are on the globe, from international hubs like Paris to remote cities like Perth, content is being pushed and pulled on countless satellite networks. This fact is inherent to satellite networks’ ability to cost effectively provide connectivity to areas underserved by terrestrial networks. Having global diversity is invaluable in that it provides our industry with a vibrant worldwide business marketplace.

Operating earth stations near virtually every latitude and longitude also presents some key technical challenges. It is a given that at any moment of the day there are regions of the globe experiencing inclement weather. This presents a powerful and uncontrollable force that can affect a station’s ability to reliably perform its sole duty of passing information through the atmosphere. Regardless of the uncertainty that weather and other disasters present, organizations can still properly plan and account for them.

We at Crystal take pride in equipping our customers with precise system-level tools, such as Site Diversity Switching and Automatic Uplink Power Control, to mitigate events such as these. Our goal is to turn them into an entry in an operations log rather than a costly litigation proceeding.

Site Diversity Switching
Since its inception, satellite network Quality of Service has consistently improved thanks in part to organizations incorporating redundancy improvements into their network. These usually take the form of 1:N redundancy systems at the component level; for instance, there is usually a hot standby amplifier waiting to take over should one of the primary units fail. However, what happens when an event takes out the entire equipment room?

We frequently hear stories of the seemingly unimaginable happening. For instance, there was an uplink station that lost all of its equipment due to a lightning strike even though the system was properly grounded. The dry season and subsequent lack of moisture in the soil prevented a rogue lightning bolt from properly being routed into the earth. Failures of this level can result in downtimes on the order of hours at best when unaccounted for. Having an entirely redundant signal path in conjunction with intelligent switchover methodology can reduce this downtime to mere seconds.

Crystal’s Site Diversity Switching module is highly customized to your organization’s unique situation in order to meet its specific needs during a disaster recovery event. The moments after a disaster are chaotic and prone to human error; seamlessly transitioning to an alternate uplink path is inversely proportional to the number of steps required of a human operator. Site Diversity Switching leverages the core Crystal NMS already having access to every control point on the system. This allows us to automatically execute predefined actions, like pushing modem settings, remapping routers, and unmuting HPAs located at other earth stations. Customers can rely on the accuracy of these individual processes because operators use our NMS to reliably perform them on a daily basis under normal conditions. Consolidating and automating disaster recovery processes frees operators to monitor a complex system switchover rather than fumble while trying to perform it manually.

Automatic Uplink Power Control (AUPC)
Another important aspect of maintaining consistent network uptime is insuring uplink signals arrive at their satellites close to a specific level of power. Levels typically need to conform to within a ±2.5 dB window; anything below cannot be deciphered and anything above can damage a satellite’s transponder. Constantly changing cloud cover in the atmospheric path between the antenna and satellite vastly complicates achieving this level of consistency. Water droplets happen to have a diameter very close to that of an uplink signal’s wavelength, particularly the near centimeter wavelength of today’s Ka-band systems. This is effectively like having a 10 dB variable attenuator with a mind of its own in your signal path. Accurately normalizing this variation is imperative; any wrong move could take down your uplink signal at best or damage a half-a-billion dollar piece of equipment in outer space at worst.

Like disaster recovery, Crystal Control excels in the application of uplink power control because it already has access to the necessary inputs and outputs required to mitigate the situation. Our AUPC module’s downlink reference signal and uplink attenuation sources are conveniently configurable right inside of the GUI. This opens up possibilities for unique redundancy schemes; for instance, referencing the better of multiple beacon receiver levels or uniformly controlling the gain of amplifiers on multiple transponder chains. You can count on these unique schemes’ reliability because our core AUPC module is well-tested and has long been in active operation. Performing these types of operations at the system software level just makes sense because it provides flexibility built on top of a high level of reliability.

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