Satellite Solutions Reach New Heights in FY14

Posted by Mary Davie
on January 9, 2015

(This blog post is part of a multi-week series reviewing data and trends from GSA’s IT acquisition vehicles for FY14. Read previous posts at  http://gsablogs.gsa.gov/technology/)

Government relies on satellite solutions more and more to meet critical warfighter communications requirements. In addition, satellites provide network diversity and resilience in the event that a terrestrial-based network fails.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that use of commercial satellite services to government under GSA-DOD’s joint Satellite Communications (SATCOM) contracts grew more than 10% from 2013.

In total, usage exceeded $530 million in Fiscal Year 2014 (FY 2014). Nearly 1,200 services and items have been delivered through the SATCOM contracts since inception in 2011.

Worldwide communications, national defense, weather alerts, search and recovery, shipboard and maritime navigation, distance learning, and training, and many scientific and research programs depend on commercial satellite capacity. SATCOM also supports additional remote and mobile applications in the areas of humanitarian relief, disaster-response communications, and counter-terrorism efforts.

In total 64 agencies, including 45 civilian agencies, ordered satellite services from SATCOM contracts through the Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) Program in FY 2014. Of total orders, approximately 90% came from defense and 10% from civilian agencies.

Satellite Buying Trends

The buying patterns on the SATCOM contracts reveal which satellite services are most often used and how agencies are buying them.

Most commercial satellite requirements (around 80%) are being satisfied through use of  IT Schedule 70. These are mostly for satellite bandwidth (transponded capacity) and managed service solutions offered on a subscription basis. More complex solutions that often contain customized components associated with technology, geography, mobility, or security frequently leverage task orders via Custom SATCOM Solutions (CS2) and Custom SATCOM Solutions – Small Business (CS2-SB).

Transponded capacity, which agencies ordered from Schedule 70 Special Item Number (SIN) 132-54, is the use of dedicated bandwidth on a commercial communications satellite. It accounted for 70% of orders in FY 14. Agencies pay for service from fixed and mobile locations to a satellite and back to the end user.

FCSA offers bandwidth in eight separate frequency bands, the most popular being Ku (using frequencies of about 12 GigaHertz for terrestrial reception and 14 GigaHertz for transmission). Ku band dominated with 92% of the transponded capacity. Satellite service in Ku band uses smaller dishes, which can be physically mobile and more easily follow soldiers deployed around the globe to achieve their missions and communicate with their families.

Subscription services  (Schedule 70 SIN 132-55) accounted for 10% of government satellite solution demand last fiscal year. Custom satellite solutions through CS2 and CS2-SB orders accounted for 20% of the demand.

The SATCOM program is a strong supporter of small business. In 2014, $45 million (9% program-wide) of purchases went to small business. Of this, $19 million was through GSA’s-DOD’s joint CS2-SB contract and $26 million through Schedule 70.

Savings and Acquisition Efficiency for Satellite Services

In FY 2014, bandwidth prices using the FCSA contract averaged 34% off Schedule list prices. GSA estimates that the SATCOM centralized competition and increased price transparency driven by the GSA-DISA partnership saved the government $229 million in FY 2014, with $180 million of the savings attributed to DoD orders.

Also of note, the GSA-DoD joint contracts in FY 2014 continue to achieve a reduced number of contracts and acquisition cycles for satellite solution procurements, thereby generating further administrative savings.

For non-custom satellite solutions, the reduced acquisition lead time for task orders under Schedule 70 reduces time to award by about nine months (versus creating new contracts). Shorter acquisition times generally translate into lower administrative costs.

Looking to the future, defense needs will continue to dominate the government’s commercial satellite market. However, we also anticipate growth in civilian demand. This is especially true for the two predefined Schedule 70 SIN solutions, which lend themselves to quickly activated solutions for humanitarian and disaster support services.

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