Satellites Map in Latin America 2019 - Credit: © 2019 Convergencialatina
The satellite constellation projects for LEO, at a distance ranging from 300 to 1,200 kilometers from Earth, have kept the sector awake for at least five years. In fact, there are currently only three satellites planned to be launched in GEO, and more than 16,000 if the initiatives for LEO are considered until 2022. The offer of commercial services on these artifacts is expected by 2021, although doubts prevail over how their operation will be regulated and the business profitable.
OneWeb, Amazon and Space X created part of the huge expectation set on LEO, due to the size of its constellations (in the case of Amazon, of 12,000 satellites). The key promise of these projects is the lower latency: on average, LEO can achieve 25 to 30 milliseconds, compared to 500 currently offered by geostationary fleets. However, the business model is not clear and has been modified from the original idea. Although the three magnanimous initiatives of the segment show to be targeting people without Internet access, sources in the sector admit that it is not solved how to achieve it, and the focus would have already been transferred to customers with greater ARPU, such as airplanes and cruises, in which terminal cost is not a problem. LEO antennas far exceed in value those currently used to communicate with GEO satellites, due to their complexity: after all, they must be able to follow all fleet satellites and communicate with several of them at the same time.
At the regulatory level there are still gaps to be solved. One of the issues to be defined this year at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 in Egypt (WRC-19) is the time period for putting satellites into orbit: the seven years being valid for GEO are not applicable to LEO, since the constellations are completed in various launch phases, and the artifacts useful life is shorter, about five years.
Maintenance costs are also not clear and become expensive due to the large amount of special garbage in low orbit, which generates continuous collisions and new fragments.
Faced with these doubts, traditional GEO operators prefer to move forward cautiously. Telesat takes the lead in the incursion into low orbit, by the hand of its Phase 1 LEO satellite, exclusively for testing with select clients, while Eutelsat projects the ELO by the end of 2019, for experimental IoT purposes.
The low orbit causes a stir but there are no certainties in the near term. Fleet performance can not be measured until constellations are completely launched into space, because the systems need all satellites to be interconnected and orbiting around the world in order to operate.