New generation satellites

Innovation and competition moving the market in the right direction

by Basile CARLE

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

Source : IDATE DigiWorld in "IoT in the NewSpace era"

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

Source : IDATE DigiWorld in "IoT in the NewSpace era"

Logistics: the number one satellite IoT market

Progression of the number of connected objects with a satellite module, by segment

Source : IDATE DigiWorld

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.

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