Laureen R. Cook, Executive TMT Adviser, Extelcon Consulting
In the next decade, the mission of the satellite industry is to enable affordable Internet services for all, which is rather similar to that of the mobile industry. To achieve this mission, industry leaders are taking a commercial approach towards reducing the costs of Space Communications by commoditizing the development of satellites so that they can be manufactured at a lower cost, with increased capacity, higher throughput, and lower latency.
High Throughput Satellites (HTS) Low Earth Orbiting Satellites (Leo Sat) technology utilizing Ka and/or Ku bands, represent transformational telecommunications technologies, propelling the satellite industry to re-think its approach to the market from an entirely different perspective. Leo Sats will be deployed as a conduit for the converged extension of the Terrestrial Internet, either fixed or mobile, by providing ber-like connectivity to remote locations on a global basis and /or connecting directly to end consumers in remote locations.
New technology has challenged the satellite industry to take a mass market approach and factor time to market into the development and deployment of new constellations, yielding economies of scale, in order to increase internet penetration and reduce the cost per Gbps by 50% of the global average of $6.0 US. This is the same approach that was taken by the mobile communications industry in the early 1990’s, with the standardization of GSM or 2G in Europe, reducing the cost of voice and eventually data, handsets and capex.
With the evolution of global mobile standards moving from voice at 2G, to voice & data at 3G and data prevailing on 4G/LTE, the demands for high capacity throughput, and requirement of big pipes to properly deliver 5G is on the horizon in order to support commercially viable networks circa 2023. According to the GSMA, 2G/3G/4G has grown from 4.016m subscribers in 2008 to 5.2m in mid-2017 and is anticipated to grow to 5.6m subscribers globally in 2020. Growth of mobile has risen between YE 2008 to 2014 with a CAGr and is expected to grow from YE 2014 to 2020 with a CAGr of 4.2%. Emerging markets will account for 9 of 10 subscribers between 2016 to 2020, with APAC representing two-thirds of subscriber growth globally. Subscriber growth is expected to reach 6.2% in Africa, the worlds’ most under penetrated mobile region.
Accelerated growth of mobile communication has been made possible by innovation and standardization, yielding to economies of scale and cost savings related to the network capex requirements, increased miniaturization & functionality of infrastructure, handsets & devices and increased voice and data (Gbps/Mbps) rates. Mobile, once the communications choice of the rich, has become affordable to the masses and in many cases, has become a lifeline to the poor in remote locations. Today, the mobile internet provides remote villages with access to the developed world, provides the basics of safety and security, as well as providing vital information related healthcare, education, agriculture and banking services; all vital services in developing markets.
Of the 7.4b people on this planet, over 4.0b do not have access to the Internet. Of the 2.5b people living within 3G/4G network coverage, 1.6b live outside the Mobile Broadband network. of those without internet access, 75% are concentrated in 20 countries that are disproportionately rural, low income, elderly, illiterate and female. According to the World Bank, a 10% increase in broadband penetration equates to a 1.38% increase in GDP in developing countries. Further, a 10% increase in mobile penetration equates to a 0.81% increase in GDP, while a 10% increase in xed line penetration equates to a 0.73% increase in GDP. Globally this equates to 22% or 1.628b of the world’s population which does not have access to or is not connected to the Internet.
The percentages change dramatically by geography. When we compare the EU at 2% to that of Latin America at 9%, Asia Paci c at 21%, the Middle East at 22% and Sub-Saharan Africa, where 57% of the total population does not have access to or is not connected to the Internet. Both Mobile and Fixed Broadband networks are dependent on the quality of the Fiber over which they run, in order to provide the necessary capacity and throughput to support these technologies and accelerate economic growth.
Leo Sat Constellations such as Spacex, One Web, and Leosat are being developed to provide Gbps of capacity, with a latency of <=50ms, making them the rst satellite constellations to enable the latency and throughput required to properly support 4G Mobile networks and potentially 5G in the future, as this technology evolves. Leo Sat constellations will provide fiber-like connectivity to the most rural parts of the planet. Low Earth Orbiting constellations will supplement and extend existing terrestrial xed and mobile broadband networks, by providing fiber-like connectivity over satellite backhaul, utilizing new technology, where it had previously been cost prohibitive to deploy fiber and/or connect directly to the consumer.
By calling for innovation, leveraging best-in class off-the- shelf technology, and re-purposing existing technology, Leo Sat constellations are challenging the satellite industry to create a standardized approach to the future of satellite communications, thereby increasing economies of scale and driving down the capex costs of the space constellation. reduced capex requirements for the design and production of Leo satellites, launchers, fuel consumption, oSS/BSS systems, and user terminals, will drive down the costs associated with the satellite industry for the space and terrestrial network elements and components, as the design and production facilities will be re-purposed for future mass- market constellations.
Leo Sat technology is being financially backed by both the manufacturing and service provision industry leaders from the mobile and satellite industries including: Softbank, Qualcomm, AirBus, Boeing, Thales, Hughes, Virgin orbit, Bharti Airtel, and the Salinas Group. Visionaries such as Elon Musk, Greg Wyler and richard Branson are backing new Leo Sat space ventures. The investors in Leo Sat technology represent all aspects of the mobile and satellite value chain: Space Craft Manufacturers, Mobile network operators (Mno’s), Antenna Manufacturers, Chipset Manufacturers, User Terminal (UT’s) and Antenna Manufacturers, and oSS/BSS platforms.
A mass market approach is being applied towards the development of User Terminal (UT), which is anticipated to reduce the delivered market cost of mechanically steered (Dual Parabolic) UTs by 95% to about $1000 – $3000 US for the Enterprise, Corporate/ SME, Cellular Backhaul, and Government markets. Technological advances are underway to provide phased array at panel electronically steered antennas, at a cost delivered to the market at under $500 US, representing a >= 99.4% price reduction from today’s costs. Reduced User Terminal (UT) pricing will diminish the barriers to entry and make satellite services more affordable to the Enterprises, Villages, Schools, Hospitals and Consumers in remote locations.
Leo Sats will deploy Gbps of ber- like coverage to developed and developing countries between 2020 and 2024. These satellite constellations will support a range of markets, including: satellite broadband, cellular backhaul, small cells, enterprise, M2M/IOT, connected vehicles, maritime, aerospace, and the government and military markets.
For developed nations, Leo Sat constellations will provide alternative, redundant routing and disaster recovery capabilities to mainstream networks, normally accessible to multiple ber alternatives. In developing countries, terrestrial mobile and ISP connectivity will be extended wherever possible into rural or remote regions, and/or to provide satellite coverage directly to the end user where no, or limited viable alternatives exist today. Leo Sat services will be capable of supporting high speed Internet, VPNs, voice, video, IoT applications, conferencing and gaming in real time, supporting true 4G/LTE mobility and beyond.