Interview with Andrew Bond from ETL Systems

  • Andrew Bond - Sales & Marketing Director at ETL Systems

everything RF recently interviewed Andrew Bondthe Sales & Marketing Director at ETL Systems. Andrew has 17 years of experience working in the Satcom industry. He has played a key role in supporting ETL’s consistent, year-on-year growth and now leads a 20-strong commercial team that offers ETL Systems’ RF distribution equipment globally.

Q. Can you give us a brief history of ETL Systems?

Andrew Bond: ETL Systems has been at the forefront of RF design and manufacturing for over 35 years. It designs and builds essential elements of critical satellite communications infrastructure. Its culture of innovation and its solutioneering approach have established it as a market leader in the field, with revenue growing 30x since 2003. 

ETL’s rapid growth and success have been recognized at the UK's highest level, with the company winning three Queen’s Awards for Enterprise in International Trade. 

In 2020 ETL received a major investment from Private Equity investors, CBPE Capital, to support growth plans.

The Herefordshire headquarters is home to the company's production team. Located on a 3-acre campus next to the BT Madley Satellite Earth Station, the site's capabilities include RF testing, software design, automated circuit board assembly, concept design, pick and place machinery as well as machining workshops. This means that design, production, and testing can be carried out in-house to the rigorous ISO 9001 Quality Management System standards. 

The company has expanded to include a state-of-the-art research and development center in Rickmansworth, as well as sales offices in Braintree, Washington, and Dubai.

Today, the company offers a full suite of solutions between the antenna and the modem for both the uplink and downlink chains. In 2019, ETL expanded its range to include instrumentation and measurement equipment for the setup and testing of RF chains through its acquisition of Atlantic Microwave Ltd.

Q. Can you tell us more about your product portfolio? 

Andrew Bond: ETL offers a complete ground segment solution, from the antenna to the modem. We also manufacture test equipment for the ground segment.

Our range of RF distribution products include 19” rack mounted Switch Matrices/Routers, RF over Fibre, Frequency Converters, Amplifiers, Splitters, Combiners, Switches, and power supplies. 

We also provide standalone, space-saving RF Components covering DC to 40GHz, many of which are at the heart of our 19” rack-mounted products. 

For the set-up and testing of RF chains, we offer 19” rack-mounted, bench top and component instrumentation and measurement products including Test Loop Translators, Satellite Simulators, Noise and Signal Generators.

Q. What Industries/Sectors do you cater to? Which segment(s) is/are the largest for you?

Andrew Bond: ETL's RF distribution and satellite communication equipment are used by customers globally in a wide range of sectors, markets and applications where RF performance and reliability matter:

Government & Defence
Around the world, 75% of NATO governments use ETL Systems equipment to protect their citizens. Our large RF switch matrix/router range can be used for uplink and downlink satcoms, including general traffic and data management, TVRO applications and receive-only satcoms.

Satellite Operators 
The top 20 satellite operators and teleports in the world utilize ETL’s products for TT & C, monitoring, and traffic management applications, including for new fleets of HTS and Ka-band satellites.

Telecoms companies with traditional satcoms use ETL splitters and combiners, as well as LNB service shelves and other equipment. ETL can also provide both straight RF distribution via splitters and full fan-out switch matrices for more demanding IPTV applications.

We work with many of the world’s leading broadcasters who use ETL products in TVRO applications for playout centers, news gathering, and sports events as well as other applications that require rapid switching of services.

29 out of the top 50 largest cruise ships use ETL matrices to switch their RF signals. We have a wide range of RF solutions for reliable satellite communications on cruise liners and super yachts, which can be used as part of a VSAT system or for a TVRO system.

Oil & Gas
Communications on land and off-shore in remote areas for the oil and gas sector are essential to a successful operation. Our range of VSAT system products is ideal for this sector, providing reliability and a compact form factor.

Q. Do you offer catalog products or custom products? What is the process and timeline for developing custom products?

Andrew Bond: ETL has an extensive product range and many of our RF products are specifically engineered to meet customer requirements.
Our 40-strong engineering team, works with our customers to solve RF signal handling challenges such as extra redundancy, specific RF performance or even building chassis to fit certain architecture.

