‘The high-speed connectivity of fibre using wireless technology’
That’s what Arralis’s Leonis Ka band chipset promises. It could mark a great leap forward
Mission Operation Centre (MOC) at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) of the European Space Agency, in Darmstadt, Germany
Radar and wireless communications specialist Arralis has just signed another contract with the European Space Agency, this time for its latest Leonis Ka band chipset, which has been developed to enable massive data communications speeds for commercial and scientific space missions.
The Ka band is commonly regarded as “the next big thing” for satellite technology with its smaller antennae and ground terminals, as well as dramatically lower costs. Ka band antennae are four times smaller than their earlier Ku band rivals, and this opens up considerable opportunities in the consumer and connected-vehicle markets.
In the space market, companies such as Facebook, Inmarsat and SpaceX have recently announced their plans to use Ka band to provide broadband services around the globe, with the initial SpaceX deployment consisting of some 4,425 satellites with Ka band payloads.
“The whole idea with the new Ka band chipset is to get much higher speeds”, says Dr Denver Humphrey, head MMIC (monolithic microwave integrated circuit) design engineer with Arralis. “It’s what our CEO, Barry Lunn, calls wireless fibre speed. It has the capacity to deliver the high-speed connectivity of fibre using wireless technology. We are one of the first companies in the world to start putting systems together as whole: the receiver, the transmitter and the antenna. We are getting a lot of interest from space companies who are interested in using it in their satellites. The fact that an Irish company is doing this is pretty exciting.”
The chipset was developed to meet the needs of the growing demand for low-cost Ka band satellite equipment that is simple to interface with current digital internet hardware. Applications include 5G communications, airborne high-speed wifi, low earth orbit mega constellation communications, drone constellations, satellite to automotive connectivity, connected vehicles, and IoT communications.
What the Arralis chipset effectively enables is ultra-high-speed internet connectivity of up to 15GB per second available anywhere on Earth and provided by a network of satellites.
“One of the more obvious applications is something like connected vehicles,” says Humphrey. “They will be able to avail of high-speed internet access regardless of their location. There are places where cars go where services are not available. If you are out in the Mojave desert, you will be out of range of mobile networks. But there will be no need for these networks as the service will be delivered by high-speed data connections with satellites. It can also be used for high-speed internet services on ships, buses and trains. Our chipset brings high speed satellite internet service much closer.”
It will also have an impact on person-to-person communications, although not necessarily through telephones. “Take a natural disaster, for example,” Humphrey says. “When a person goes into an affected area with a device with the Arralis MMIC installed, they can use the antenna to establish where they are with very high accuracy. They can then use the Ka band system to transmit this information to rescue vehicles, drones, and helicopters which are coming to provide assistance.”
Just letting people know you are there in the first place is another benefit. “Once there, the rescue worker might not want to leave their position but if they are out of range of mobile networks and have limited radio transmission capability, they need to be able to alert others to their position. They might put a flare up in the sky, and this will help to a certain extend. But if they have a laptop or other device equipped with the Arralis Ka band chipset, they will be able to use that to communicate via satellites. Furthermore, as soon as the helicopters and other vehicles come into close range, the individual will be able to communicate with them directly if they also have devices equipped with the chipset.”
Arralis’s high-definition 94GHz radar systems also come into play here. “In an earthquake situation or the aftermath of a hurricane, a lot of debris gets kicked up. The extremely high accuracy of the radar allows the helicopters pick this up and assists with safe landing.”
And this capability is almost in reach already. “The novelty in terms of what Arralis is doing is that our MMICs are attractive to manufacturers. We put everything together in one package so they only have to put in one chip instead of three. This makes mounting them much easier. We are definitely coming at it from a customer point of view. For example, it can be incorporated in devices like tablets or laptops and will operate like a high-speed modem. This will offer a roadmap for the development of a whole range of applications. We aim to develop plug-and-play products, which make everyone’s job easier. We supply things that can be plugged in and work – you just attach the cables.”
The Arralis Ka band chipset is already commercially available for customers who want to exploit its advanced capabilities. “We will have the packaged core chip MMIC available early in 2018 and we are already experiencing high levels of interest in it.”