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31 May 2022

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Increasing momentum for DIFI standard boosts satellite communication in remote areas

Connectivity is a major issue for many countries trying to develop their digital economies. Particularly in remote areas, these countries lack a landline-based telecommunications infrastructure, which means they must look at satellite communication as a possible alternative. Despite there being standards governing satellite communications, it is often difficult to avoid vendor lock-in. That is where the DIFI consortium comes in.

Digital IF Interoperability Consortium (DIFI) is a global group of space companies, organizations, and government agencies that promote the interoperability of ground systems. Satellites and spacecraft require ground stations to receive data and telemetry, track and command, and deliver connectivity.

As the number and complexity of satellites in orbit continues to grow, traditional ground station solutions will not be able to keep up. For ground stations to become more flexible and more efficient, they need to simplify their operations, embrace software-based solutions, and build multi-vendor infrastructures at the same time. Software-based solutions require digital signals, so the analog intermediate frequency (IF) has to be converted to digital in order to be integrated. One of the objectives of the consortium is to digitize antenna systems by using a standard that is open, simple, and easily adopted. When the signals, and thus the data, are digitized, they can be processed, stored, and distributed using cloud services.

The consortium has been gaining traction since 2021. A major turning point in this process was when DIFI and DIS joined forces to create a single standard. Seven members of the Digital Interface Standards Working Group (DIS) joined the DIFI consortium. With this consolidation, the industry is working together for common satcom interoperability standards.

The DIFI standard, 'IEEE-ISTO Std 4900-2021: Digital IF Interoperability Standard, v1.0' has been generally available since August last year. It has already been approved by DIFI's board of directors and has been included in at least one U.S. Department of Defense Request For Proposal (RFP). This document was for Enterprise Digital IF Multi-Carrier (EDIM) Modem Specification. Members will continue to extend, adapt, improve, and certify the current version 1.0. These efforts will continue as long as the technology and use cases evolve. The standard can be downloaded from the consortium's website.

The Digital IF Interoperability Consortium added five more members last week, from different industries. Among them are Amazon Web Services (cloud services), Amergint Technologies (software-based architecture for mission-critical applications), SpaceBridge (satellite solutions for broadband interconnectivity), Thinkom Solutions (low-profile antennas for high-speed connectivity in remote areas) and TEMIX Communication (satellite and wireless communication systems).

Photo credit: Robert Linder

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