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The Electronic Magazine of
Original Peer-Reviewed Survey Articles




This article surveys the alternative fade mitigation techniques for satellite
communication systems operating at Ku, Ka and V frequency bands. The specific
phenomena influencing the propagation of radiowaves on Earth-space links are also
overviewed. Emphasis is placed on modeling, experimental work carried out in the
past, and practical implementations related to each mitigation technique.

n the past decade, new and demanding satellite applications evolved, leading to spectral congestion of the conventional frequency bands allocated for satellite services,
namely L (1/2GHz), S (2/4GHz), and C (4/6GHz). Among
the recent developments in the satellite industry, one can
single out the proliferation of VSAT/USAT (very/ultra
small aperture terminals) systems destined primarily for
data applications, the provision of direct-to-home (DTH)
services by Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS) systems, and
the extension of satellite communications to non-geostationary (NGSO) orbit constellations. All the above systems,
including the conventional geostationary (GSO) satellite
systems belonging to the Fixed Satellite Service (FSS),
gradually tend to employ higher frequency bands to satisfy
the growing capacity requirements. Therefore, besides
operation at the Ku band (12/14GHz), the Ka band
(20/30GHz) and the V band (40/50GHz) have been investigated or even adopted in satellite systems recently put into
However, crossing the 10GHz frequency limit gives rise to
signal fading due to physical phenomena related to the propagation of radiowaves through the atmosphere [1]. The fade
margin, that is, the system gain insuring the necessary Quality
of Service (QoS) against various transmission and other
impairments, must be significantly increased to compensate
for the severe signal fading occurring at frequencies above
10GHz. The larger fade margins required are not feasible
either technically or economically. Under these conditions, it
is more difficult for satellite systems to satisfy the availability

and QoS specifications recommended by the Radiocommunications Sector of the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU-R) [2].
To make operation of modern satellite systems feasible at
frequencies above 10GHz, an appropriate fade mitigation
technique (FMT) must be adopted. Apart from satisfying
availability and QoS specifications, enhancing a satellite system with a FMT leads to realistic fade margins both economically and technically.
The purpose of this article is to overview the latest developments of FMTs for satellite communication systems operating in the 10GHz to 50GHz spectral region. Specifically,
FMTs are categorized with respect to their applications and
investigated with emphasis on modeling, prediction methods,
experimental work done in the past, and future trends. The
article also discusses the physical phenomena concerning the
propagation of radiowaves through the atmosphere at the frequency bands under consideration, as well as how they are
modeled in the recent literature.


The propagation phenomena concerning earth-space links
mainly originate in the troposphere and the ionosphere.
Respectively, propagation effects are separated into two categories [3]: ionospheric effects, influencing systems operating
below 3GHz, and tropospheric effects, influencing systems
operating above 3GHz. Since this article deals only with the

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004


Attenuation (dB)


n FIGURE 1. A satellite slant path affected by propagation impair-



13 14
Time (hour)





n FIGURE 2. Typical picture of attenuation fluctuations due to rain

and scintillations.


frequency spectrum above 10GHz, it will focus on the tropospheric effects. The most important tropospheric phenomena
affecting satellite communication systems at frequencies above
10GHz are summarized as follows.
Attenuation Due to Precipitation: When propagating
through rain, snow, hail, or ice droplets, radiowaves suffer
from power loss due to hydrometeor scattering (Fig. 1).
Although hydrometeor scattering is the major limiting factor
in the EHF band (>30GHz), hydrometeor absorption is the
dominant phenomenon causing power loss in the lower spectral part between 10GHz and 30GHz. The combined effect of
hydrometeor scattering and absorption results in a power loss
proportional in dB to the square of the frequency [4]. This
constitutes the main disadvantage of operating at the Ku, Ka,
or V frequency bands. As far as satellite systems are concerned, the depth of rain fades also depends on the elevation
and polarization angles. On the other hand, as rain attenuation depends unfavorably on the rainfall rate and the raindrop
size distribution, it affects heavily tropical and subtropical
regions. An indicative picture of rain fades is obtained from
Fig. 2, which illustrates a typical fade incident with a peak
value of 14dB. A variety of models exists for the prediction of
the average rain attenuation on an annual basis: Rec. ITU-R
P.618-7 [5], Leitao-Watson [6], Lin [7], Morita and Higuti [8],

and the EXCELL [9] model, all of them performing satisfactorily on a global scale. The methodology usually followed to
handle propagation phenomena involves the representation of
the fade depths as a function of time percentage and results in
calculating the time occurrence of outages for a given attenuation level. For example, in Fig. 3 the ITU-R model predicting the annual exceedance probability of rain attenuation is
implemented for the downlink frequency of the bands under
consideration, and for a hypothetical satellite link operating in
Athens, Greece.
Gaseous Absorption: Besides hydrometeor absorption,
gaseous absorption, mostly from oxygen and water vapor, contributes to the total attenuation of radiowaves, especially in
the case of low elevation angles. However, the contribution of
gaseous absorption to the total attenuation is small compared
to the attenuation due to rain. In Fig. 4 the frequency dependence of oxygen and water vapor absorption is presented in
terms of specific attenuation. One may observe that water
vapor is the main contributor to gaseous attenuation in the
frequency range just below 30GHz due to a maximum occurring at 22.5GHz. Moreover, other maxima that occur at
183GHz, 320GHz for water vapor and at 60GHz, 119GHz for
oxygen absorption lie outside the spectral region considered
in this article. The attenuation due to oxygen absorption
exhibits an almost constant behavior for different climatic


Ku band downlink frequency (12GHz)
Ka band downlink frequency (20GHz)
V band downlink frequency (40GHz)


Specific attenuation (dB/km)

Attenuation due to rain (dB)






Percentage of total time

n FIGURE 3. Rain attenuation vs. percentage of total time for a

satellite link operating in Athens, Greece (elevation angle = 30,

vertical polarization).

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004









-3 2









900 1000

Frequency, f(GHz)

n FIGURE 4. Specific attenuation vs. frequency [12]. Curve A:

mean global reference atmosphere 7.5gr/m3; curve B: dry atmosphere.

