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Satellite Communications Testing: Applications, Tools & Best Practices

Satellite Communications Testing: Applications, Tools & Best Practices

Satellites are an increasingly important component in global communication, both in business and the defense industry. As a network option, it’s flexible and supports a wide variety of services — and its range is much greater than alternatives.

Regardless of the application, users always desire simpler access, more real-time information, and more modern exchanges. At some point, problems are bound to happen. Overloads occur, performance degrades, applications slow down, users become irritated, and opportunities are lost. This is why testing your satellite links is so important.

However, navigating satellite application performance testing comes with its own set of challenges, particularly when conducting these tests on real hardware with live links. Bandwidth monitoring is especially challenging with satellite networks because of the nature of the equipment. Luckily, cutting-edge technology like network emulators and traffic generation tools address many of these limitations. Let’s look at the strategies and tools that can empower your organization to harness the full potential of satellite networks without compromising on performance.

Why Use Satellites?

Many traditional networking options have trouble reaching remote locations. Businesses and individuals there do not have the same access to broadband services as those in urban areas, which leaves a digital divide.

Satellites overcome this divide with the broadest coverage of any network option. Because their infrastructure orbits the earth, satellite networks can reach locations that others can’t, on land or at sea.

Internet connectivity is the most popular application for satellites. These services offer businesses and individuals a lot of bandwidth, so they can access the Internet, conduct business, and shop online. What’s more, satellites work well with many applications and are the primary mechanism to support broadcast media. In fact, most television channels are transmitted via satellite. The technology also works well with video conferencing and video streaming applications.

Satellite networks are also essential for recovery operations following natural disasters. Oftentimes, terrestrial network connections encounter problems with downed power lines, flooding, and other obstacles. Because satellite circumvents those problems, it is a powerful backup option.

For these reasons and more, the satellite network market is thriving. Over 7,000 satellites currently orbit the earth today, relaying data, voice, and video. The global Internet satellite services market generated $4.85 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $9.39 billion by 2027, a Compound Annual Growth Rate of 15.6%. It’s no secret that satellites are increasingly the cornerstone networking technology for many businesses.

What Industries Use Satellite Networks?

Various industries are now harnessing the power of satellite technology to revolutionize their operations and overcome geographical barriers. Satellites play a pivotal role in sectors from defense and agriculture to maritime, aviation, and beyond.

  • Defense – The defense industry and satellite communications have a deeply connected history. Over the years, many governments have funded development and deployment of satellites and used them for many different applications. They are particularly important for operations where traditional communication infrastructure may be lacking or unreliable. For instance, satellites offer global coverage, allowing military forces to communicate and coordinate across vast distances.

  • Farming – Satellites provide weather monitoring and forecasting information, so farmers can predict the weather headed their way. The information helps them in planning tasks like planting, watering, fertilizing, and harvesting. They are also better able to set schedules, manage irrigation, mitigate risks, and maximize their crop yields.

  • Maritime – Satellite-based navigation systems, such as the Global Positioning System, are an integral component for navigation and the positioning and monitoring of vessels. Accurate location data allows ships to gain safe passage, avoid collisions, avert significant weather problems, and move efficiently through their travels.

  • Aviation – Satellites provide a comprehensive view of air traffic across different regions. This data enables air traffic controllers to coordinate traffic patterns and prevent collisions in busy areas. Satellite connections are also now the primary way airlines offer their customers Internet access during travel.

  • Energy – Oil and gas fields, pipelines, and renewable energy installations are often stationed in remote areas. Satellite technology allows energy companies to remotely monitor and manage their assets. They deploy real-time data collection equipment that reports on device performance and monitors issues, like temperature spikes that may impede system performance or create safety concerns.

  • Mining – Satellite data helps mining companies evaluate and select optimal sites by providing insights into local topography, land use, and environmental conditions. The information aids these enterprises in the planning, development, and execution of their mining operations.

In order to deploy any of these applications, you need to be able to trust the connection will continue working under various conditions. Let’s take a closer look at some of the challenges associated with testing these connections along with some effective solutions.

Problems With Satellite Network Usage

While the capabilities of satellite networks are vast, they certainly come with challenges. As satellite usage skyrockets across industries, it pays to consider common problems.

Declining Network Quality

As special purpose solutions (like the Internet of Things) play increasingly important roles in ongoing system maintenance, more organizations are implementing special solutions proactively to avoid downtime. As companies add more of these heavy applications, there is a noticeable effect on network bandwidth.

