Enhancing Product Support Software; Evaluating Current Satellite Internet Technologies’ Impact on Internet Equality

Bulk, Matthew, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
JACQUES, RICHARD, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Vrugtman, Rosanne, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

My technical project examines my experience working at ST Engineering iDirect as a software engineering intern. ST Engineering iDirect produces ground-based infrastructure for satellite communication networks. Satellite communication networks play a large and ever-growing role in daily global communications and provide vital internet connectivity to isolated locations. In recent years, demand for low latency and high-bandwidth network connections has driven the development of low Earth orbit satellite communication constellations. Given the importance for individuals who work with a particular technology to understand its potential positive and negative effects, I chose to focus my STS project on how the advent of low Earth orbit satellite internet constellations could impact internet inequity and accessibility.
For the technical portion of my thesis, I wrote about my experience as an intern assigned to enhancing customer utility software for ST Engineering iDirect. ST Engineering iDirect’s position as an equipment provider for satellite networks means that in addition to physical equipment and its associated software, customers also receive software tools used for the administration of their purchased networks. My internship focused on enhancing the reliability and ease of use of a software tool used to upgrade or downgrade instances of ‘protocol processors’, a particular component used in ST Engineering iDirect’s networks. Because a failure in the operation or usage of the upgrade/downgrade software could result in partial or total loss of service from the affected network. Consequently, being both reliable and dependable and having a clear and understandable user interface is imperative for the software. The software was enhanced through new network state assertions and a more informative user interface. An additional project goal was to include an option that evaluated a network’s configuration by cycling its protocol processors’ software versions. After a discussion between feature stakeholders across multiple teams, it was determined that the added value of the tests was outweighed by the magnitude of the necessary changes to the program’s user interface and internal architecture. The change in the user interface would also impact the customer experience, as its command interface would deviate from a pattern followed by other utility programs that the upgrade/downgrade software was packaged with.
In my STS research, I chose to focus on private users of satellite internet services in order to evaluate how low Earth orbit satellite internet could impact internet access inequity. Given that internet-connected applications are increasingly being used in the classroom and workplace, internet access will become increasingly more important for success in these domains. Real-time video conferencing applications are also becoming increasingly common, however current geostationary satellite internet services provide connections with too much latency to be effectively used for real-time video communication. Low Earth orbit satellite constellations offer much more performance connections with latencies that allow for normal usage of real-time video communication. However, the excessive cost of low Earth orbit satellite internet service may increase the disparity in internet access to geographically isolated homeowners and businesses who cannot afford high-performance internet access.
Because my technical project was concerned with the development of software for ST Engineering iDirect’s networks, I learned only bits and pieces about the wider satellite communication industry through my internship. However, my STS research project helped me learn more about the industry and helped me contextualize my work. Contextualization of work is important for evaluating how one’s work might impact others. My work at ST Engineering iDirect also helped me understand the scale at which satellite communication is used for commerce, while my technical project enabled me to understand how private consumers are served by satellite communication, and how the advent of low Earth orbit constellations will impact both private consumers and the industry itself.
I would like to thank ST Engineering iDirect’s NetDev and Automation pods, as well as all the past and current employees of ST Engineering iDirect for the internship opportunity.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Satellite Networking, Satellite Internet, Software Development, Internet Access, Low Earth Orbit

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Rosanne Vrugtman
STS Advisor: Richard Jacques

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