Ku band downlink frequency (12GHz)

Ka band downlink frequency (20GHz)
V band downlink frequency (40GHz)




Percentage of total time

n FIGURE 5. Cloud plus fog attenuation vs. percentage of total

time for a satellite link operating in Athens, Greece (elevation

angle = 30).

conditions, whereas the attenuation due to water vapor varies

with temperature and absolute humidity. A complete method
for calculating gaseous attenuation is given in Annex 1 of Rec.
ITU-R P.676-4 [10].
Cloud Attenuation: The liquid water content of clouds is
the physical cause of cloud attenuation. Prediction models for
this particular attenuation factor have been developed within
the framework of ITU-R [11] and elsewhere [12]. Figure 5
depicts attenuation values due to clouds and fog exceeded for
a certain range of probabilities. The ITU-R model was selected as the underlying prediction method for generating these
curves, which correspond to the three frequency bands examined in this survey.
Melting Layer Attenuation: At a certain height above
ground level, called the effective rain height, snow and ice
precipitation are converted into rain precipitation. The region
around this height is called the melting layer. During periods
of light rain and for low elevation angles, the melting layer
contributes significantly to the total slant path attenuation, as
verified by the relevant prediction model [13].
Sky Noise Increase: As attenuation increases, so does
emission noise (see Rec. ITU-R P.618-7). The same factors
previously mentioned, i.e. scatter/emission from precipitation
hydrometeors, contribute to noise increase, which is more
important than attenuation when earth stations with low noise
front ends are considered.
Signal Depolarization: Differential phase shift and differential attenuation caused by nonspherical scatterers (e.g.,
raindrops and ice crystals) cause signal depolarization.
Although this phenomenon does not affect single polarized
satellite systems, its effect becomes significant for systems
reusing frequency by transmitting two orthogonally polarized
signals for optimum RF spectrum utilization. In this case,
depolarization results in cross-polar interference, i.e. part of
the transmitted power in one polarization interferes with the
orthogonally polarized signal [14, 15]. In Fig. 6 the relevant
ITU-R method [5] has been employed to demonstrate the
long-term statistics of hydrometeor induced cross-polarization in the Athens, Greece area. The cross-polarization discrimination (XPD) not exceeded for various percentages of
time is shown only at the Ku and Ka bands, since validity
issues arise for the proposed model at frequencies above
Tropospheric Scintillations: Variations in the magnitude
and the profile of the refractive index of the troposphere lead

to amplitude fluctuations known as scintillations. These fluctuations increase with frequency and depend upon the length
of the slant path decreasing with the antenna beamwidth.
Amplitude fluctuations are also accompanied by a phase fluctuation. Returning to Fig. 2, apart from the apparent single
fade event, the fluctuations on the received signal are obvious.
Models estimating the effects of scintillations on the received
signal can be found in [5, 16] and [17].
Intersystem Interference: Interference may occur between
a satellite system and terrestrial systems, or between two
satellite systems whenever a frequency band is shared or
adjacent orbital positions are used. During clear sky conditions, intersystem interference is mainly caused by the sidelobes of the antennas and is reflected on the clear sky
carrier-to-interference ratio (C/I) nom . However, from the
propagation impairments perspective, intersystem interference is aggravated by potential differential rain attenuation,
A, whenever the desired signal undergoes a large rain
attenuation, while at the same time the undesired signal
from an adjacent satellite experiences a lower level of attenuation [1822]. In this case, the carrier-to-interference ratio
must be properly modified to account for the effect of rain
as follows
A =
( Ac AI )
I I nom
I nom
where AC, AI (expressed in dB) are the rain attenuation values on the intended and the interfering satellite path, respectively. To evaluate the time occurrence of such an event, i.e.
the percentage of total time the C/I is not exceeded due to
differential rain attenuation, the methodology described in
[18] yields the results presented in Fig. 7. In this figure, operation under (C/I) nom = 25dB and an aperture angle of 2
between the two satellites are assumed. Furthermore, to generate the three curves, a fade margin equal to 15dB has been
To conclude, several ITU-R Recommendations exist for
the prediction of the effects of most of the propagation phenomena. The methods recommended are widely used, easy to
apply, and agree satisfactorily with experimental results in various geographical regions. Still, due to the rare propagation

Ku band downlink frequency (12GHz)
Ka band downlink frequency (20GHz)
Cross-polarization, XPD (dB)

Attenuation due to clouds and fog (dB)








Percentage of total time

n FIGURE 6. Cross-polarization vs. percentage of total time for a

satellite link operating in Athens, Greece (elevation angle = 30,

vertical polarization).

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004


Carrier-to-interference ratio (dB)


clouds, and rain are incorporated. This model can be utilized for radio communications and remote sensing applications.



Ku band downlink frequency (12GHz)
Ka band downlink frequency (20GHz)
V band downlink frequency (40GHz)



Percentage of total time


n FIGURE 7. Carrier-to-interference ratio vs. percentage of total

time for a satellite link operating in Athens, Greece (elevation

angle = 30, (C/I)nom = 25 dB, aperture angle between the servicing and interfering satellite = 2, fade margin = 15dB).

measurements above 30GHz, the validity of only a few propagation models presented above has been tested.


Although prediction models for specific propagation phenomena perform satisfactorily, the simultaneous occurrence of
such phenomena, a strong possibility at the Ka band and
above [23], imposes the use of prediction models that take
into account the combined effect of attenuation factors. The
main problem encountered by researchers is the extent of
interdependence between separate propagation effects. For
example, the melting layer is associated with low intensity
rain, while gaseous absorption increases during rain events
due to the increased water vapor content in the atmosphere
Until recently, two different modeling approaches have
been considered. The first approach considers all attenuation
effects as being correlated, i.e. the total attenuation is given

