Success Stories

Satellite communications: Canadian firm is on the right wavelength

With its innovative Ka-Band technology, COM DEV International, a company based in Cambridge, Ontario, has leapt to the forefront of broadcast communication satellite development. COM DEV's worldwide success is, in large part, due to Canada's collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA).

The Ka-Band is a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that has drawn significant commercial interest in recent years because it offers a wider band of available frequencies compared to the lower bands traditionally used for satellite communications. A wider band provides greater data capacity and faster data rates—in the case of Ka-Band, about 10 times that of a conventional satellite's data transfers. This increased bandwidth helps broadband Internet service providers to meet consumer demands for larger and faster information exchanges.

Despite those advantages, the Ka-Band isn't without its challenges. For one thing, it requires electronic devices capable of handling higher operating frequencies and baud rates (the number of times a signal changes state per second). COM DEV International is a Canadian leader in the development of this hardware.

While the company's products are in demand worldwide, they are enabling a key benefit right here at home: satellites equipped with the new technology are providing vastly improved access to broadband Internet in even the most remote regions of Canada.

Complex onboard satellite hardware

Through Canada's contribution to ESA's Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) program, COM DEV was recently awarded a $1 million contract to develop advanced Ka-Band hardware for the new breed of broadband satellites. Specifically, COM DEV was asked to develop a set of radio frequency (RF) components for large satellite systems.

The products—all designed, developed, manufactured and tested by COM DEV—made their space debut in late 2010 aboard Ka-Sat, a broadband satellite developed by Eutelsat. Satellites such as Ka-Sat are commonly referred to as High Throughput Satellites (HTS) because their payload has at least twice (though usually many times more) the data throughput of a traditional satellite. Most HTS use the Ka-band and are designed primarily for broadband communications. Their increased bandwidth, in combination with what is called multibeam architecture, enables service providers to divide the allocated bandwidth into sub-bands. Each sub-band can be used again and again to meet the bandwidth demands of Internet users in different geographical areas.

The suite of equipment created for Ka-Sat alone includes more than 70 different equipment designs. The Ka-Band hardware developed by COM DEV (including filters, multiplexers and switches) permit communications signals to be combined in transit and efficiently and rapidly distinguished from one another, so as to ensure that each signal is routed to its appropriate destination with the highest level of reliability and integrity.

Ka-Sat is working perfectly, as is the incredible array of COM DEV technology aboard. As a result, the Canadian company is also flying high with customers lining up to purchase its range of dedicated Ka-Band components. COM DEV's success has already led to additional contracts for a number of HTS satellites.

Strong sales spur growth in COM DEV workforce

COM DEV estimates that the sale of Ka-Band equipment is generating between $5 million to $8 million annually. However, during peak demand periods, the company believes that sales could easily double.

The strong sales have enabled the company's workforce to grow and, in turn, provided the opportunity for its personnel to further develop their expertise on the technical requirements of the Ka-Band. COM DEV's participation in the development of Ka-Sat supported a team of 16 employees for a period of two years. Today, engineers and production personnel who participated in the development possess leading-edge skills in the design and production of high-performance, high-frequency satellite components.

As the satellite communication industry moves forward, COM DEV is committed to maintaining momentum along with it. The company is now focused on developing and supplying advanced products to the growing number of large—and technically demanding—broadband satellites. The popularity of these satellites, all at the Ka-Band or higher, is growing. Not only are several operators now deploying second-generation systems, but many are already looking ahead to a third generation of HTS.

COM DEV overcomes technical challenges through innovation

COM DEV's decision to compete in this growing segment of the satellite communications industry has presented both advantages and challenges. For example, the company has been able to validate design tools at higher frequencies and to update its design guidelines. At the same time, COM DEV was challenged to come up with a more compact design and packaging concept to handle the enormous quantity of satellite components involved in an HTS. It did so without compromising reliability or quality.

Many of the second-generation of HTS, with COM DEV technology aboard, now fly over Canada—and more will surely follow. In time, this will benefit all Canadians by providing increased access to all the advantages of high-quality broadband via satellite. As it has for many members of Canada's space industry, the ongoing collaboration between Canada and ESA has helped COM DEV assume a leading role—and earned the company international recognition—for its unique contribution to satellite communications technology.