VSAT Networks

An overview of VSAT Networks


The role of the satellite communication in global networks is growing at a matchless pace. Satellite for communication services have evolved quite appreciably in power and size since the launch of first satellite. This has endorsed a subsequent reduction in size of the earth stations, their cost, with a consequent increase in number. Small stations, with antennas in the order of 1 to 2m, have become very popular under the short form VSAT, which stands for ‘'very small aperture terminal''.

Very small aperture terminal networks have ability to provide point to multipoint communication. Data rates on the links are from a thousand bits per second up to 256kbps, depending on traffic requirements. VSAT networks provide flexible choice of capacity that is suitable for growth. Key advantage of VSAT systems are to link stores and businesses to central operation systems, so that transactions can be completed more rapidly than by using a modem and telephone line. VSAT technology offers many advantages and benefits over conventional networks.

This paper will make easy for reader to gain more basics of VSAT networks. This Paper present the VSAT networks configuration and options, give brief description about Demand and Fixed assignments, bands used by VSAT's their advantages and drawbacks, VSAT applications and types of traffic and finally in the ending future developments of VSAT technology.

Key Words: VSAT, Hub station, remote terminals, star network, conventional networks


The first section aims at providing the introductions and the different aspects of VSAT, which are explained briefly. This section can also be considered as a reader guide to the following section which aims at providing more detail in the most important issues.

1.1 VSAT Networks ;

VSAT stands for ‘'very small aperture terminal'' .VSAT equipment consists of two main units, one is placed indoor for user communication device and the second one is placed outdoor for a line of sight to the satellite. The indoor unit is a small box contains of transmitter and receiver boards and interface to user's equipment. The outdoor unit consists of antenna, electronics and mount for signal transmission and reception.

VSAT is becoming more important for long distance data communications and low density voice. VSAT networks were in rapid growth in 1990s in the United States. Most of the businesses adopted VSAT networks for the communication and transmission of data as an alternative to data systems and terrestrial telephone then available. Growth of VSAT in next decade is expected to see operating in Ka band as a new 30/20 GHz GEO satellites become available. The available VSAT technology offers many advantages and benefits over conventional networks, including lower operating cost, support for multi services, ease of installation and maintenance, the ability to bring location where the cost of leased line is very high into the telecommunication loops, and the integration of VSAT into a single network to provide a cost effective expansion from smaller to larger systems.

1.1.1 VSAT Features:

VSAT networks uses very small dish antennas therefore, in order to employ the 6/4 -GHz frequency band it has to utilize the spread spectrum also called CDMA code division multiple access) technique to reduce the signal power spectral density. This is due to the interference produced for using the same band as terrestrial microwave transmission does. Alternatively the 14/12 GHz frequency band may be utilized (if available) which provide satellite capacity with much more efficiency although as we know, with the rain as old enemy. Star VSAT network at 2-Mbps are now available using Single Channel Per Carrier (SCPC) access which is provided by most of the vendors however, occasionally , TDMA (Time division multiple access) technique is also used.

VSAT are connected by radio frequency link via satellite. Those links are radio frequency link with a so-called uplink from the station to the satellite and so-called downlink from station to station, sometime called hop consists of an uplink and downlink.

1.1.2 Uplink

A radio frequency link is modulated carrier conveying information. Basically the satellite receives the uplink carriers from the transmitting earth station within the field of view of its receiving antenna.

1.1.3 Downlink

Within the field of view Transponder amplifies those carriers, translates their frequency to a lower band in order to avoid possible output/input interference, and transmits the amplified carrier to the station located of its transmitting antenna.

1.2 VSAT Network Architectures

For any telecommunication services there are three basic implementations services: one-way, split-two-way (referred to as split-IP sometimes, when referring to internet traffic) and two-way implementation. Further division of two-way implementation are star and mesh network architectures.

One-Way Implementation

This mode of satellite is used in the BSS (broadcast satellite service). This digital technology allows the user and provider much flexibility in the operations of broadcasting. By using different software in the user terminals, different subscribers can access different parts of the downlink according to programs offered by suppliers. This channel selection form is called narrowcasting

Split-Two-Way (Split IP) Implementation

This implementation is used when there is no normal return channel as, e.g. The KU-BSS (broadcast satellite service) systems that carry internet traffic. From the user end terminal uplink capability is not complemented by high capacity downlink stream relatively. If the BSS downlink is used as the download channel from an ISP (Internet service provider), the only option left for users return link is via another telecommunications channel, such as telephone line. The Internet protocol is therefore split between terrestrial telephone (inbound or return) channel and satellite downlink (outbound) channel. VSAT terminal does not require a transmit capability due to this approach, which significantly reduces its complexity and cast. The disadvantage of this approach is that the terrestrial telephone connection must usually be through a modem, with a bit rate generally less than or 56kbps.