Internet connection typically operates on a first-come, first-served basis. If a bandwidth-intensive application like video streaming takes over a communication line, it leaves little to no bandwidth for other applications. What’s worse, some organizations have limited budgets, and satellite network upgrades can be time-consuming, complex, and expensive. All of these factors together result in poor network quality that degrades over time.


Today, employees are under intense pressure to complete more work in less time. When too many users try to send information at one time, the network load exceeds a critical point, and the risk of network buffer overflow and packet loss increases. This leads to congestion that can cause significant delays or application failure.

Network Buffer Overflows

Network equipment has limits on the traffic it can process. When too much information floods a system, it often dumps some packets to prevent the entire system from going down. Consequently, information has to be retransmitted or in some cases is simply lost.

Increased Latency, Lost Packets, and More

Response time is an important consideration in today’s fast-moving competitive markets. The demand for real-time information is on the rise, so any slowdown in moving information from its source to its destination will negatively impact an organization.

As information moves across a congested network, systems rush, and in some cases, packets are lost in the transmission. As contention rises even further, application performance also falls. Users may sit for a few moments or longer waiting for the system to deliver what they need. In some cases, the system may fail completely.

How To Combat Satellite Network Problems

To enhance satellite network performance, many organizations use optimization techniques such as traffic management and load testing. Essential traffic management functions, including resource reservation, congestion control, traffic shaping, and buffer management, play a pivotal role in maintaining network stability by efficiently distributing certain resources.

Some satellite modems integrate Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities, which prioritize critical traffic based on predefined policies. These techniques aim to eliminate bottlenecks and minimize queue delays to enhance the overall network performance.

However, satellite optimization techniques like traffic management and load testing are perhaps the most important in solving congestion issues. When used effectively, these techniques help organizations gain a clear picture of network stability and other metrics for satellite link performance. These tests can help network engineers optimize satellite networks to sustain efficient communication lines, which ensures a smoother workflow.

What Type of Test Is Needed?

Several types of testing can help you optimize performance over your satellite network, such as:

End-to-End Satellite System Test

Above is an example of a relatively complex satellite network. In this kind of setup, you will want to test each individual network component and the entire system from end to end. This way, if you find problems with the network, you can identify where they might be coming from.

One of the best ways to do this is with a traffic generator, which allows you to simulate the kind of traffic your network might be handling at scale. It’s best practice to place a traffic generator on both sides of your network in order to measure throughput (with the proper bandwidth expectations), jitter, latency, loss, and other key metrics. This also helps you validate your QoS (Quality of Service) policies.

QoS Policy Validation

Quality of Service (QoS) is a guarantee that carriers usually offer their customers in which they commit to providing a set level of bandwidth and latency for important applications. However, to do this, your company will need to monitor performance and validate that QoS benchmarks are being met.

A traffic generator creates multiple streams (i.e., web browsing, video streaming, and VoIP traffic, etc.), so you can then determine how much packet loss and latency each stream is experiencing and correlate each stream’s performance to the QoS objectives. Measuring QoS on the application level is key, especially when the network is oversaturated — when resources are limited, you can make sure your network is prioritizing the right traffic.

Isolated Satellite Modem Test

Modems are a key element in a satellite link. To test them, you need both a network emulator and traffic generator. The traffic generator emulates the expected traffic types sent through your network. Then the network emulator imitates the dynamic conditions of the live satellite link so you can accurately measure the performance of the device, a modem, or other Device under Test (DUT).

Forwarding Rate Tests

The forwarding rate determines the maximum number of packets a device processes. Satellites often work with smaller packets because the infrastructure is more expensive than landlines, so finding the right packet size can be challenging. Large packets eat up too much bandwidth and slow down other transmissions, but small packets can still flood a network.

To determine the first mix, a company can send packets of various sizes through the network (e.g., starting with 64-byte packets and moving to jumbo frames that reach 9K). In addition, IMIX imitates typical internet traffic and can be used to benchmark performance to determine the ideal packet size during forwarding rate testing.

Resilience and Link Outages

Every network encounters problems, but satellite networks are notoriously volatile. Resilience is how a network recovers following disruptions like bad weather, hardware malfunctions, or link outages. It is vital for the network to have features which ensure that, when a link encounters a problem, it can successfully reroute traffic.