Our RF systems consultants, product managers and pre-sales engineering team work with our customers to determine the right solution for their RF requirements. From this starting point, we then evaluate if it is within our capabilities, complete an outline design and prepare a firm price quotation. Then all we need is a PO to start. As the project progresses, customers are involved in the design and build process. We can’t put a timeline on development because every custom product is unique, but our expert team has decades of collective experience in product design, ensuring your spec is met in the most efficient way possible.

Q. Can you tell us more about the RF Switch Matrices that you offer? How they are different from those offered by other manufacturers?

Andrew Bond: ETL has an expansive RF switch/matrix range, providing RF signal switching for ground stations and teleports worldwide. Our switch matrix products are available as distributive fan-out for Receive Chains and as combining fan-in for Transmit Chains. The Ensign L-band matrix also provides both fan-in and fan-out, allowing modems access to multiple uplink chains.

Broad Range
Our range of L-band matrices is more than double that of our nearest competitor, enabling us to offer the right solution for our customers’ requirements.

Resilience & Reliability
Our matrices are designed with resilience and reliability in mind, providing options with dual redundancy and hot-swap of all active components such as RF cards, CPU and PSUs.

Expandable matrix systems for future satellite feed requirements.

Single matrix modules can be expanded by single inputs/outputs or in blocks as teleports grow.

Where many satellite feeds are required, multi-module RF matrix switch systems can be designed using matrix system splitters and combiners. Our range also includes options for a wide variety of applications, including matrices with direct fiber input, asymmetrical matrices and low-noise variants of our standard matrix products.

Q. Who are your customers and where are they located? How do you cater to and support international customers?

Andrew Bond: ETL Systems exports 80-90% of sales globally, with our manufacturing and R&D sites based in the UK. The UK facilities combined with regional offices in Washington DC and Dubai support us in serving customers in 112 countries.

Key international clients include CNN, BBC, Airbus, Thales, General Dynamics, ESPN, DirectTV, Associated Press, Inmarsat, BAE Systems and SES Astra. 

We also have a global network of dedicated partners who can support our clients on the ground, all around the world.

Q. In 2019, ETL Systems acquired Atlantic Microwave. Can you tell us more about this acquisition? 

Andrew Bond: Like ETL Systems, Atlantic Microwave is an established manufacturer and distributor of RF and microwave equipment, components, and interconnects to the Satcom market. With over 30 years of global experience, Atlantic is also very focused on the customization of its RF range and so it was a well-aligned company to acquire.

The acquisition has allowed us to offer a set of instrumentation and measurement equipment that complements our range of RF distribution products, extending our end-to-end coverage to include testing and measurement of the RF chain.

Q. ETL Systems opened a new production building this year. Can you tell us more about this?

Andrew Bond: The newest building, C4, is the fourth production facility and fifth building at our Herefordshire site and includes significant investment in leading-edge assembly technologies to support the company’s engineering, production, and test team capabilities. 

The new facility provides capacity for the next phase of the company’s growth, offering an expansion of our current manufacturing and engineering capability, providing more employment within the local area, and ensuring ETL can retain its position as a market leader in RF distribution.

To mitigate our environmental impact, the new facility is built with solar panels to maximize energy efficiency and six electric car charging points for employees.

Q. What is the product roadmap for ETL Systems over the next three years?

Andrew Bond: As the world becomes even more data hungry, the need for larger bandwidths increases. As a result, ETL is aware of the move into new higher frequencies, such as Q and V bands, that will allow this growth.

We continue to develop products designed to make the leap to medium earth orbit (MEO) and lower earth orbit (LEO) constellations possible – something for which there is increasing demand as the 'new space race' heats up.

As well as progressing in our mission to help digitize the RF space, which will, over time, see a step-change in how satellite networks are designed on the ground. ETL is currently working on the development of a new technology with support from the European Space Agency. The product will digitize the RF signal to enable transmission of RF over IP, sometimes referred to as ‘Digital IF’. In the coming years, this will help the satellite ground station to make the move to a digital environment, bringing it into line with the latest satellite technology and enabling the virtualization of the ground segment.

Click here to learn more about ETL Systems and its products on everything RF.