The majority of the atmospheric phenomena discussed in the

previous section exhibit a stochastic behavior both in time and
space and, therefore, differ from all other deterministic factors (e.g., free space loss) that affect the satellite link under
clear sky link conditions. Since propagation impairments have
a significant impact only for less than one percent of the time
during a year, the system gain must be enhanced through an
additional fade margin carefully estimated to satisfy the
desired availability and QoS specifications.
For a satellite system, availability is defined as the time
percentage in a year during which the bit error ratio (BER)
is lower than a certain threshold, beyond which an outage of
the system occurs [27], whereas the fade margin is properly
defined as the difference in dB between the precipitation
induced attenuation leading to an outage and the attenuation under clear sky conditions. To elaborate on the concept
of availability, Fig. 8 illustrates the conversion from the rain
attenuation distribution shown in Fig. 3 to the corresponding BER distribution, assuming a clear sky bit energy to
noise power density ratio Eb/N0 of 12dB and a QPSK modulation scheme. From Fig. 8 it is deduced that if, for example, a BER threshold higher than 10 7 renders the system
unavailable, the outage percentage for this specific satellite
link will be 0.060 percent at the Ku band, 0.096 percent at
the Ka band, and 0.205 percent at the V band. In terms of
min/year this event takes place, the corresponding outage
times are 315.4min/year, 504.6min/year, and 1077.5min/year,
However, for satellite systems operating above 10GHz in
geographical regions characterized by heavy rainfall, the
simultaneous occurrence of different attenuation causes is
strongly possible and, consequently, the fade margin required
is large. Therefore, the use of a fade mitigation technique [28]
to permit operation under lower fade margins is imperative.
Based on the different design approaches concerning miti-

Atot = AO2 + AH2O + AC + AR + AML + AS


where AO2 , AH2O , AC , AR , AML , and AS stand for the attenuation due to oxygen, water vapor, cloud, rain, melting layer,
and scintillation, respectively.
The second approach treats attenuation effects as being
partially uncorrelated; therefore, RMS summing is adopted
for the total attenuation:
A2 + A2


+ AC2 + AR2 + AML
+ AS2

A combination method that reflects the interdependence

of the various attenuation factors better considers some of the
propagation effects uncorrelated [5, 25]. The corresponding
ITU-R recommendation adopts the following formula:
Atot = AO2 + AH 2 O +

( AC + AR )2 + AS2

Finally, a propagation model taking into account the

complex refractive index of the neutral atmosphere predicting path loss and delay for frequencies up to 1THz has been
developed [26]. The contributions from dry air, haze, fog,

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004




Atot =

Ku band downlink
frequency (12GHz)
Ka band downlink
frequency (20GHz)
V band downlink
frequency (40GHz)





Percentage of total time

n FIGURE 8. BER vs. percentage of total time for a satellite link

operating in Athens, Greece (elevation angle = 30, vertical
polarization, Eb/N0 = 12dB).

1 second
ahead rain
fade prediction

of rain fade

FIFO-2 samples


FIFO-21 samples


of scintillation


n FIGURE 9. FMT control loop flow chart in [39].

gation of signal impairments due to atmospheric propagation,
FMTs can be classified into three major categories:
EIRP control techniques
Adaptive transmission techniques
Diversity protection schemes
Despite their differences, to maximize link availability
some of the above FMTs usually perform the following series
of common functions [29]:
a) Observe/monitor link quality by performing continuous
measurements of propagation conditions.
b) Provide a short-term estimation/prediction of the behavior and the relevant duration of the next state of the
satellite channel.
c) Set/change the parameters of the system based on the
above short-term estimate.
Considering the above repetitive procedure, (a) can be carried out by measuring BER at the output of the receiver, from
which the corresponding E b /N 0 is calculated. This indirect
method of impairment detection requires the observation of a
sufficient number of errors before determining the fade level.
This imposes extra time delays before implementing mitigation. Another drawback of this indirect method is that the
BER increases very abruptly when the propagation conditions
deteriorate. Therefore, the use of direct estimation of fades
through carrier-to-noise measurements seems to be more suitable for propagation impairment detection.
On the other hand, real-time estimation of fades is a far
more difficult task due to the random nature of the various
physical phenomena. This happens because all the previous
prediction models, combined or not, refer to long-term and
yearly averaged statistics. As a result, the current trend concerning the prediction algorithms for the behavior of satellite
channels is the use of specific fade characteristics such as fade
depth, slope, duration or fade envelope, and fading rate in
combination with appropriate sampling of measured data. For
further information on the dynamic characteristics of rain
fades the reader is referred to [3035] and to the recently
released ITU-R recommendation P.1623 [36]. A crucial aspect
during real-time estimation of the attenuation during the next
state of the channel is the ability to distinguish the different
propagation impairments, so that the control algorithm
responds accordingly to each of them. In this course, frequency
domain separation (or frequency decomposition) of propagation factors can be effectively employed, based on the fact
that lower frequency components of the attenuation power
spectrum are associated with gaseous absorption, mid frequencies with clouds and rain, and higher frequencies with
scintillations. Thus, the necessary separation is achieved
through appropriate filtering [37].

Furthermore, in many of the proposed

short-term prediction models, some kind of
frequency scaling is incorporated. Frequency
scaling [5, 38] is applied whenever the rain
induced attenuation is measured at a frequency different than the frequency of the
communication link under consideration. A
characteristic application of frequency scaling is when measurements of a downlink
beacon signal are used to predict the rain
attenuation on the uplink.
Frequency scaling and all the other operations mentioned above for the
detection/estimation of fades are usually
incorporated in a control loop, similar to the
one presented in Fig. 9, obtained from [39].
Although the operation of the system
described in [39] takes place at the Ka band,
a 12.5GHz beacon signal is used to predict the fade depth.
The beacon signal is first lowpass filtered (frequency domain
separation) to separate scintillations from rain fades. Then
each component of the 12.5GHz signal is scaled to the corresponding Ka band frequency so that a prediction for each
phenomenon can be made.


