Internet penetration growth curve is still on the steeper side: people require more and more affordable and fast connection to the Internet, independently from where they are. The key characteristics of what is expected by an Internet connection are speed, affordability and reliability.
Through the recently launched European telecommunication satellites that use Ka-band technology, Internet via satellite with high bandwidth and low cost is becoming a reality. On the other side, competition from terrestrial solutions is also increasing through technologies such as WiMax, Hiperlan and LTE. To keep a competitive advantage, satellite based systems have to be able to provide service packages that can be easily understood by the customers, with characteristics that are close and directly comparable to the ones available in terrestrial offers, such as ADSL.
In this sense the Lift Off Project tries to bring further the innovation brought by the recent satellites investigating on how DPI (Deep Packet Inspection) can be introduced by a Satellite Service Provider. The scope of this innovative “next step” on top of the KA-SAT is to optimize the existing services and to generate innovative market offers for satellite internet connectivity maximizing the user experience while improving the ratio cost/performances.
The Lift Off project is identifying and implementing a solution based on the Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) of the IP traffic on the KA-SAT network, to enable a “flat” profile offering for applications such as Web browsing and email in a market context (Satellite Broadband) where such offering does not exist nowadays. Objective of the project is to evaluate the behaviour of the end users when operating in the new “flat” commercial proposition and to validate the performance of the system with the proposed solution.
More specifically the activities proposed in the Lift Off project are the following:
- Collect User Requirements which allows the definition of the “User Profile” (UP) for each market segment identified
- Define Network Performance and Metrics (NPM) able to capture the network behaviour, which will be used as dimensioning tool able to identify the required additional bandwidth to be allocated to each user due to increase of traffic on the network
- Define User Performance and Metrics (UPM) able to represent the Quality of Experience perceived by the end users; these metrics will be utilized to assess the customer satisfaction as well as to measure the actual performances in case a customer complaints
- Build a Simulator/Emulator of the KA-SAT network in order to predict network dimensioning and user experience through extensive simulations
- Design the Pilot System Architecture and integrate all the new elements into the existing Opensky infrastructure
- Deploy a pilot network and run a pilot with real customers in order to:
- Validate the identified UP, NPM and UPM previously identified under realistic operational conditions
- Define and validate the way this innovative Internet via Satellite service can be offered to customers
The project is dedicated to implement a new class of satellite internet profiles that, combined with the new generation Ka-band satellites, can compete with terrestrial Broadband connections in terms of pricing, performance and customization. It allows a lot of citizens to gain access to web based services and boost the economy in digital divide areas.
The high level system architecture is depicted in the figure below:
The main network elements are:
- User terminal: This is an IDU/ODU terminal in Ka-band utilized for the standard services over KA-SAT
- Satellite: in the project KA-SAT is utilized, it is characterized by a multispot coverage over Europe with 83 spots
- Teleport: the KA-SAT system is completed with 8 Teleport/IP Gateway over Europe with 2 more as spare. A Fiber ring connects all the gateways. During the project the Hub in Torino is used, where all the traffic from the Italian spots can be collected
- DPI Platform: this is the core of the system and is made of a Policy Controller (where rules are done) and a Policy Enforcer (where rules are implemented in the real traffic)
- NOC Platform: the NOC Platform is related to the DPI system and it is operated by Opensky
- Radius and Firewalls
During the project the following additional development, integration and validation activities are implemented:
- Definition of the DPI rules through market research, user requirements analysis, traffic statistics and prediction, simulations
- Integration and validation of the DPI enforcer, applying different policies in terms of traffic rules (allowing or blocking protocols or applications, giving priorities to certain type of traffic, etc.)
- Development of a Management and Control Subsystem able to interact between the DPI layer and the existing CRM, charging, billing , reporting, monitoring
- Development of a simulation/emulation platform mirroring the KA-SAT environment
The high level architecture of both simulator and emulator is presented in the figure below:
An existing simulator for DVB-RCS based on the satellite network extensions of the Network Simulator (ns-2) will be tailored to the requirements of the project (DPI, KASAT, etc.).
The simulator architecture is shown in the next figure, where the elements to be developed during the project are indicated in yellow.
The final version of the Simulator will :
- comply with physical and MAC layer of Surfbeam2 for KA-SAT
- modelize DPI for each cluster of users (e.g., business, home, tele-control)
- provide a full-scale user deployment for each spot beam
- allow to load the simulated network with different traffic patterns per user type
- provide aggregated network statistics, useful to evaluate NPM
Emulation activities are performed on a Satellite Network Emulation Platform (SNEP), with specific modules added to match the target system specifications. The SNEP is a cluster of PCs, where real applications and traffic can run. The present Emulation architecture is presented in the next figure.
The final version of the Emulation available to the project includes the following features:
- comply with physical and MAC layer of Surfbeam2 for KA-SAT
- include real users end-systems (users with full O.S. and TCP/IP stack, where real applications may run) with automated scripts (e.g. Firefox with iMacro)
- reproduce the DPI rules for a significant subset of real users in a cluster
- implement traffic loaders for aggregated users
- provide per-user network statistics, useful to evaluate UPM
The project is now concluded. All the equipments are up and running and the Pilot phase has been completed involving more than 260 users. The project is now fully commercial and is surpassing the 1000 customers goal; the simulator is fully tested and it is becoming an important asset to forecast the impact of the future products release.
It was discovered that the service aimed at the consumer market offering a monthly flat-rate isn't viable. This is not a technical problem, but rather a problem of costs and user perception. The flat service is perceived as “all you can eat” and that is incompatible with the economics of satellite-based services. However, with careful positioning and communication other pricing models are viable, such as consumer solutions for flexible usage (e.g. fixed day rates for second homes) or a business-oriented offerings with higher fixed or metered rates.