Two-Way Implementation

A return link is designed in this implementation method so that two way communications can be set up over the same satellite, from the user to hub and from the hub back to the user.

The architecture selected is the key to the economics of two way connections; it can be either star or mesh.

1.3 VSAT Network Options

Basically there are two network options.

1. Star:

In Star network architecture, all traffic is routed via the main hub station. If a VSAT want to communicate with another VSAT, they have to go through the hub station. This makes double hop link via the satellite. This architecture is referred to as Star network as shown in diagram.

2. Mesh:

In Mesh network architecture, each of the VSAT s has the ability to communicate with each other directly. The traffic in this architecture can go to or from any VSAT, is referred to as a Mesh network as shown in diagram.

The factor shows which architecture is appropriate than the others one:

* The structure of information flow within the network.

* The requested link quality and capacity.

* The transmission delay.

1.3.1 Structure of Information Flow

VSAT network can support different type of application and each has an optimum network configuration.


A central site distributes information to many remote sites with no back flow of information. Hence a start shaped one-way network supports the service at the lowest cost.

Corporate Network:

Most often companies have a centralized structure with administration and management performed at a central site, and manufacturing or sales performed at site scattered over a geographical area information from the remote sites needs to be gathered at the central site has to be distributed to the remote ones, such as task sharing. Such an information flow can be partially supported by a start one-way VSAT Network.

Interactivity Between Distributed Sites:

Other companies or organization with decentralised structure are more likely to compromise many interacting one with a meshed VSAT network using direct single hop connections from VSAT to VSAT is hence mostly desirable.

Table 1.3.2 Link Quality and Capacity

The link considered here is the link from the transmitting to the receiving one. Such a link may comprise several parts. For instance a single hop link would comprise an uplink and downlink; a double hop link would comprise two single hop links, one being inbound and outbound. Fig 1.3 indicates the general trend which relates EIRP to G/T in a VSAR network, considering a given baseband signal quality in term of constant BER. EIRP designates the equivalent isotropic radiated power of the transmitting equipment and G/T is the figure of merit of the receiving equipment.

§ BER-Bit Error rate

§ EIRP-Emitted isotropic radiated power

§ G/T Figure of merit.

1.3.3 Transmission Delay

With a single hop link from VSAT in a humbles network, the propagation delay is about 0.25s. With a double hop from VSAT to VSAT via the hub, the propagation delay is twice as much, i.e. about 0.5s.

Double hop may be a problem for voice communication. However, it is not a severe problem for video or data transmission. Table 1.2 summarizes the above discussion given the EIRP and G/T values for a VSAT, the designer can decide for both a large delay from VSAT to VSAT and a large capacity or a small delay and a lower capacity, by implementing either a start network, or mesh one.

Table1.2 Characteristics of star and mesh network configuration.

1.4 Geostationary Satellite

The Satellite orbiting in the equatorial plane of the earth at an altitude above the earth surface of 22000 miles are known as geostationary satellite. The orbit period at this altitude is equal to that of the rotation of earth. As the satellite works on its circular orbit in the same direction as the earth rotates, the satellite appears from any station on the ground as the fixed relay in the sky, the satellite can be used 24 hours a day as a permanent relay for the uplink radio frequency carrier. Those carriers are down linked to all earth station from the satellite. Present VSAT networks use geostationary satellites

1.4.1 Fixed and Demand Assignment

There are two basic alternatives

a. Fixed assignment of channel

b. Demand assignment of channel

Needs are shared between the two following extreme cases.

a. High capacity links between a few international transit centres.

b. Low capacity links between a large numbers of small low traffic stations, sometimes only necessitating a single channel. Fixed Assignment

Fixed assignment is best applied to high capacity commercial system. This approach is not appropriate for low traffic links such as are encountered in many national system where isolated villages are distributed over vast areas with little infrastructure. So links are often pre assigned on the basis of small number of voice channels per carrier, or even only one channel per carrier(SCPC: Single channel per carrier). Each carrier uses a very narrow band, and the spacing between two carriers can be as small as few tens of KHz, compared with frequencies of 4,6,11 and 14 GHz. This possesses a problem with the stability of the received frequency.

The problem with fixed assignment SCPC is that an unused channel cannot be used to establish any other link. The less each circuit is used, the greater the penalty. Demand assignment offer a solution where channels are pooled, and so one channel can be assigned to a link between two stations just for the duration of the communication.

