AWS sidelines streaming for satellite at re:Invent 2018

AWS re:Invent 2018 in Seattle this week really did offer something of a surprise reinvention. Among the AWS press releases from the event were some 2,350 words dedicated to its new Ground Station satellite data collection service, while its MediaConnect live video streaming product received a measly 185-word write up. Given how Elemental has been indispensable in the rise of its media services business, we see the act as a small disservice. Yet, as so often is the case with AWS, reading between the lines reveals a long-term stroke of genius.

The AWS media team has written the death out of Ground Station, but we will attempt to summarize the satellite downlink service as concisely as possible below while attempting to decipher what all the fuss is about.

Before allegations of misconstruing the two products arise, we must highlight that AWS Ground Station is targeted at businesses, governments and research bodies geared towards fields such as communications, surface imaging, emergency response, and weather forecasting. So precisely the markets satellite fleet operators struggling to retain DTH revenues are targeting to offset losses?

The heightened attack of AWS on these plan B markets might therefore either strike fear into the hearts of satellite firms or initiate cause for celebration, depending on where you stand on the extent of disruptive power AWS is capable of. Can it replicate the success seen in cloud computing, retail, video streaming, and more? Perhaps. But for now, however, AWS is burrowing into the satellite market from the ground up, providing customers with pay-by-the-minute antenna access via AWS Ground Station within the AWS Management Console in just a few clicks – thereby saving the task of building or leasing expensive ground antennas for satellite communications.

It can incur as much as 80% savings on ground station costs, AWS claims, which may enable satellite companies to offset losses elsewhere in the chain with the price per Mbps on the decline, meaning less revenue per leased transponder for fleet operators, in turn forcing them to charge higher prices for their capacity and therefore driving customers away. A vicious cycle AWS may help alleviate, perhaps?

“Antennas are just the beginning of the infrastructure requirements because customers need services, storage, and networking in close proximity to the antenna to process, store, and transport the data from the satellite. And then customers must build business rules and workflows to organize, structure, and route the data to employees or customers before it can be used to deliver insight,” explains AWS.

From the Faultline Online Reporter video perspective, AWS says Ground Station can be readily applied to the live video space, perhaps best designed for reporting breaking news, enabling customers to downlink current data to any of the 12 AWS stations around the world – built on existing AWS data center infrastructure – quickly combining data with other AWS services to process, analyze and transport data.

Satellite downlink services and machine learning don’t typically come hand in hand, unless of course you are AWS. Reportedly, AWS Ground Station, in combination with various other Amazon capabilities including EC2, EBS, EFS, S3, VPC, SageMaker, and Rekognition, can offer all kinds of opportunities for harnessing satellite data to create genuinely disruptive applications. It gives the examples of using machine learning to predict faulty construction, or using image recognition to identify and protect endangered animals, or analytics to estimate oil production or assess agriculture yields in real-time.

The true disruptive value of Ground Station therefore lies not in stealing business from established players in congested markets, but in enabling the growth and innovation of companies in emerging markets. We have referred to a similar state of affairs in the video space, with AWS Elemental winning the world’s biggest TV names and looking further down the pecking order despite its higher price tag compared to rival encoding vendors.

On that note, AWS has now made MediaConnect generally available to broadcasters and content owners, as part of its AWS Elemental Media Services portfolio. The live streaming product builds high-value live video transport workflows in the cloud at a fraction of the time and cost of satellite or fiber, with broadcast-grade monitoring – combining reliable video transport, secure stream sharing, and real-time network traffic and video monitoring. The idea of MediaConnect is to let customers focus on content, not transport infrastructure.

Exactly 11 minutes after unveiling Ground Station, AWS announced an integration with Lockheed Martin to integrate the US aerospace and defense technology firm’s Verge antenna network into the new product – immediately giving an insight into Ground Station’s target audience. In short, the collaboration gives AWS Ground Station customers access to the latest satellite data via Lockheed Martin’s distributed network of satellite receivers.