17/11/20229 Minutes

5G and Satellites: Hope or Reality?

This final webinar of the GVF-CBN series for 2022 attracted a lot of attention with 400 people registered. An hour of energetic, moderated, dialogue between two panellists from the space segment – the satellite operators Eutelsat and Intelsat – and two from the ground segment – Gilat Satellite Networks and SpaceBridge – proved to be both entertaining and highly informative on a topic that is high on the agenda right across the entire telecommunications sector.

Beginning with the panellist’s views on the question, “The 5G Standard is essentially a definition of a networking architecture with multiple access technologies: Wi-Fi; small cells; traditional mobile wireless; and satellite. What are the characteristics of satellite that make it so essential to realising the full potential of 5G?” the discussion went on to explore the detailed significance of 3GPP Release 17 for the satellite industry beyond the immediate “buzz phrase” of the ‘Network of Networks’, and to provide a preliminary advance perspective on the likely medium to long term implications of the following Releases 18 and 19, including projections on the probable revenue opportunities which satellite will be positioned to leverage.

Other themes touched on satellite not having traditionally been an industry where standardisation prevailed, this being one of a number of challenges which must be addressed as satellite develops to transparently, and imperatively, contribute to deliver on the full potential and promise of 5G. It was noted that in bringing forth the realisation of 5G the satellite industry will be committing to significant CAPEX and in order to more reliably realise a return on its investments the industry will be looking to leverage a more advantageous position in the value chain. It was also noted that satellite is ideally positioned to deliver within the 5G ecosystem the fulfilment of IoT applications and that the ‘Use Case’ revenue opportunities in Industrial IoT will only grow in importance. Additionally, having already well-positioned itself in terms of delivering customer solutions based on the hybridisation of satellite with other technologies, the industry is a natural partner for such innovations as LoRaWAN which will feature in the developing 5G world.

Finally, the dialogue revealed some quite contrasting views as to whether or not, in a comparison of 5G and GEO, and 5G and NGSO, the orbit matters. These views are both interesting and immediately topical. If you missed the live webcast you haven’t missed out. You can still enjoy the dialogue by watching the recording here.


Q & A continued….

Thank you to our audience for taking an active part by asking questions. We ran out of time to respond to the question below but our panellists were kind enough to answer after the event ended…

1. Does any of this matter in the face of SpaceX? In another year of so, it will be the single largest provider of Satellite Internet, largest provider of ground equipment, deploying more ESAs in a day than Eutelsat/OneWeb have on order (i.e.10k), and deploying more bandwidth than 100 Viasat 3s! The big challenge is showing up to this onslaught second, and I dare say, who on this panel sees it differently? 

Gerry Collins (Intelsat): To respond to this question which I kind of interpret as “you are all doomed, why don’t you just give up?” The reality of satellite networks is much more complex (something we need to keep behind the curtain) and the challenge of Starlink to scale will be no different to any other satellite network. We are already seeing a significant degradation of service in areas where they have been selling for over 12 months. Starlink will have to continually replace its satellites as they come to end of life in the coming years and that will put them under some financial constraints. There is no doubt that Starlink is here to stay and that they have dramatically changed the satellite industry for he better, but they not be immune to challenges of building scalable satellite networks.

Not trying to steal the thunder of Philippe, but comparing OneWeb with Starlink is not, I believe, the correct way to analyse. OneWeb have a very different Go To Market that Starlink, a model which will work much better for a large number of organisations compared to Starlink,

Amir Kashanizadeh (SpaceBridge): I am 100% on the same page with Gerry, but I would like to add a bit more… No doubt that SpaceX has done a great job in being vertically integrated and provide a full and easy-to-install solution. But calling them as the sole market and technology owner of the future is far from reality and its only marketing speech. Actually, there is big doubt if the Starlink will be profitable at all in long run. That’s why I said the first to Market is not necessarily is the most successful one.

Starlink is at the stage of its GEN1 right now, which is Bent-pine, The Gent2 is going to be OBP but for TBD time in future. Right now if Starlink wants to have full coverage over US, it will need 4000 Satellites and 132 teleport locations. This means that the expansion of coverage won’t be easy (If doable at all). The Capex is too high and the ROI is certainly the main concern. Besides that, there is no way that the Price tag will cover the CAPEX plus the cost of Terminal and Services unless Starlink dominates the whole market which is unrealistic. There will also be many other technical challenges, today the maximum return link speed is announced 20 Mbps by Starlink which might be ok for internet traffic but is far from ok for many other markets such as Private Networks, Trunking and Aero.

And finally, let me ask a counter question, how much is the survival chance of Starlink against Amazon Kuiper which has the whole ecosystem, not only vertically integrated in solution but also they are the biggest customer of their own solution at the same time?

In a nutshell, This market is so diverse and versatile and the niche markets are so attractive that “NO ONE” will be the biggest shark in the ocean, but each main player at most is the biggest fish in the pond (specific target market).

Philippe Llau (Eutelsat): In line with Gerry’s and Amir’s responses – one may add that since Starlink is being all vertically integrated, it may not help actually build or match the standards we need to meet the 5G NTN interoperability we were debating.

I would thank the anonymous questioner and suggest he joins one of our companies. He would feel we are not giving up. In case it is Mr Musk, let’s see!