1.5 KU- Band Verses C-Band

The Very small aperture terminal networks are available now in both 12/14 and 6/4 GHz bands. The first business VSAT system was introduced by equatorial communication company operating in 6-4 GHz band. Spread spectrum technology used by this system reduces the power flux density of the transmitted signal and thus avoids interference to adjacent 6/4 GHz terrestrial microwave and 6/4 GHz satellite systems. The spread spectrum signal is spread by sequence or pseudo noise code over a bandwidth of satellite that is much wider than the bandwidth of the data. The received signal correlates with receiving equipment with the same PN code with the same PN code to extract the data which is transmitted. The single hope architecture is used by equatorial VSAT network. The severe interference limitations at 6/4 GHz band even with spread spectrum technology can cause any spread spectrum VSAT network to use the satellite capacity inefficiently, and the link data rate is consequently low. The common effectiveness for a 6/4 GHz VSAT network is approximate to be less than 0.03 b/s Hz and the average data rate is less than 9.6kb/s. The ineffectiveness of spread spectrum VSAT networks at the 6/4 GHz band has provoked adverse criticism. Unquestionably spread spectrum systems use transponder bandwidth inefficiently. But without the use of spread spectrum signals there could be no 6/4 GHz. The VSAT price with small dish antenna as small as 0.6 m in diameter at a probable price of less than 4300 pounds/ $ 7000 per terminal. It is likely that the market place will decide how the satellite bandwidth is going to be used.

The situation is diverse for VSAT networks operating in the 14/12 GHz band which are free of terrestrial microwave interference. In the US, the FCC (Federal communication union) has calm licensing requirements for relatively larger VSAT networks (approximately 500 terminals) operating in 14/12 GHz band. In this band, VSAT networks can be planned to take advantage of the higher power flu density allowed and the lack of earthly interference. They can offer data rate of 56 kb/s or more using dish antennas with diameters of 1 to 2 m. For the same antenna diameter, the antenna gains in the 14/12 GHz are approximately 7.4db for transmit and 9.5 db for receive higher than those in 6/4 GHz band. Alternatively the attenuation caused by heavy rain will be much higher at 14/12 GHz band than at 6/4 GHz band, and therefore the VSAT networks operating at the high frequency band undergo more and larger outages.

Table 1.3 of Advantages and Drawbacks of C and KU band.

C- Band





Draw backs

It allows the use of smaller dishes.

It causes fading during rain. Attenuation from 6 db to 10 db

Signal less susceptible to rain fading. Rain attenuation in the range of 0.4 to 1 db.

Needs slightly larger dishes as compared to Ku band.

High transponder power

Not available everywhere in the world

Widely available

Low transponder power

Narrow beam coverage

Wider and even global beam coverage

Less terrestrial interference

Higher likely hood of terrestrial interference

1.6 VSAT Network Benefits, Application and Types:

1. Benefits of VSAT Networks.

From the application perspective, VSAT networks offer the many benefits as follows

§ Wide range of voice, video and data applications.

§ Robust and proven technology with high user satisfaction

§ Quicker network deployment

§ Direct and rapid access to telecommunications

§ Rapid response to market needs, because of ease of expansion

§ Ease of maintenance and reliability

It is not amazing that VSAT networks are being installed to resolve many telecommunication challenges. VSAT networks remain more effective and reasonable than terrestrial solutions

VSAT network have both Civilian and military applications.

Civilian VSAT Networks

2. Services supported by VSAT Networks (One Way and Two Way).

One Way VSAT Networks

Ø Stock market and other news broadcasting

Ø Training or continuing education at distance

Ø Distribution of financial trends and analyses

Ø Introduce new products at geographically dispersed locations

Ø Update market related data, news and catalogue prices

Ø Distribute video or TV programs

Ø Distribute music in store and public areas

Ø Relay advertising to electronic signs in retail stores

Two Way VSAT Networks

Ø Interactive computer transactions

Ø Low rate video conferencing

Ø Data base inquiries

Ø Bank transactions, ATM machines

Ø Distributed remote process control and telemetry

Ø Reservation systems

Ø Voice communications

Ø Emergency services

Ø Electronic funds transfer at point of sale

Ø E-mail

Ø Medical data transfer

Ø Sales monitoring and stock control

Ø Satellite news gathering (SNG)

1.7 Types Of Traffic

Depending on the service the traffic flow between the hub and the VSATs may have different characteristics and requirements.

Data Transfer or Broadcasting

Typically displays file transfers of 1-100 M bytes of data. This kind of service is not only delay sensitive but requires a high integrity of the data, which are transferred. Example of application is computer download and distribution of data remote sites.

Interactive Data

Interactive data is a two-way service corresponding to several transactions per minutes and per terminal of single packets 50 to 250 bytes long on both inbound and outbound links. The required response time is typically a few seconds. Example of applications is bank transactions and electronic funds transfer at point of sale.

Inquiry /Response

Inquiry / response are a two-way service corresponding to several transactions per minute and terminal. Inbound packets (typically 30-100 bytes). The required response time is typically a few seconds Example of applications is airline or hotel reservations and database inquiries.

