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Latency – the other enemy on the battlefield

In my last post on GovSat Report, I discussed why commercial SATCOM is essential for the delivery of advanced IT capabilities to the edge for today’s military.

Ultimately, military personnel and senior decision makers have come to expect access to advanced network functionality, applications and capabilities from wherever they’re stationed across the globe. Frankly, they expect the same user experience they have when sitting behind their desk at a home station, but layered with more applications – some specifically designed to aid in the fight.

With a lack of fiber networks and links available in the regions where today’s warfighters are deployed – or likely to be deployed, provisioning of these fiber networks requiring years to implement and some unfriendly and not-so-friendly nations standing in the way, satellite becomes the best – and only – option to deliver these services.

However, there is a problem that arises when data is sent across traditional satellite networks utilizing geostationary satellites – latency.

Many of today’s applications were created for the local area network. These programs want a response back quickly and they usually get it in traditional office environments because they’re operating on a high speed, local area network.

With geostationary satellites, the data that would traditionally be passing over a high speed, local area network or fiber connection is traveling to and from the satellite, which is at an extremely high altitude. This takes time and creates latency. Subsequently, web pages take minutes to download, and Sharepoint, portals and other solutions that we use at the office become intolerable in the warzone.

The only option is to architect a network heavy with “local resources” so you don’t have to rely on Wide Area Network connectivity. The result is a lot more boxes and a lot more people to sustain in an austere environment.

What if you could get that fiber-like performance from satellite service and move large amounts of information quickly without resorting to strategies that endeavor to get fiber like capability? That’s exactly what a new commercial satellite technology can deliver to the military today.

There is a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellation now available to the military through select commercial satellite service providers that is capable of delivering fiber-like speeds and throughput. These satellites operate closer to the Earth than geostationary satellites, reducing the distance data needs to travel, eliminating latency and delivering the information, communication, collaboration and capabilities the military needs into a warzone effectively, efficiently and affordably.

To see MEO satellites in action, and how they can drastically cut down on latency, watch this recent demonstration by satellite service provider, O3B.

For additional information about MEO satellites and how they can help reduce latency and deliver fiber-like connectivity to the edge, download the whitepaper, “Fiber-Like Satellite Communications for U.S. Government Applications,” by clicking HERE.

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4 Responses

  1. Pingback : The case for commercial SatCom in today’s military | GovSat

  2. Pingback : VIDEO: Pete Hoene on MEO satellites and their potential benefits for the government | GovSat

  3. Joe3658

    The distance the data has to travel has very little to do with latency. Yes, geostationary satellites are approximately 10,000 miles up, but with data traveling very near the speed of light, which 186,000 miles per second the latency caused my the distance causing 0.2 seconds of delay is minimal. Now if you want to take bandwidth, transmission speed, or retransmission time into consideration those are much more likely to cause latency. These other things would have to be fixed on MEO satellites before the problem could be solved. Distance is not the problem when you are traveling the speed of light. Satellite television providers do not have this problem, why should the warfighter?

    1. Admin

      Thanks very much for your response to the article. \n\nMost sources site the distance from the earth’s surface to a GEO satellite is approximately 23,000 miles above the equator. This means the round trip transmission in GEO link travels 23,000 miles up to the satellite and 23,000 miles back to the remote site. Next, the TCP/IP acknowledgement is sent and returned, another 46,000 miles for a total round trip of over 90,000 miles. Depending on your latitude, this distance to the satellite could be even greater. \n\nThe physics involved (and I’m no physicist, but I have lots of experience deploying and using GEO satellite systems) accounts for approximately 550-600 milliseconds of latency, a limitation shared by all GEO satellite systems and providers. There are several “technical work-arounds” used to try and accelerate IP over satellite systems because so many applications have a difficult time tolerating that latency. \n\nMEO satellites are “flying” 5009 miles above the earth’s surface. As a result they experience roughly ¼ of the latency of a GEO link. A good “back of the envelope” comparison would be downloading a web page. Accomplishing this over a link that has 600ms of latency it takes roughly 17 seconds. Over a link that has 150ms of latency that same web page takes approximately 7 seconds to download. \n\nOne of the best technical discussions on this subject can be found in a white paper called “Why Latency Matters.” It can be found on the O3b website and contains a significant amount of objective scientific and technical detail.\n\nAlso, you may want to review our whitepaper, “Fiber-Like Satellite Communications for U.S. Government Applications,” for additional information.\n\nVR,\n\nRandy

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