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CASE STUDY - NOC Solutions
by Christopher Kolbe

Many of today’s satellite Network Operations Centers (NOC) are assembled from a variety of systems and products designed to simplify day-to-day communications management and transponder planning operations. Whether military or commercial, NOC operators around the world share the same objectives of:
  • Maximizing transponder use (to increase the revenues or the amount of communications)
  • Ensuring the Quality of Service (QoS)
  • Maintaining real-time situational awareness
  • Assisting their customers for communications setup
Still, in order to meet operational requirements, many operators have assembled their own “NOC jigsaw puzzles” gluing together and augmenting the different systems with in-house developed software.

As an example, many NOCs received Network Management Systems (NMS) supplied by different antenna vendors, equipment providers, modem suppliers, and integrators. These systems were then maintained internally by operators, and as new equipment was brought to a station, new drivers needed to be developed by the internal staff and even sometimes by interns. At the end of the day, managing and expanding a ground station became a constantly growing challenge, and staffing requirements were far from streamlined.

In contrast to the just described scenario, by using Newpoint Technologies’ modern Compass system, operators can break this cycle for existing network operators. By taking advantage of their proven Manager of Managers (MoM) solution that allows customers to re-use their legacy NMS system by interfacing the Compass system over the legacy system and using the Compass system to manage the entire network from a single console.

In addition, as Compass is easy to install and expand, network operators can enjoy a level of autonomy in the support and build-out of their operations, but with the full support of Newpoint when needed. This approach allows companies to improve both the quality of service and customer service, while at the same time reducing operations cost.

Assembling the Bricks
Integral Systems’ initial success in the early 1990’s was grounded in the concept that it is possible to use Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) products to control various satellites. This approach has been applied over the last few years by Integral’s European division to the field of NOC operations.

Today’s challenge comes down to proposing flexible NOC systems incorporating the most recent technology, while reserving enough space for specific tailoring such as that required to meet customer “specifics” by assembling basic COTS elements. See Figure 2.
Intelligently designed COTS products resemble the ever-popular “Lego” bricks – easy to combine and assemble. With these “bricks”, you can create complete systems supporting complex operator missions.

Our bricks are Integral’s satellite ground products and third-party products that are well established in the industry. Specific attention has been paid to interfaces between products – the point where products are assembled and intended to work with each other. This function, also referred to as “integration”, is often depicted as simple lines in schematics.

Due to ever increasing satellite traffic and simplified access to this means of transmission, operators are experiencing increased communications interference. As a result, operators need enhanced visibility into systems, improved prediction modeling, and methods of identifying interference sources.

Visibility is provided by the Carrier Monitoring System (CSM). Today’s CSMs offer far better capabilities than traditional spectrum analyzers with user-friendly displays, more powerful alarm and event management, and distributed databases for multiple sites.

Predicting is performed using frequency planning tools proposing a modular set of software that helps operators organize future transmissions by taking into account changing space environment parameters.
Identifying a carrier is done using advanced database search features because 99 percent of unexpected transmissions have known characteristics that can be traced back to their source. For unrecognized transmissions, the need for geolocation is growing to ensure communications safety and security.

A Successful Strategy
Behind the “simple lines” of our schematics, Integral System’s core guideline/philosophy calls for integrating products by:
  • Building out technical advantages within each product
  • Using simple software interfaces (primarily database driven)
  • Maintaining the compatibility of interfaces while products are evolving
  • Keeping the system open for future add-ons (using APIs)
Integral Systems is delivering NOC solutions for Rascom (Africa), Vinasat (Vietnam), and THOR (Norway) satellites with our Monics CSM and Compass NMS, antennas from Globecomm Systems, and frequency planning from Optimal Satcom. Our customers have access to the most advanced technology, including interference detection (Carrier under Carrier), a wide range of modules simplifying frequency planning prior to transmission, and systems that provide total overviews of ground and space assets in real-time. The Integral Systems integrated NOC solution is illustrated in Figure 3.

Another important layer in Integral’s strategy ensures a NOC system’s lifetime by proposing additional services such as hardware and software maintenance, and incorporating evolving system expansion through additional identical or new elements.

Many of our customers are growing, adding new satellites over new regions. As a result, they require more support for their growing or changing staff, more transponder/site visibility, and more secure communications.

Detecting space interference has certainly become a major concern, but being able to determine an interference source is the most current and growing need. Integral is addressing this issue through enhanced computerized research capabilities and new products such as geolocation, adding new “Legos” in our existing set.

In the Integral model, a typical NOC will still include several operator positions (see Figure 3) – at least one dedicated to each main function (CSM, Planning, Network Management…). Our “evolutionary goal” is to reduce the number of operator positions, as user interfaces increasingly look and feel similar, and require less and less constant oversight. This evolution can be compared to Microsoft’s Office software: each user works with Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint, but specialists are not required for each application.

The “NOC of the Future” could actually be unmanned, with operators working from home through web-based user interfaces.

A Bright Future
In our continuously evolving ground segment environment, there are still technological, functional, and human challenges to meet when providing universal NOC capabilities. When operators say “It would be nice to have …,” or “Ideally, we would need to …,” Integral is listening intently and we work to incorporate these wishes in our future product releases.

A word we hear quite often is “AUTOMATION” and this means increased integration and awareness with less human intervention. Working in this direction, Integral Systems has recently developed its Executive Dashboard product, providing rapid and global overviews of complete ground and space segments. Figure 4 provides a sample display of Integral’s new Executive Dashboard product.

Satellites have been with us now for half a century, but we are all really still just pioneers in this domain. Integral Systems is focused on making the right decisions today that will build model ground systems for tomorrow.

About the author
Christophe Kolbe is Marketing and Sales Manager at Integral Systems Europe (ISE), Toulouse, France. He graduated from the Ecole Superieure d’Electricite (SUPELEC) in 1991, and spent more than 10 years developing and selling products and systems for aerospace companies such as Thales and IN-SNEC. Mr. Kolbe joined Integral Systems in 2003 to promote sales for NOC products. He can be reached at ckolbe@integ.com.