Satellites Map in Latin America 2018 - Credit: © 2018 Convergencialatina
Industry is going through a time of discussion about the central objective of the next stage in which it will seek to find a place in the 5G architecture, so that it becomes hybrid, with a prominent space for satellite communications. This is a key moment for the sector, which aims to move from positioning satellites as "dumb pipes" to transforming them into true centers or "hubs" of applications and connectivity networks.
In that framework, different players analyze the segment of Low Earth Orbiting (LEOs) satellite constellations due to its potential to occupy new market areas, such as IoT, image capture and part of the upcoming 5G applications. However, the process will take a while.
Iridium is among the low orbit experts; it has a constellation of 66 satellites in LEO since two decades ago. Iridium is now facing the replacement of its current fleet, which will reach 75 devices, of which 65 are already operational. The replacement of the constellation will have a total cost of US$3 billion, an investment that is already fully funded.
Financing is a nodal point. Of the many initiatives announced for low orbit, most have not solved the issue. Another questioned point is the role to be played by start-ups and new companies. One of the main aims of those interested in LEO is remote sensing, but it is necessary to position oneself as a network operator, or an analyst of the data obtained, among other possible roles.
An additional requirement for LEOs is to have more launch options to move forward. China and India markets are leading the development of launch vehicles specific to the Smallsats market, while governments are positioned as the main customers of their services.
Low orbit projects promise to inaugurate a new model of terrestrial services, called "Ground as a Service". This scheme opens up opportunities for new products for the satellite operator, due to the potential of obtaining and analyzing data, and its possible integration with the commercial offer.
To accompany the LEO boom, however, the terrestrial infrastructure and equipment segment is also forced to be transformed. Flat antennas are not developed and are a key element to achieve a low cost for the final client. There are prototypes but there is no mass production or performance evaluation.
Along with the LEO boom, other trends that mark the transition of the satellite segment are the new needs of industries, which have already verified that cellular connectivity is not enough; "Hybridization", with LTE and Wi-Fi, or with Wi-Fi, satellite and cellular combinations, and the development of autonomous cars, which will be one of the main drivers of the satellite business in the upcoming years.