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Video/Media

SES, Comcast deal ties into C-band reclamation for 5G

A new deal between SES and Comcast Technology Solutions (CTS) represents one of several moving parts linked to a process that will ultimately result in clearing out a portion of the C-band for 5G services.

Tied into the renewed, multi-year agreement focused on distributing digital standard- and high-definition channels to a group of small, independent US cable operators, SES will initially transition CTS' Managed Satellite Distribution service (an offering once known as Headend In the Sky, or HITS) from the SES-11 satellite at 105 degrees west to AMC-11 at 131 degrees West.

The new agreement between SES and Comcast Technology Solutions enters the picture as plans move ahead to meet a pair of C-band-related milestones and targets that will ultimately clear 300MHz of capacity for 5G. First up is a deadline to clear the lower 120MHz by December 5, 2021, to be followed by a December 5, 2023 deadline to clear out an additional 180MHz of spectrum.

Together, those moves will help SES eventually vacate about 300MHz of spectrum in the C-band in the coming years, but still continue to distribute and package TV channels to CTS's affiliates.

But to continue offering that service on one satellite and on fewer transponders, SES will also upgrade to improved modulation (16-APSK) and receive content from CTS in MPEG-4, a codec that's about twice as bandwidth-efficient as the previous use of MPEG-2. To remain backwards-compatible with legacy set-top boxes, content shipped in MPEG-4 will later be transcoded to MPEG-2.

Using that combination of capacity efficiencies, SES will eventually be in position to repack all of the CTS services for its multichannel video programming distributor (MVPD) partners on 5.5 transponders, which amounts to half of the 11 transponders it was using on the SES-11 satellite.

"It's a completely transparent system to the MVPDs," said Steve Corda, VP of technology, corporate strategy and development at SES.

More moving parts

But the moving parts and complexities occurring behind the curtain don't end there, as another satellite shift will need to take place to make it all come together over a couple of phases between now and December 2023.

The AMC-11 satellite is nearing its end of its life, and won't be able to get SES through the full, three-year transition. In 2023, AMC-11 will be replaced with a more powerful satellite called AMC-11R that will support the aforementioned 16 APSK modulation scheme. AMC-11R will also use a flatter beam pattern across the US that will provide similar performance and power no matter the location of the ground station. By comparison, AMC-11 provides better performance in the center of the country than it does at the edges.

But the end result will ensure that CTS's business model remains intact by keeping its full Managed Satellite Distribution service on one satellite, Corda said.

The initial transition of CTS' services from SES-11 to AMC-11 is "nearing completion," he added. The current focus is on customers and affiliates that are in the 46 partial economic areas (PEAs) that are set to be cleared for this year, with an expectation that the rest of the affiliates will be wrapped up by the end of this summer.

SES and CTS are conducting this work in tandem with Harmonic, which is providing a turnkey service of sorts that involves the design and the shipping and installation of the new encoding gear and other equipment and software required for the transition.

Corda said Harmonic's software-based approach on off-the-shelf hardware, sidestepping the need to use custom silicon, has helped the project stay on track despite chip shortages that have impacted multiple industries worldwide.

"These are all off-the-shelf commercial servers. The secret sauce is in the software," Corda said. "That really helped out in terms of making sure we made our schedule, but also in terms of the development time and making upgrades and new features."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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