New generation satellites
Innovation and competition moving the market in the right direction
The satellite communications market has been in the throes of major change over the past several years, spurred by technological innovations and increased competition, which has helped drive down the cost of satellite communications. Now that 5G networks are being deployed, satellite needs to rethink its strategy more than ever before. Old approaches, which had previously been hard to implement, are back on the table, but are still risky bets.
Communication costs continue to drop
The advent of HTS satellite systems in the Ka and Ku bands have helped bring down the cost of satellite solutions considerably over the past few years. But new approaches are needed, in these days of increased competition over prices and risks of excess capacity. Low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation projects are attracting the attention of new players who are hoping to shake up the market with a low-cost approach, opting for “disposable” satellites rather than long-lasting ones. After a dramatic start and a surge in the number of projects after 2015, we are starting to see the wheat and the chaff. In these difficult times, veteran players are in good shape financially and more experience in space, putting them in a better position to bring their project to fruition and develop their own alternative/complementary approaches.
Truly but not fully complementary orbits
How LEO and GEO players rival and complement one another
Some players are struggling
If 2019 marked the first satellite launches for Starlink and OneWeb, 2020 marks the onset of strife, with the bankruptcy of OneWeb and precarious times for Intelsat (GEO), and for SpaceX. More financially solid players have a better chance of weathering the storm. In the consumer market, it will be worth keeping an eye on Viasat, which is gearing up to launch Viasat-3 between 2021 and 2022 (1 Tbps of x3 capacity) and Amazon, with its overflowing coffers and its Kuiper project. In the business segment, Canadian operator Telesat, with its LEO project, and SES with its next-generation MEO constellation MEO, may well change things up, while Leosat appears to have shut down its operations.
Increased competition but an uncertain future
Main LEO satellite mega-constellation projects vying for broadband supply contracts
Creating greater flexibility
If it is hard not to point to the growing number of LEO constellation projects as a major trend, we cannot overlook the fundamental changes underlying them. Electric propulsion, serial production, use of 3D printers, development of new antennae and the softwarisation of satellites are also helping to shape the industry’s future. The overarching aim is to achieve greater flexibility for managing increasingly complex constellations, in several orbits, using dynamic load balancing. Large, ultra-high-throughput satellites can be designed (Viasat3, Eutelsat Konnect VHTS) which are capable of managing thousands of reprogrammable beams dynamically, but the main task is to provide the capacity that best matches customers’ needs, and at the right price, while properly managing all of the new security issues engendered by these approaches.
Logistics: the number one satellite IoT market
Progression of the number of connected objects with a satellite module, by segment
Focus on low-power satellite
If a great deal of attention is given to the increased speeds provided by fixed satellites, mobility solutions are also evolving. Here, mobility refers more to integration capabilities than user mobility. These are autonomous, smaller and more energy efficient solutions, using dedicated frequencies. Market players Iridium, Inmarsat, Thuraya, Globalstar and Orbcomm are seeing new, up and coming rivals emerge, who are developing low-cost approaches thanks to constellations of “disposable” (very) narrowband, low cost nano satellites. These solutions are aimed at markets like smart farming and logistics, where a lack of continuity of coverage and affordability are major concerns. The first solutions from these newcomers could be available by 2022, even if some are already partially operational. Veteran players, meanwhile, are likely to continue to focus on high value-added applications.