We are living in one of the most disruptive periods in modern industrial times. New innovations and changing consumer demands are upending the global communications landscape and business models alike.
Despite the advances in technology, the digital divide still exists and companies across the spectrum wrestle with how to satiate the enormous bandwidth demands posed by businesses and consumers across the world.
With 5G on the horizon and the blurring of lines between media and telecom services, it is imperative to throw out the old playbook and rethink our approach to broadband connectivity. The future will be wireless and satellite is a great wireless technology.
Satellite has the essential ingredients needed for the network of networks – reach, ubiquity, quality, efficiency and security. The satellite innovations that have occurred over the past few years have bridged a performance and economics gap with terrestrial wireless. This is largely due the advent of powerful high-throughput satellites, new constellations, innovations across the satellite ecosystem (from launchers to ground and antenna technology), improving economics and simplifying access.
However, as 5G emerges as a driving framework for 21st century communications, it is clear that a monolithic architecture is not an answer to all the telecom problems. We need a network of networks. By this I mean:
- Seamlessly integrate different technologies. With the new high-throughput Intelsat EpicNG satellites, Intelsat is delivering 10 times the throughput and lowering the total cost of ownership for mobile network operators. Together, satellite operators and mobile network providers can harness their respective strengths and expand networks into regions that were once cost-prohibitive to the operator and too expensive for the end-user. In developed regions that are exposed to harsh weather, such as Alaska, to more disaster-prone regions of the world, having satellite technology fully integrated hardens the network. Satellite also helps ensure the broadband connectivity remains available when a natural disaster strikes – and is available to help recovery efforts.
- Hybrid constellations that harness the power of Geostationary (GEO) and Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations. Much has been made of “old” vs. “new” constellations. The truth is neither is old or new. The different orbits have different strengths. Take the connected car for example. It is clear that a hybrid approach, one that blends terrestrial and satellite networks, will enable all players in the connected car ecosystem to succeed. Hybrid networks can match the benefits of different delivery technologies to service requirements: geostationary satellites for global broadcast; LEO satellites for high-throughput, low-latency communications where LTE/5G is not available; and LTE/5G for streaming and connectivity services in urban areas. In addition, the broadcast and multicast capabilities of GEO satellites are the most efficient and secure way to deliver large amounts of IP content and data to tens of thousands of vehicles in a country or millions of vehicles globally.
- Acceleration of advancements in ground and antenna technology. While there has been great advancement in satellite technology, more still needs to be done to ground and antenna innovation in order to accelerate access to cost-effective connectivity. That was the driving force behind Intelsat’s investment in Kymeta, which pairs our global network with a groundbreaking satellite terminal. Kymeta’s mTenna provides innovative tracking techniques, ensuring that vehicles on the move maintain satellite connectivity anywhere in the world. This was on display in Puerto Rico, where connected cars powered by Intelsat, Liberty Global and Kymeta were on the move delivering much needed connectivity – including Wi-Fi or access to an ATM – to communities ravaged by Hurricane Maria.
- New business models that take advantage of innovation across different sectors. It is not always feasible for a mobile network operator to expand its services to certain areas – due to low population density or geographical challenges. While the technologies to connect the unconnected are available, they must be paired with a new economic model that helps network operators close the business case for extending services. At Intelsat, we are pairing our technology improvement with innovations in the ecosystem and service models that have the goal of expanding broadband access affordably.
While the above represent great first steps, additional steps are needed to ensure cross compatibility. Those additional steps include the development of standards and participation in organizations such as ATIS to ensure seamless interoperability between satellite, fixed and mobile networks. Additional steps also include continued innovation and evolution of small and simple devices and antennas and inexpensive, plug-and-play ground terminals that simplify access.
Periods of disruption are often uncomfortable. However, to deliver the benefits of connectivity to all, we must band together, embrace the technological shifts that will define our future, and creatively deliver solutions to meet our shared challenges.