EIRP (effective isotropic radiated power) is the product of
the transmitted power and the antenna gain, usually expressed
in dBw. EIRP control consists of varying either the carrier
power or the antenna gain in order to compensate for the
power losses due to propagation effects. The adjustment of
the carrier power can be accomplished either at the earth station (uplink power control (ULPC)) or on-board the satellite
(downlink power control (DLPC)), called earth station EIRP
control or satellite EIRP control, respectively. The advantages
and disadvantages of both techniques will be reviewed in a
later section. Moreover, the adjustment of the antenna gain
carried out on-board the satellite, a technique referred to as
spot beam shaping (SBS), may be viewed as another type of
satellite EIRP control.
In principle, power control may be implemented in two
As an open loop power control system, in which the transmitted power is adjusted based on measurements of
recently received power either from a pilot frequency or
from the information signal itself.
As a closed loop power control system, in which the transmitted power is adjusted based on reported power measurements over the channel.
In closed loop power control systems the transmitter (earth
station or satellite) decides whether or not to vary the output
power after receiving feedback information from the receiver
and not based on estimates of the attenuation only. This theoretically results in a much more comprehensive control system. In practice, however, when applied to satellite systems
the closed loop system must cope with propagation delays of
twice the round trip time between the earth station and the
satellite for regenerative satellites, or four times the round
trip time for transparent satellites. For GSO satellite systems,
the propagation delay almost cancels the possibility of a
closed loop system responding to channel changes, particularly since the most aggravating atmospheric phenomena (deep
rain fades, scintillations) have short durations.
Uplink Power Control ULPC [40, 41] is achieved by vary-

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004

ing the transmit power of an earth station in order to keep the

flux density at the satellite input from falling below a certain
level. Adopting the open loop principle for the rest of this
section, the adjusting of the high power amplifier (HPA) of
the earth station is based only on attenuation measurements,
without resorting to any feedback from the receiver. In the
case of transparent satellite repeaters, the adjustment of the
carrier power from the transmitting earth station aims to control both the uplink and downlink power levels, by compensating not only for propagation impairments on the uplink, but
also possible propagation impairments on the downlink.
A possible problem caused by ULPC is adjacent channel
interference [42], when part of the energy of the satellite signal
falls into adjacent channels. When the control system predicts
a deep fade in the next channel state, the HPA output back-off
(i.e. the margin between the operation point and the saturation point) is decreased to compensate for the uplink attenuation. The result is the partial restoration of the sidelobes of
the signal spectrum and the creation of interference into adjacent channels.
Adjacent satellite interference is a type of intersystem interference due to ULPC. The rapid growth of satellite communications in the past two decades has led to congestion on the
geostationary orbit, where the majority of commercial satellite
systems exist. Nowadays, satellites are separated by 23
degrees on the geostationary orbit and, therefore, an increase
of an earth station transmit power may impair the operation
of adjacent satellite systems.
Despite the drawbacks mentioned above, ULPC constitutes an effective countermeasure against signal fading and is
preferred today by many satellite operators. Its main prerequisite is the availability of extra back-off under clear sky conditions, so that the margin necessary for ULPC under fading
conditions may be provided.
Downlink Power Control DLPC [43] is achieved by
increasing the transmit power of a satellite. Unlike ULPC, it
is very difficult to implement DLPC due to limitations related
to the satellite size and weight, as well as to the limited ability
of controlling the satellite operation. Specifically, the satellite
size and weight limit the use of TWTA (traveling wave tube
amplifiers), which must operate at a small output back-off.
Apart from the possible adjacent channel interference, DLPC
may also create intermodulation interference [42], a type of
interference caused by intermodulation products generated by
the nonlinear amplification of multiple carriers. The choice of
the multiple access scheme is significant, with single-carrierper-transponder TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) systems being less affected. This tolerance to interference is one
of the main reasons why TDMA schemes have become preferable in recent years compared to FDMA (Frequency Division
Multiple Access) schemes.
Finally, DLPC also contributes to intersystem interference.
A significant increase of satellite power to overcome severe
signal degradations could create interference with spectrally
overlapping terrestrial networks as local multipoint distribution systems and violate the regulations concerning power flux
density. This drawback of DLPC is even more pronounced
when the adaptive control loop allocates the extra power ineffectively due to the occurrence of false alarms or its application longer than required.
Spot Beam Shaping When the service area of a GSO
satellite is confined within a country or a certain geographical
region, the coverage is provided by spot beams, so that there is
no waste of satellite EIRP and the spectrum is efficiently
used. A spot beam produces a higher satellite EIRP than a

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004

global one, since the antenna beamwidth reduction increases

its gain.
The SBS technique consists of appropriately shaping the
satellite antenna pattern so that the power received on the
ground remains nearly constant, even under rainfall conditions. In a study conducted by the European Space Agency
(ESA) [44], a multi-feed antenna with a beam forming network and a Cassegrain antenna with a single feed and two
shaped reflectors were evaluated as possible solutions for
implementing SBS. The conclusion of this study is that the
first solution is more flexible and allows higher adaptive gains.
A major advantage of SBS is that real-time or instantaneous estimates of the attenuation, a requirement that constitutes the most difficult function of an FMT control loop, are
not needed since compensation is carried out over the entire
coverage area rather than for a single site. Short-term weather
predictions termed as nowcasting and obtained through satellite imagery could be used in order to analyze the evolution of
the meteorological situation and forecast the propagation conditions [45]. Another significant advantage of SBS compared
to power control is that compensation for rain attenuation is
achieved by shaping the antenna pattern and not by reducing
the output back-off of the amplifiers. Thus, the undesirable
effects of intermodulation interference due to amplifier operation near saturation are minimized.
The significant advantages of SBS indicate a wide interest
in future satellite systems. Nevertheless, its use to date has
been limited because the relevant technology is immature and
research is in its initial stages. Specifically, the use of large
active antennas on-board the satellite and the feasibility of
reshaping spot beams without penalizing the global coverage
are some of the imposed limitations. SBS is a subset of the
wider concept of on-board processing (OBP) and its feasibility
is directly connected to the advancements in this specific field.
OBP aims at enhancing the processing capabilities of satellite
transponders to provide user oriented services, such as narrowcasting/multicasting, TCP/IP, and point-to-point or pointto-multipoint services on demand. Thus, the additional
equipment intended for OBP contains on-board
modulators/demodulators, a baseband switch to accommodate
end user applications, and a system controlling the direction
and the coverage of spot beams.


