30 Nov 2022
Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations are increasingly becoming affordable, marking an exciting time for global connectivity solutions. 1,200 LEO satellites were launched in 2020 and 1,400 in 2021. Satcom capacities are set to further develop in the coming years, especially due to falling airtime prices. The average revenue per user (ARPU) is expected to decline by 21% between 2022 and 2028.
Besides being more affordable, LEO satellite networks are also more efficient. With the satellites being located closer to Earth, data passes from one point on the network to another in a shorter amount of time, reducing latency by a factor of 15 to 40 milliseconds. In the era of digitalisation, this alone sets LEO operators ahead of the competitive curve, as modern cloud-based applications require low latency by default.
The Current Scenario
According to a report by BCG, the global satellite communications service market is expected to reach $40 billion by 2030 at an annual growth rate of 7%. It’s a promising era to bridge the digital divide by connecting remote areas on land and across vast stretches of the sea. LEO satellite technology is taking center stage in this process and is forecasted to account for 40% of this market.
Over the past 10 years, the costs of manufacturing, creating inter-satellite links, and digital processing have reduced. Three major satellite operators, Starlink, OneWeb, and Telesat, have launched satellites using the Ku- and Ka-band. Fuelled by a need to always remain connected, more LEO operators are looking to form partnerships with mobile operators for a pre-existing customer base. On the other hand, mobile operators are open to such alliances for new revenue opportunities. This synergy is expected to further promote the availability of affordable high-speed connectivity across remote areas.
LEO networks can further advance digitalisation and IoT adoption that lead to improved operations and business continuity.
Adoption of LEO-based Communication Systems
While the use of LEO satellite networks and flat antennas is gaining momentum for land use, the technology is still in the works for maritime use. Earlier, digital applications for corporate use and operational continuity were only available over VSAT. Today, optimized software is capable of operating seamlessly over VSAT and back-up systems in the low-bandwidth environment.
The low latency of LEO networks enables modern cloud-based applications with better security and enhanced performance. Timely data transfer is central to ensuring optimal operational efficiency. From videoconferencing and telemedicine to surveillance and remote maintenance, optimized applications deliver a better user experience even over L-band.
Specialized Applications by IEC Telecom
Furthering the benefits of digitalisation, IEC Telecom has consistently been investing in the development of applications for the low-bandwidth environment of far-off areas on land and at sea. For instance, OneAssist is a wearable solution that empowers remote workers to stay connected with the onshore team via video streaming, enabling troubleshooting, consulting, and e-learning in real-time. This means that a wide range of functions, previously delivered exclusively onshore, can now be accessed from the vessel at any time of the journey at sea.
In addition, most IEC Telecom applications deliver enhanced compression tools to facilitate high-speed data transfers and are even pre-set to resume data transfer from the moment of interruption in case of any signal loss, thereby saving data, time and money.
The Next Areas of Growth
As LEO satellite networks increase the avenues of connectivity, this means a greater emphasis on cyber security. It is not only about the availability of certain anti-virus solutions. The success of cyber security implementation depends on policies which must be custom-made for each specific case. Needs for cyber security onboard a bulk carrier will differ from needs of a fishing vessel. Similarly, the set-up for humanitarian missions will be very different to demands for highly-encrypted infrastructure in the defense sector. As such, the role of satcom service operators has shifted from enablers to consultants, helping customers to leverage digitalisation without exposure to cyber-attacks.
There is also a move towards harnessing the power of big data analytics. For instance, in order to manage large fleets, make sense of maritime accident data, and carry out preventive maintenance, big data analytics is increasingly becoming the tool of choice. IoT has a big role to play in our data-driven world. From pre-emptive maintenance and regulatory compliance to optimise resource consumption and improved safety, satellite connectivity is enabling real-time operational updates.
Digitally-enabled operations empower decision-makers with data-driven recommendations. This is enabling better operational choices, saving on consumable resources and ultimately contributing to lowering emissions, paving the way for a green future and better decarbonisation strategies. It is reported that adoption of digital technologies can reduce carbon emissions by 38%. In addition, enhanced connectivity increases profitability by 4 to 17%.
This era of affordable LEO satellite constellations is further supporting the use of digital products for smarter workflow, seamless communications, and sustainable environment-friendly processes.