Innovations in private-sector communications can more quickly stand up a vastly improved network
The volume, types of threats, disruption and disasters the UK faces are exposing the growing number of vulnerabilities and dependencies being found within in our societal fabric. Reliance on existing infrastructure to support this changing environment has been demonstrated as inadequate and not fit for purpose.
An evolution of the current High Integrity Telecommunications System (Resilient Satellite Network) could provide a highly cost-effective, innovative and flexible platform to meet these ever-increasing challenges. This potential step-change capability upgrade for the UK Government is driven through innovation in private-sector communications. Today, significant increases in bandwidth are available across the globe and UK, making SATCOM commercially competitive for critical services such as voice, data and video streaming — from the edge to the home base.
In the UK, such a network can be configured to cover central and local government locations of interest, critical national infrastructure, disaster hotspots, as well as individual homes on an adaptive basis as the demand requires. It allows connectivity to other networks, such as government cloud/defence networks, providing unprecedented integration of critical missions on home soil and overseas. Further, the technological advances in cybersecurity and jam-resistant satellite communications can be coupled with encryption devices and monitoring, allowing the use of the communications at secret and above-secret levels, meeting the assurance demanded by NCSC and exceeding the assurance required by the Cabinet Office.
Individual homes/offices can be connected from a £450 installation and £50/month basic service cost to major sites up to £850/month. More agile commercial models are on offer, such as managed service provision, where capital cost can be included as part of the subscription along with network and security management. These commercial price points offer rapid deployment of an ever-flexible network, either as a standalone solution or as part of a wider, assured, resilient, integrated network taking the best available from fibre, LTE and satellite at the same time.
This evolution drives the UK prosperity agenda, with the development of sovereign data centres, network management and high-tech jobs. It also demonstrates SATCOM as a rapidly deployable commercial alternate to expensive infrastructure given time and cost of digging/laying new fibre or building base stations to extend LTE networks.
Overcoming the current challenges
The Cabinet Office introduced the High Integrity Telecommunications System (HITS) in 2010. The solution required an independent capability to support data and voice communications between national, regional and local groups during disruptive events.
This is configured around the Skynet satellite constellation, which — despite being upgraded to a more resilient network — still uses low capacity and expensive X-band technology. This bandwidth also requires larger dish receivers, restricting and slowing down deployment and wider infrastructure expansion. Recent developments in satellite mobile communications in the private sector have resulted in the availability of Ka-band secure broadband services, empowering voice, data and video conferencing with increases in capacity from circa 512 Kbps to over 50 Mbps. This opens up vast possibilities for the UK Government to enjoy an unprecedented range of services that were previously unrealised but essential in times of crisis — or for managing sensitive information up to secret or above secret.
The Ku/Ka SATCOM bandwidth and services — being offered across defence, aerospace, industry, academia and to the home — cost a small fraction of the price and provide assured, resilient communications even when terrestrial services are impacted. Viasat proposes to use a low-cost commercial Ka-band antenna system which will connect to its assured, resilient, integrated network.
By using small dish antennas, as little as 12 to 24 inches (30-60cm), individual sites and locations can be rapidly supported and further deployed in a crisis and — as importantly — mission-critical workers and decision makers can be connected at home and on the move. Already proven to Government and defence as well as industry, this high-capacity connection for voice, data and streaming video conferencing can be connected for homes/offices at much lower cost (see above).
The current Viasat network delivers over 500 Tbps of data globally each day and provides inherent cybersecurity and jam-resistant qualities, which further enhance its use for sovereign secure requirements. Current and future satellite coverage across the UK and globe are in the works (see map).
As has become apparent through the COVID-19 crisis, it is imperative that the Government’s communication network can work across voice, data and, most importantly, benefit from video conferencing and streaming to aid a common operational picture. Such a network can always be connected to other networks within the Government domains to feed live data and video in support of operations. This includes overseas operations or critical infrastructure at secret and above-secret levels. Most UK Police forces are already beginning to adopt high capacity Ka-band feeds to support a wide range of activities. This would be more cost and mission effective if upgraded in support of the wider Government assured, resilient, integrated communications network.
The advantage of SATCOM technology is only expanding: Viasat is currently constructing its ViaSat-3 satellite constellation that is expected to provide coverage over most of the globe, with one satellite covering the entire UK. This network is planned to include a UK sovereign data extraction, along with network and cyber security operations. Various grant applications are being discussed to bring this substantial overseas investment and future 75+ jobs into the UK.
Assured secure services
Whether by inadvertent interference or from deliberate events, the dynamic nature of the satellite network can eliminate the sources of interference and reconfigure services to guarantee service continuity. Viasat also offers a sovereign “White Glove” service to ensure service delivery is maintained at the highest possible level.
Viasat’s global Cyber Security Operations Centre analyses over 30TB of data and 5.5 billion security events each day to assure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of data and services. We identify, contextualise and track threats in coordination with government and private organisations. As such, the possibility of expanding the sovereign footprint will not only create high-tech network and analyst roles but also develop the space and computer sciences skills and roles of the future.
By employing encrypters into the network, data, voice and video streaming can be operated at secret and above-secret levels across the entire network, from a home user to the Cabinet Office or No. 10. A typical sovereign encrypter can be installed and can cost as little as £5k each. This could offer strategic and simple infrastructure replacements at a fraction of the costs of current legacy systems such as Brent.
Viasat in the UK
Viasat is a global communications company bringing connectivity to businesses, residents, militaries, airlines and government departments anywhere. In the UK, we are providing deep security and communications expertise to rapidly deliver new sovereign defence technologies to the UK defence and civilian markets.
Viasat is a global leader when it comes to the amount of geostationary satellite (GEO) capacity on orbit. With its upcoming ViaSat-3 constellation, the company expects to greatly expand that capacity across most of the globe. As part of this expanding space network, Viasat is investing in the UK and considering bringing significant foreign investment and creating over 75 new high-skilled network, analysis and cyber roles.
Viasat’s security, encryption, next-generation tactical data links and SATCOM systems are also currently used across multiple UK MoD programmes, from the Royal Air Force’s new F-35 stealth fighter to Royal Navy warships.