Techniques belonging to this category focus on modifying the
manner in which signals are processed/transmitted by the
nodes of a satellite network (earth stations, satellites) whenever the link quality is degraded. The different types of signal
processing are available to more than one earth station on
demand. Therefore, adaptive transmission techniques are considered to be resource-shared FMTs. They can be further classified into three categories: hierarchical coding (HC),
hierarchical modulation (HM), and data rate reduction
Hierarchical Coding Coding is adopted by satellite systems for the detection and correction of bit errors, by adding
redundancy to the information signal. As the redundancy
increases, the error probability is decreased but, at the same
time, the bandwidth required also increases. Thus, error correction coding may be seen as a trade-off between bandwidth
and power requirements to achieve a certain error probability.
Considering the open and closed loop control alternatives,
in many satellite communication applications the decoding
procedure is performed at the receiver without having to
resort to any feedback from the transmitter. This type of error







Percentage of total time

n FIGURE 10. BER vs. percentage of total time for a Ka band

satellite downlink (20GHz) operating in Athens, Greece (elevation angle = 30, vertical polarization, Eb/N0 = 12dB).

correction coding is called FEC (forward error correction). In

another type of error correction coding called ARQ (automatic repeat request), error detection and correction is achieved
by retransmitting the erroneous blocks of bits. ARQ is widely
implemented in satellite packet communications under the
main limitation of the large propagation delays involved.
Therefore, ARQ schemes are best suited for data applications, as in the case of VSAT/USAT networks.
Error correcting codes were initially designed for use
against randomly spaced errors, i.e. those caused by thermal
noise. However, after the emergence of satellite links operating above 10GHz, where fading caused by precipitation is
the main reason for signal degradation, errors occur in
bursts and not independently. Therefore, the availability of a
satellite link can be preserved by varying the rate of codes
more resistant to bursts. A technique known as interleaving is
effective at minimizing the effect of burst errors by spreading each message in time [46]. The rationale behind this
technique is to apply coding to the columns of a shift register arranged as a matrix and then transmit the coded word
row-wise, so that after descrambling the errors are spread
and can be considered independent. However, interleaving
proves efficient only against very short fades, particularly
against scintillation.
Whenever the link suffers from severe propagation impairments, more efficient coding schemes that may be employed
within the scope of HC may originate from concatenated
codes [46], i.e. combinations of block codes with convolutional codes. For the rest of the time, a less complex coding
scheme may be used. An example of concatenated codes
widely used in practice to combat error bursts is to combine
the Reed Solomon outer code and use convolutional coding
as the inner code together with Viterbi decoding at the
receiver. Finally, a quite recent development in the area of
coding is the parallel concatenated convolutional codes with
interleaving, widely known as turbo codes [46]. Despite the
decoding delay and computational complexity involved, the
significant coding gain produced by turbo codes has drawn
the interest of satellite communications, even leading to the
standardization of these codes in small terminal satellite networks.
Hierarchical Modulation HM decreases the ratio Eb/N0
required for a certain BER level by reducing the spectral efficiency (in bps/Hz) when the carrier-to-noise power ratio C/N

at the input of the demodulator decreases due to propagation

effects. During heavy rainfall events, HM techniques exchange
spectral efficiency for power requirements, whereas the EIRP
control techniques previously examined react to this aggravating situation by adjusting the carrier power.
The most commonly used modulation scheme in satellite
communications is PSK (phase shift keying) modulation. To
obtain higher spectral efficiency, that is, to transmit more
bits per second without requiring more RF bandwidth, HM
employs higher-order PSK schemes such as QPSK, 8-PSK,
16-PSK, and 64-PSK, leading to 4, 8, 16, and 64 phase
states, respectively. It is also possible to vary carrier phase
and amplitude simultaneously. The resulting type of modulation is called QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation).
In general, as the order M of an M-ary PSK or M-ary QAM
scheme increases, the spectral efficiency of the communication link becomes higher. On the other hand, since the separation between consecutive amplitude and/or phase states
is reduced, these higher-order modulation schemes become
more susceptible to errors. As a result, a HM system utilizes
highly efficient modulation schemes such as 16-PSK, 64PSK, or 256-QAM under clear sky conditions and more
robust modulation schemes such as BPSK or QPSK under
heavy meteorological conditions [47]. A performance comparison of three modulation schemes taking into account
the annual rain attenuation is given in Fig. 10, where the
relevant model in [27] is used. The percentages of outage
considering a typical 10 3 voice circuit BER are 0.036 percent, 0.058 percent, and 0.073 percent for QPSK, 8-PSK,
and rectangular 16-QAM, respectively. Figure 10 clearly
shows that it is almost impossible for a HM system under
fading conditions to operate using higher-order modulation
schemes, and that the transition to a lower modulation, such
as BPSK or QPSK, is necessary.
HM is preferably implemented as a closed loop FMT,
where the receiving earth station communicates with the
transmitting station through a terrestrial return link in low
transmission rates. For open loop HM, a modem that adapts
to the changing modulation orders must be available. In any
case, the use, if possible, of either closed loop or open loop
HM is better suited for localized satellite systems such as
VSAT systems, excluding its implementation in large gateway
Data Rate Reduction This signal processing technique
involves the reduction of the information data rate whenever
the control system monitoring the next channel state foresees
possible deep fading. A DRR technique using this principle to
counteract propagation fading has been designed in the
framework of the OLYMPUS project [47] and in a simulation
of a Ka-band VSAT videoconferencing system [48]. In both
cases, the information data rate (2.048 Mb/s) under clear sky
conditions is decreased by a factor of 2, 4, or 8 according to
the channel quality. The gain obtained from this data rate
reduction in terms of the margin over the required Eb/N 0 is
3dB, 6dB, and 9dB, respectively. The bandwidth and the synchronization BER threshold at the receiver are kept constant
by combining the information data rate with a pseudo-random
data sequence of appropriate rate. This procedure results in
data spreading with higher processing gains corresponding to
higher spreading factors.
The use of HC and HM in multiple access systems imposes
longer bursts in the same frame (TDMA), or larger bandwidth (FDMA) for the user utilizing the link most affected by
propagation impairments. Therefore, the rest of the users
have limited access to the shared resources of the FMT system (more efficient coding schemes, modulation of higher

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004

n FIGURE 11. Double-site diversity.

order). In contrast, the DRR results only in a decrease of the
required C/N ratio when the link experiences fading.
Although DRR exhibits the advantage of equally distributing the satellite resources (bandwidth, burst length) to every
user, its applicability depends on how services can tolerate a
significant reduction of information rate. For example, video
or data transmission can be carried out successfully since they
do not depend strongly on the information data rate, in which
case the upper network layers are left unaffected, though this
is not the case for voice transmission.


