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12 September 2019

SES takes Azure rapport to next level, claiming fiber-like speeds

Making its traditional pre-IBC splash, SES sent out a series of press releases this week with a distinct cloud technology flavor, increasing its reliance on Microsoft Azure infrastructure a week after the satellite giant launched an uncharacteristic OTT video synchronization product which incited much arm-pinching.

SES unveiled plans to deliver media services based on Azure to rural and underserved regions, equipping broadcasters and other enterprises with features including intelligent network automation through direct cloud connectivity – achieved through the two products Azure ExpressRoute Satellite Connectivity and Azure Broadcast-Grade Managed Video Services.

The move is a win-win, benefiting both SES and Azure customers, causing us to ponder whether Microsoft could or should acquire SES. The fleet operator has a market cap of about €6.4 billion ($7 billion) as of writing, while Microsoft famously surpassed a market value of $1 trillion recently. Microsoft might not be known for its outlandish M&A spending sprees, preferring to buy smaller software players, yet acquiring satellite assets at a time when satellite TV is declining in value while satellite connectivity elsewhere is positioned for growth, could give Azure an edge over cloud computing opposition AWS.

Circling back to the news, SES’s push into cloud connectivity is driven by its long-term plans to adapt satellite and ground networks for the cloud era – creating software-defined environments where satellite networks will serve as an extension for global communications. That’s the masterplan anyway, for which SES sowed the seeds just a month ago when it became the world’s first satellite fleet operator to embrace the ONAP (Open Network Automation) protocol. At the time, we saw the move simply as SES reaffirming its growing commitment to mobile connectivity as the company seeks to offset the besieged video business.

Of course, there is much more to the story. But first, let’s take a look at how Azure-based media services can help SES execute an initiative which could prove crucial in delivering next-generation video around the globe as service providers migrate to virtualized network functions. SES has become the first partner company of the Azure ExpressRoute program to boast GEO (geostationary earth orbit) satellite and MEO (medium earth orbit) constellations, meaning SES can further the reach of Azure customers. It promises fiber-like performance through its portfolio of multi-orbit satellites, global gateway network and core terrestrial network infrastructure.

From these cloud-satellite foundations, SES says it will create a broadcast-grade managed video offering hosted on Azure – extending scale, flexibility and quality assurance throughout the video delivery chain – covering content ingest to playout to delivery. SES is also migrating its CRM platform to Microsoft Dynamics to increase productivity in a cloud-based sales and services ecosystem.

As mentioned earlier, SES recently teamed with Amdocs to develop a standards-based network automation platform built on the aforementioned open source initiative ONAP, driven by AT&T, marking the start of an ambitious cloud virtualization project – setting the bar for the satellite community. Amdocs’ network function virtualization (NFV) technologies, hosted on Microsoft Azure cloud infrastructure, will allow SES to extend network functions rapidly and at scale.

There are two main management and network orchestration (MANO) platform approaches for NFV – ETSI’s Open Source MANO (OSM) and ONAP from the Linux Foundation (of which SES is a founding member). But these have introduced new complexities – when AT&T put its ECOMP (Enhanced Control, Orchestration Management and Policy) MANO architecture into open source, resulting in ONAP, it contributed 8 million lines of code.

This is important for bringing the very different traditions of MNOs and of the open cloud world closer together. The gulf between the two communities has slowed progress in several key areas of virtualization, particularly the management and orchestration (MANO) of all those virtualized components and functions. The split between ONAP, the Linux Foundation would-be standard for MANO, and ETSI’s Open Source MANO (OSM) remains unresolved despite some steps towards greater cooperation between the two groups.

On the video front, SES now reaches over 355 million TV households (or 1 billion people) and distributes over 8,200 channels via satellite. The recent unification of its video services subsidiary MX1 with the SES Video business unit manages over 525 channels and delivers more than 8,400 hours of online video streaming, including over 620 hours of premium sports and live events a day.

Yet satellite video revenues continue to slide and SES continues to plead ignorance. Faultline Online Reporter is booked in for a catch-up with SES at IBC, where we will also be inspecting the reasoning behind the unification of the two video technology units. Of course, we will also be diving into the newly launched OTT video product called “Satellite and OTT in Sync” to represent the synchronization of OTT and satellite broadcasts by delivering IP signals to OTT video platforms in the same breath as satellite. It works by removing the source signal traveling to the satellite and distributes it via IP in tandem with satellite, then by applying low-latency encoding and tuning to the IP stream at the source, the system can apparently deliver content to OTT platforms in sync with the satellite signal.