Satellites Map in Latin America 2020 - Credit: © 2020 Convergencialatina
The Covid-19 pandemic and the forced sale of C-band licenses in the United States to release them for 5G - which affects Intelsat, Star One, Eutelsat, SES and Telesat - generated an unthinkable 2020 for the satellite industry. The health emergency intimidated the maritime and air businesses of all operators, along with the suspension of transmission of major sporting events, and claimed its first victims: OneWeb, with 74 devices already rotating around Earth in low orbit, and Intelsat, that already had a debt brought from years ago, filed under Chapter 11 of the United States.
The decision by the US regulator Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to release spectrum in the 3.7 GHz band for mobile services will mean profound changes for the industry, because it forces five central players to reconfigure their fleets, and even launch new satellites. This process - which involves compensation for Intelsat, Star One, Eutelsat, SES and Telesat for US$9.7 billion - will generate a new fleet scheme in the next two years, with changes also for footprints in Latin America in the case of Intelsat. On the other hand, the FCC measure is closely watched by regulators in the region, which must also resolve the issue of C-band incompatibility between 5G mobile and satellite services. Brazil is the most advanced country in these discussions: the proven interferences in the coexistence of both services are the main reason for the postponement of the 5G tender to 2021.
In turn, the bulk of the industry is forced to transform, from its focus on broadcast to a data-centric model. The trend, also driven by low-orbit constellations designed for low-latency broadband, is already translating into changes in artifact construction. The option for VHTS (Very High Throughput Satellites) satellites is strengthened, with payloads of more than 1 Tbps (the Viasat-3 constellation, in charge of Boeing, will have these qualities); and by completely reconfigurable loads, so that the operator can modify its beams or the type of service with the evolution of the market. LEO projects advocate this data-centric model, although certainties about the effectiveness of mega-constellations are not yet evident.
OneWeb's judicial recovery was added to the cancellation of the LeoSat project –which sought to deploy a hundred satellites for services to vertical markets between 2021 and 2022, and SpaceX just started beta testing of its Starlink network in June 2020. Interestingly, the first certainties come from the traditional actors of the satellite world, who ventured into LEO: Telesat and Telefónica International Wholesale Services (TIWS) carried out tests on the Phase 1 device, and confirmed that wireless backhaul is viable, even with improvements compared to geostationary satellites. Latency of 30-60 milliseconds was demonstrated in applications such as uninterrupted streaming of high definition video, video conferencing with users with cellular and terrestrial connections, and VPNs.