Diversity protection schemes are countermeasures oriented
against rain fades. As such, they constitute the most efficient
FMTs, since rain induced attenuation is the main factor deteriorating the availability and performance of a satellite link
operating above 10GHz. The set of diversity techniques consists of site diversity (SD), orbital diversity (OD), frequency
diversity (FD), and time diversity (TD). The first two techniques take advantage of the spatial structure of the rainfall
medium, whereas FD and TD are based on the spectral and
the temporal dependence of rain, respectively.
There are two factors widely used to describe diversity performance: the diversity gain G and the diversity improvement I
[49]. The former is defined as the difference between the single site attenuation (without diversity reception) and the joint
attenuation (with diversity reception) both expressed in dB for
the same probability level. The latter is defined as the ratio of
the single site exceedance probability to the joint one, for the
same attenuation value.
Site Diversity Depending on the seasonal characteristics
and the location, rain takes the form of either stratiform rain
or convective rain. In the case of stratiform rain, the rainfall
rate ranges from low to medium and exhibits great spatial
homogeneity. On the other hand, convective rain consists of
raincells having a diameter of up to 5km, within which high
rainfall rates occur. The raincells are surrounded by wider
areas of stratiform rain. The inhomogeneity of rainfall within
the raincells, where most of the fading occurs, leads to a
decorrelation of the attenuation of signals following different
paths. Consequently, if the signal is received via different
paths, it is quite likely that a deep fade will occur only on one
of them, leaving the others less affected by it.
SD takes advantage of this characteristic of convective rain
by engaging either two (double site diversity) or three (triple
site diversity) earth stations to ensure that the probability of
attenuation occurring simultaneously on the alternative earth-

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004

Orbital Diversity Even though SD can be considered as

the most efficient diversity scheme from a technical perspective, its cost effectiveness is under investigation given that SD
requires at least two earth station installations along with a
terrestrial connection. This led to the development of orbital
diversity (or satellite diversity) which allows earth stations to
choose between multiple satellites. Similarly to SD, OD also
adopts a re-route strategy for the network and, therefore, can
be applied only for FSS [54].


Single site
Double site (D=10km)
Double site (D=20km)



space paths is significantly less than the relevant probability

occurring on either individual path. Then the signals received
at each earth station are sent to a master station where they
are further processed based on a certain criterion (switched
combining, selection combining, or maximal ratio combining)
to improve the carrier-to-noise power ratio C/N [50]. In
switched combining the switching procedure between the stations occurs only when the C/N ratio at some station exceeds
the corresponding ratio at the other stations by more than the
hysteresis margin. By selection combining the best C/N ratio
at any time is selected, whereas the maximal ratio combining
synthesizes the available signals in a weighted manner.
Experimental work on SD has been carried out since the
early 1970s, a fact that confirms the maturity and effectiveness
of this technique. Furthermore, there exist many prediction
models estimating the performance of a SD scheme. They are
classified into two major categories: empirical models and
physical models. The first category includes methods proposing
simple formulas with parameters that appropriately fit existing
data. Physical models are based on the understanding of the
physical mechanisms causing attenuation and use experimental data for validation purposes only. Representative of this
category are the models proposed in [5153].
The most important factor affecting the diversity gain
offered by SD systems is the separation distance D between
the earth stations (Fig. 11). Larger values of D result in surpassing intense raincells producing diversity gains up to 30dB,
a value that is the highest gain achieved by any FMT. The
dependence of a double SD system on the separation distance
D in terms of the exceeded BER is presented in Fig. 12 [27]
for different values of D. QPSK modulation, operation at the
Ka band downlink frequency (20GHz), and clear sky Eb/N0 =
12dB are assumed.





Percentage of total time

n FIGURE 12. BER vs. percentage of total time for a Ka band

satellite downlink operating in Athens, Greece (elevation angle

= 30, vertical polarization, Eb/N0 = 12dB).

n FIGURE 13. Double-orbital diversity.

OD is implemented more economically compared to SD,
since switching and all the other diversity operations can be
carried out in a single earth station, with backup satellites
already considered in orbit. However, as far as the produced
diversity gain is concerned, the superiority of SD comes from
the fact that the separation of the alternative slant paths is
greater than the separation found in OD systems. In fact, the
main geometrical parameter affecting the performance of OD
is the angular separation between the satellites (Fig. 13). A
smaller decorrelation of rain attenuation on the alternative
slant paths is obtained through OD systems compared to the
decorrelation achieved by SD systems with large values of the
separation distance D. This point was investigated by a recently proposed model [55] that correlates the two basic geometrical parameters of SD and OD to obtain the optimum technical
solution between the two diversity alternatives. Figure 14
shows an application of this model and demonstrates the relationship between D and so that SD and OD achieve the
same diversity gain.
Experimental data coming from OD experiments are far
less than relevant data concerning SD systems. In this context, important information on OD performance resulted
from experiments employing the GSO satellites SIRIO and
OTS operating at the Ku frequency band [56] and those
employing the GSO satellites OLYMPUS and ITALSAT
operating at the Ka frequency band [57]. Finally, among the
prediction methods concerning the performance of OD, the
simple model proposed by Panagopoulos et al. [58] and the
analytical model proposed by Matricciani [59] should be
Frequency Diversity In general, as the frequency of
operation increases, a satellite link suffers more from precipitation (fading, scintillation, depolarization, etc). Therefore,
since most satellites have available on-board repeaters operating at various frequency bands, the lower bands may be
utilized when deep fades occur. This technique, known as
frequency diversity (FD), employs the use of high frequency
bands (Ka or EHF) during normal operation and switches
over to spare channels at lower frequency bands (C or Ku)
when the attenuation due to rain exceeds a certain threshold
[60]. To emphasize the possible gains that may be achieved
by FD, Fig. 3 may be employed. An outage percentage of 0.1
percent requires a fade margin of 19 dB for operation in the
V band, while the corresponding fade margin required for
operation at the Ku band is only 2dB, resulting in a FD gain
of 17dB.
Although for the implementation of FD the space segment
of a satellite system does not require any additional equip-