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition

Supervisor control and data acquisition (SCADA) is a two way service corresponding to one transaction per second or minute per terminal. Inbound packets (typically 100 bytes) are longer than outbound packets (typically 10 bytes). The required response time ranges from a few seconds to a few minutes. What are most important in the high security level, and the low power consumption the terminal? Example of applications control and monitoring of pipelines, offshore platforms, electric utilities and water resources.

1.7.1 Military VSAT Network

Military forces in the world have adopted VSAT networks indeed the inherent flexibility in the deployment of VSAT s makes them a valuable means to install temporary communication link between small units in the battlefield and headquarters located near the hub. More over the topology of a star shaped network fits well into the natural information flow between field units and command base. Frequency bands are at X-band, with uplinks in the 7.9-8.4 GHz band and downlinks in the 7.25-7.75 GHz bands.

II Future Enhancement

The aim of this chapter is to discuss briefly possible future developments of VSAT technology.

2.1 LAN Interconnection

VSAT network provide an appropriate solution for typically burst LAN traffic, while retaining the ability to broadcast the same information, such as databases or application updates, to the number of remote sites.

The LAN/VSAT interface must support all the end-to-end function required by the LANs and their applications. For instance, the LAN/VSAT interface must have the ability to automatically learn addresses on the locally attached LANS, filter traffic on the LAN and only forward over the satellite link those messages destined for a terminal residing a distant LAN, attached either to the hub or to another VSAT to another, enabling communication between landsite hub act as a central switch, switching traffic received from one remote LAN to the LAN on which the addressed terminal resides.

2.2 Mutimedia

As of now, most existing LANs are not suitable for the transmission of delay sensitive traffic such as voice or video. So separate local networks are needed to support these. VSAT networks are able to interconnect both types of networks. In the future/present the end user will ask for a combination of services including text, graphics , video , audio and possibly animation, on a desktop personal computer, and the separate local networks for data and voice attached to the VSATs will merge into a single one. In any case, candidate satellite link protocols should be able to simultaneously support two types of traffic.

§ Stream Traffic

Typical for exchange of information such as voice and video processed in real time between and systems producing a continuous flow of bits with low tolerance for delay, jitter, etc therefore usually supported by circuit-switched networks.

§ Burst Traffic

Typical for exchange of digital data between computers based and systems, storing or processing those data not in real time, and best suited for packet oriented technologies.

2.3 Mobile Services

The trend towards smaller VSAT earth stations, when capable of offering the user a higher level of sophistication and large set of functionalities than those offered by the foreseen more simple portable or handset terminals of mobile satellite systems.

Eamples of such terminals could be

§ Briefcase portable office: such a terminal would offer the functionality of a laptop multimedia with facilities equivalent to those provided by basic rate ISDN communications. Therefore, the user would be provided by possible simultaneous voice, data and low rate video connections, referring to the well established architecture of a traditional VSAT station, one could imagine the outdoor unit as a briefcase and indoor unit in the form of a standard multimedia laptop computer. Connections between the laptop and the satellite terminal could be wired as with today's VSATs or more conveniently wireless, with the laptop possibly functioning independently of its associated briefcase while being plugged into the terrestrial ISDN access where available.


Owning to the flexibility of VSAT systems and their ability to cater directly to customer requirements, continuous rapid growth in installations is expected worldwide. The main advantages of VSAT systems are their flexibility and ease of installation. The established terrestrial network is certain to expand its coverage progressively, and in fixed configurations between large population centres it will provide the most efficient means of communications. VSATs, rather like motorcars are relatively inefficient in their use of resources, but are very convenient and flexible. With the relentless yearly increase in global demand for telecommunication services, further innovative developments in VSAT systems are assured.

Implementations of VSAT

Currently, the largest VSAT network consists of over 12,000 sites and is administered by Spacenet and MCI for the US Postal Service (USPS). Walgreens Pharmacy, Dollar General, CVS, Riteaid, Wal-Mart, Yum! Brands (such as Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Long John Silver's, and other fast food chains), GTEC, SGI, and Intralot also utilizes large VSAT networks. Many huge car corporations such as Ford and General Motors also utilizes the VSAT technology, such as transmitting and receiving sales figures and orders, along with announcing international communications, service bulletins, and for distance learning courses. An example of this is the "FordStar Network."

Two way satellite Internet providers also use the VSAT technology. Companies like StarBand, WildBlue, and HughesNet in the United States and SatLynx, Bluestream, and Technologie Satelitarne in Europe, and many other broadband services around the world in rural areas where high speed Internet connections cannot be provided use it too. A statistic from December 2004 showed that over a million VSATs were in place.


typical diagram of vsat and comparison of ku and c band


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