Consolidation and Convergence: Satellite on the Brink of a New Era

At this year’s VSAT Global conference in London on 18 and 19 September, Access Partnership played an active role in chairing, speaking and moderating numerous sessions. The annual gathering brought together satellite operators, end users, solution providers, analysts and academics to discuss the latest developments and challenges in the satellite industry.

Satellite Pink

At this year’s VSAT Global conference in London on 18 and 19 September, Access Partnership played an active role in chairing, speaking and moderating numerous sessions. The annual gathering brought together satellite operators, end users, solution providers, analysts and academics to discuss the latest developments and challenges in the satellite industry.

Founder and CEO of Northern Sky Research, Christopher Baugh, kicked off the event with an overview of the changing satellite ecosystem. The satellite market is undergoing an unprecedented transition, with saturated traditional markets, restructuring of supply chains and pricing pressure from new entrants. The global supply of satellite connectivity is on the rise, but the demand remains localised. Despite the wealth of new applications driven by emerging technologies – such as cloud, 5G and IoT – it is still difficult find profitable business cases outside the traditional use of satellites. Due to the pricing concerns of end users and increased competition from new entrants, prices are expected to fall even further.

5G to Bridge Satellite and Terrestrial

Discussions referenced 5G and the exciting prospect of its utilisation in advancing the satellite industry, which has traditionally evolved independently of terrestrial standards. Until now, whenever a satellite is required to interoperate with terrestrial networks, a complicated “fix” has been adopted to achieve this. For the first time, satellite is being included in discussions at standardisation bodies such as 3GPP and ETSI. Consequently, there are likely to be more use cases of satellite connectivity running efficiently over 5G network such as backhaul, mobile edge computing, airline connectivity and multicasting. As the demand for mobile data traffic increases, mobile networks will turn to satellite to manage this growth.

The IoT Opportunity

Satellite is beginning to play a significant role in IoT services and applications across industries such as logistics, transport, maritime, agriculture and defence, for real-time monitoring and maintenance. Satellite will be key in enabling sensors for engines, fuel and cargo to ensure the smooth operation of aeronautical and maritime vessels. Access Partnership’s Policy Analyst Maria Zervaki highlighted the challenges facing the IoT ecosystem, namely, the difficulties for players in being able to clearly identify their target market and a profitable business model, due to the number of interested parties, such as device manufacturers, connectivity, platform and IoT service providers. Maria Zervaki concluded that IoT is a partnership game and only through collaboration will IoT solutions be truly profitable and sustainable.

Regulatory Hurdles

Satellite remains the sole facilitator in connecting planes and offshore vessels. The satellite aero connectivity market is expected to grow significantly in the years to come. As the price per megabit continues to fall, the market expands and produces more affordable broadband communications for smaller vessels and fleets. However, a lack of homogeneous regulatory framework relating to satellite aero connectivity may hinder growth due to diverging regulatory approaches between and within regions.

The European Communications Committee (ECC) has produced the most standardised approach to satellite connectivity regulation. However, national authorities still retain discretionary powers on implementation, requiring a country-by-country approach when entering respective market, which can be more challenging in other regions, such as APAC. Familiarising local regulators with the service and obtaining first licence authorisation, coupled with the increasing demand for aero connectivity will help generate a more business-friendly regulatory trend.

The last panel of the event, moderated by Access Partnership’s Head of Infrastructure Colin Thomson, considered the upcoming World Radiocommunications Conference (WRC-19) which will play a key role in shaping future innovative satellite services. The conference presents a significant opportunity for regulators and policymakers to secure essential communication services for their citizens. Several agenda items at this year’s WRC, held in Sharm al-Sheik, Egypt (28 October to 22 November 2019), will discuss improvements to regulatory procedures regarding the deployment of satellite services. Industry players, often competitors, will need to work together to realise their vision of bringing satellite connectivity to the global marketplace and move the industry forward.

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