In the framework of the COST 255 campaign [62], some very
useful conclusions were drawn about the FMTs presented in
the previous sections. Based on the results of this study, these
conclusions are summarized in Table 1, listing the availability
range of each FMT, the maximum gain in dB, and the main
limiting factor for its implementation.
To elaborate on these conclusions, ULPC only adjusts the
earth station power and, therefore, can be implemented for
most of the time, resulting in a very flexible technique. Apart
from the limitations of the satellite amplifier, the same is true
for DLPC. ULPC and DLPC are sufficient to counteract only
for a fraction of the total attenuation, such as weak precipitation and the effect of clouds, events that are bounded by the

Ku band downlink frequency (12GHz)
Ka band downlink frequency (20GHz)
V band downlink frequency (40GHz)


Site separation in SD (km)

ment, specific RF hardware and an extra antenna must be

provided for every earth station. Another drawback in the use
of FD is associated with capacity allocation. In the 20/30GHz
band, large bandwidths are available, whereas at lower frequencies the capacity is limited, excluding services demanding
large bandwidth.
Time Diversity TD is a relatively new FMT applicable to
services that can tolerate time delays, since it involves the
repeated transmission of data corrupted by strong fading. The
difference between TD and ARQ is that the former does not
use a fixed or random retransmission period. Instead, retransmission is related to the propagation phenomenon and is
determined through an estimate of its duration. It is evident
that the performance of a TD scheme is closely related to
fade duration, and more specifically, to time intervals between
fades. An illustration of the behavior of these parameters in
an equatorial climate is given in [61], where it is pointed out
that the most damaging cases of fading (i.e. fades above10dB)
exhibit an interfade interval between 4min and 8min. Therefore, the iterative procedure of TD must, in this case, operate
with a frame length less than this time period. Video on
demand, multimedia, and data applications can tolerate time
delayed repetitions and, therefore, are compatible with TD.



Angular separation in OD (deg)



n FIGURE 14. Site separation D in SD vs. angular separation in

OD yielding the same diversity gain for a satellite link operating

in Athens, Greece (elevation angle for SD = 30, second elevation angle for OD = 50, rain fade depth = 8dB).

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004


(%) of year

Maximum achievable
gain (dB)

Limiting factor

0.1 percent time percentage. The limiting factor

of SBS is the immaturity of research in the field
5 (VSAT), 15 (hubs)
Earth station power range
of adaptive antennas and the control of spot
beam distribution. However, this technique allows
3 (satellite TWTA)
Satellite power range
the mitigation of propagation impairments
5 (satellite antenna)
Immature research
induced by stratiform rain over an area of some
hundreds of kilometers.
Simultaneous fading in
HC/HM 0.01-1
1015 (Eb/N0 range)
Because they operate on a common resource
many stations
basis, adaptive transmission techniques are of
interest in systems where only a few earth staDRR
Rate reduction intolerant
tions experience fading at the same time, or else
the resource will run out. This primarily affects
1030 (convective rain) Cost
multiple access systems during rare (heavy
clouds) or local (convective rain) impairments,
Switching between satellites
i.e. impairments occurring with low time percentage. In contrast, DRR does not significantly
30 (between Ka and Ku) Cost
affect multiple access systems, but is only suitable
Table 1. Comparison of the various FMTs based on the conclusions from
for applications that can tolerate a decrease of
COST 255.
the information rate.
Geometrical diversity techniques (SD, OD)
are more efficient if the atmosphere exhibits
inhomogeneities, so that alternative paths less affected by rain
TDMA) technique, widely used together with very/ultra small
attenuation exist. This corresponds to the convective type of
aperture terminal (VSAT/USAT) and return channel satellite
precipitation that occurs only for low time percentages. For
terminal (RCST) networks, is a characteristic implementation
SD the main limitations come from cost consideration due to
of mixed FMT. In general, adaptive MF-TDMA systems
the additional earth station and the implementation of a teradopt a shared resource approach by reserving a pool of time
slots within the frame shared among all earth terminals during
restrial link to further process the jointly received signals. Furperiods of high signal attenuation. These time slots are needthermore, as the study in [62] reports, with OD an interruption
ed to offer the system lower coding/data rates and modulation
of service may occur during the shift from one satellite to the
schemes of lower level, and thus provide for the necessary
other. The duration of this interruption could be minimized
additional fade margin. As a result, when a terminal is subject
employing sophisticated tracking software and if active or dual
to fading, an appropriate portion of the shared resource via a
beam antennas are used for the ground segment. FD can be
change in the burst time plan (BTP) is allocated. The gain
applied regardless of time percentage, produces large gains
achieved by employing such a flexible TDMA system is the
(up to 30dB for a transition from Ka to Ku band) but is relacumulative gain of the HC, HM, and DRR FMTs. Usually, a
tively expensive. Finally, TD is not considered in the study,
master earth station assigns the available bandwidth among
since it is not really an adaptive FMT.
earth terminals, taking into account the traffic and fading conOne must note that the conclusions of COST 255 presentditions. A possible problem may arise if a link outage occurs
ed in Table 1 correspond to operation at the Ka frequency
in case the shared resource is already allocated to other staband, which represents the first frequency band in which
adaptive FMTs will be implemented. Considering the V fretions in the network. This relative outage time is influenced by
quency band, which is the next potential frequency band for
the correlation of the attenuation events, i.e. the exceedance
multimedia systems, these conclusions also hold except for the
of the fade margin in multiple sites simultaneously. This is
case of diversity techniques. SD and OD behave worse as the
referred to as large scale diversity [63] in contrast with the SD
frequency increases, whereas FD could achieve theoretically
technique already discussed earlier.
even higher gains than 30dB, if switching from V to C or Ku
An implementation of adaptive TDMA worth discussing is
bands is possible. As far as impairments due to propagation
the Advanced Communication Technology Satellite (ACTS)
are concerned, the more sensitive link is not the uplink, as it
adaptive rain fade protocol [64]. ACTS provided the opportuniwas for Ka band (a 30GHz fade is on average twice as high as
ty to test the protocol for a VSAT system operating at the Ka
a corresponding 20GHz fade), but the downlink, which must
band. It offers a 10dB margin by reducing burst rates by half
be enhanced with a FMT. Indeed, although the downlink freand invoking FEC coding with rate 1/2 and constraint length
quency is lower than the uplink frequency, the downlink is
5. To make a real-time decision about when the compensation
more critical since satellite technology at V band is less
of fades should take place, two thresholds are used, faded and
clear, determined for each individual VSAT from BER measurements. Respectively, as Fig. 15 depicts, the frame of the