Interbeam Satellite Handover

Satellites revolve around the earth at high speeds. To maintain communication, they hand transmissions from one system to another, a process dubbed an interbeam handover. While this is some impressive technology, it isn’t perfect — even a smooth transition can cause significant packet loss.

With network emulation, you recreate the handover conditions (i.e., packet loss and intermittent outages) to ensure your application can still perform in worst case scenarios. Using traffic generation, you can measure the performance of each stream and understand where problems are occurring.

Satellite Testing Challenges & Solutions

While all of these tests can help you create a more stable, robust satellite network, they are difficult to achieve for several reasons — primarily with the methodology. For instance, testing over live satellite links may sometimes be necessary, but it isn’t always the most efficient or accurate.

  • Limited Availability – In some cases, you may have limited availability for testing. Most companies run their networks to be as efficient as possible, which may not leave you with a lot of time to test your network without slowing down your daily business applications. Testing live links also costs a great deal of money and increases the usage fees of the network.
  • Uncontrollable Conditions – Weather can also impact your testing, as live links are subject to current conditions that cannot be controlled. Satellites continuously move, and the network conditions constantly change. Heavy rain, snow, and thunderstorms can all interfere with sending or receiving satellite signals. However, you cannot easily test for worst-case scenarios or isolate individual network impairments with live links and real weather conditions. The same difficulties are present when testing bandwidth, which requires multiple people using the network at once.

To circumvent these problems, you need a solution to help you test your network in a controlled environment without impacting your regular workflows.

How To Fix the Satellite Testing Problem?

In order to guarantee reliable, repeatable results, you can simulate the network and generate traffic in the lab. However, satellite testing processes are quite complicated by design. You will need to carefully consider and emulate the complex and ever-changing conditions of live satellite networks with tools that provide realistic metrics.

But rather than perform testing on live links, you can emulate network conditions using network emulators and traffic generators. These tools provide enhanced visibility into network and application performance, with customizable parameters to account for unique variations in satellite network performance. You can then use that information to make changes and maximize your return on these investments.

With this method of testing, your enterprise network itself is not impacted. However, your organization can still gain clarity on how your network is performing, so you can make the necessary adjustments.

Benefits of Using Network Emulators and Traffic Generators

Testing performance over satellite links with network emulators and traffic generators can improve communication performance by identifying bottlenecks in the network architecture. Once you understand the source, your team can find ways to alleviate it.

  • Enhance Capacity Planning – By simulating different usage scenarios, network operators understand system performance and determine what, if anything, will be needed in the immediate future.
  • Improve Network Reliability – Satellite network reliability is an ongoing challenge. The testing provides you with an assessment of the reliability as well as predicting delays and potential equipment failures due to growing traffic loads.
  • Optimize Bandwidth – Testing provides visibility into which applications are using the bandwidth. Then, you can take steps to enhance efficiency.

Network Emulator

Apposite’s Netropy Network Emulation Tool emulates realistic network conditions in real time for a fraction of the cost of traditional testing. In the case of a satellite network, the emulator replaces the satellite link to mimic its somewhat unpredictable connection. Network characteristics like bandwidth limitations, latency, and packet loss can all be replicated with our emulator. You can even emulate random weather patterns that affect connectivity and dynamically change conditions over time. With this tool, your organization can test your applications under varying conditions (including worst case scenarios) to produce reliable results at lower cost and optimize your network to handle all sorts of challenges.

Traffic Generator

Our Netropy Network Traffic Generator is also powerful in evaluating satellite network performance. Our traffic generators replicate the streams of traffic traversing your network such as web browsing, video streaming, or a multitude of specialized applications to help analyze network device and application performance. You will then understand where and why bottlenecks arise and make the needed adjustments.

Final Thoughts

While satellite networks provide benefits beyond other types of technologies, they come with some inherent challenges. As organizations across sectors work to leverage this technology, reliability is key. But to optimize satellite application performance, you need the right testing tools.

The world’s largest and most important organizations turn to Apposite for help in testing their own satellite links. For close to two decades, our industry-leading satellite testing solutions have empowered companies like yours to understand how your networks operate, pinpoint problems, and fix them.

Don’t leave application performance up to chance. Test performance under all manner of network conditions with Apposite’s satellite testing solutions.

Want to learn more? Download the solution brief today.

Download Solution Brief: Testing the Performance of Satellite Systems and Devices

Discover how Apposite helps with the challenges of testing the performance of satellite systems and devices.