Most of the FMTs are either cost ineffective (e.g.
SD, FD) or yield gains inadequate to combat signal degradation (e.g. HC, HM, DRR) when used
individually. Therefore, advanced satellite communication systems use some of these techniques
in a combined way (mixed FMTs) to form a more
sophisticated and powerful fade compensation
The adaptive multifrequency TDMA (MF-

Faded region

Clear region

Fade pool




Dwell acquisition

Downlink frame (1 ms, 1,728 slots)

n FIGURE 15. ACTS downlink TDMA frame architecture.

IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004


TDMA system is divided into a clear and a faded region, the

latter corresponding to the pool of time slots mentioned earlier. The network control station (NCS) dwell contains timing
and signaling information. In the clear region, the ratio of the
dwell time to the number of traffic channels is 1:1. In the
faded mode of operation (including coding and burst rate
reduction), the number of slots necessary to provide the same
throughput is four times the number of traffic channels being
utilized by the VSAT.
Furthermore, although initially designed to provide digital
video services, the Digital Video Broadcast via Satellite
(DVB-S) standard [65] is now considered an attractive protocol to provide multimedia applications to enterprises of small
and medium size and to residential users. In a DVB network,
the forward link (gateway station satellite RCSTs)
employs global beams, whereas the return link (RCSTs
satellite gateway station) employs spot beams. The frequency bands used are typically the Ku and/or Ka band. Apart
from the coding (concatenated, turbo) and burst rate alternatives, ULPC in 0.5dB steps is used in the return channel to
adjust the output power of these small terminals during rain
fades. The whole procedure is controlled and managed by the
network control center (NCC), which upon detecting a rain
fade event performs a reconfiguration procedure to establish
the corresponding rain fade settings, i.e. alters the terminal
burst time plan (TBTP).
Finally, three more TDMA access schemes incorporating a
fade countermeasure procedure are the FODA/IBEA [66],
DRIFS [67], and FEEDERS TDMA [68] protocols, with the
development and testing of the FODA/IBEA carried out on
the ITALSAT GSO satellite. The common FMT used in all the
above TDMA access schemes consists of compensating uplink
attenuation through ULPC and the total (uplink plus downlink)
attenuation by reducing the bit and coding rate. Specifically, the
coordinating master station estimates its downlink attenuation
using a beacon receiver and its total attenuation using a narrowband carrier envelope estimator. Then, a prototype modem
designed to respond on a sub-burst basis appropriately varies
the transmit power and the bit and coding rates.

In the last decade satellite communication systems have turned
to frequency bands above 10GHz to exploit the large bandwidths available. Since the Ku frequency band shows signs of
repletion, much research activity is focused on the full utilization of the Ka band, while the V band is considered for applications in the near future. However, this operational turn is
accompanied by impairments due to propagation that substantially degrade the earth-space links as the frequency increases.
This survey has focused on the various fade mitigation
methods developed to counteract tropospheric signal impairments and, therefore, preserve the necessary availability and
QoS of satellite systems. Remarks regarding the effectiveness
and the applicability of each technique were made with
respect to past and recent experimental works. Currently, a
main concern of the relevant research is to enhance the
knowledge of the dynamics of the propagation phenomena
and to initiate the appropriate FMT based on reliable realtime estimates of attenuation. Also, since individual FMTs
successfully combat only a fraction of the total attenuation
and, furthermore, correspond to a specific range of availability, they can be applied simultaneously in the form of mixed
FMTs. Examples of such sophisticated fade compensation
schemes have already been applied in some pioneering satcom


The authors wish to thank Dr. Antonio Martellucci from
ESA-ESTEC and Dr. L. Castanet from ONERA for providing
them with some very useful documents on the COST campaign. They are also indebted to the five anonymous reviewers
whose comments helped to improve the original version of
this article.


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ATHANASIOS D. PANAGOPOULOS (thpanag@cc.ece.ntua.gr) received

the diploma degree in electrical and computer engineering (cum
laude) and the dr. engineering degree from National Technical
University of Athens (NTUA) in July 1997 and April 2002, respectively. From May 2002 to July 2003 he served in the Technical
Corps of the Hellenic Army. In September 2003 he joined the
School of Pedagogical and Technological Education as assistant
professor. He is also a research assistant in the Wireless Communications Laboratory of NTUA. He has published more than 50
papers in international journals and conference proceedings. His
research interests include microwave communication system
design, satellite communications, and the propagation effects on
multiple access systems and on communication protocols. He is a
member of the IEEE and a member of the Technical Chamber of
P ANTELIS -D ANIEL A RAPOGLOU (parap@cental.ntua.gr) received the
diploma degree in electrical and computer engineering from the
National Technical University Athens (NTUA), Greece, in 2003 and
is currently working toward his Ph.D. at the NTUA. His research
interests include the effect of propagation impairments on various
satellite systems and protocols. He is the recipient of the 2004
Ericsson Award of Excellence for his diploma thesis and is a student member of the IEEE.
P ANAYOTIS G. C OTTIS (pcottis@central.ntua.gr) received the dipl.
(mechanical and electrical engineering) and dr. eng. degrees from
the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Greece, in
1979 and 1984, respectively, and the M.Sc. degree from the University of Manchester, (UMIST), Manchester, U.K., in 1980. In
1986 he joined the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Greece,
where he is currently a professor. His research interests include
microwave theory and applications, wave propagation in
anisotropic media, electromagnetic scattering, and wireless and
satellite communications. Since September 2003 he has been the
Vice Rector of NTUA.


IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials Third Quarter 2004