26/01/202315 Minutes

Mobility: Smooth Sailing and Taking Off?

Having five industry experts covering the satellite operator, service provider, and equipment OEM segments from the satellite mobility sector in the same (virtual) “room” was bound to be a great opportunity for an online audience to ask their penetrating questions on topics maritime and aeronautical. This proved to be the case, and the high level of audience engagement in today’s webinar theme resulted in many questions still remaining at the end of a very interesting 60 minutes. As well as the video recording of today’s dialogue being available here, so too are panellists’ written answers to those remaining questions.

With a “live” registered audience of more than 270 from 68 countries, the webinar opened with a moderator general question concerning the mobility market having been one of the worst-hit satellite markets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some regions still feeling the aftershocks. So, “Is mobility smooth sailing and taking off?”

Moderator questions went on to cover the subject of recent volatility in the mobility connectivity market with M&A activity and companies undergoing financial restructuring, asking “Why is this particular market so unsteady? What are the essential steps that need to be taken to create the required stability in the market?”

Inevitably, the topic of NGSOs was raised with such questions as, “What impact will NGSOs have on the mobility connectivity ecosystem?” and “What direction will the mobility markets take? Will NGSOs dominate, or will GEOs-NGSOs complement each other, or will GEOs keep the biggest piece of the pie with NGSOs taking the smaller slice?” Related to this, discussion turned to multi-orbit, multi-frequency switching and roll-out of flat panel antenna technologies. There were some very important points raised here, not the least of which was that, in the aero segment at least, we’re going to see mechanically-steered antennas still in use for a not insignificant number of years to come.

If you couldn’t watch “live” then tune-in to the archive here to watch the recording.

Q & A continued….

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


1. Did the cruise lines do their homework ahead of time to prepare for the communication demands of today? Are their most robust circuits congested or mostly idle?

Will Mudge (Speedcast): Cruise lines plan their links well. QoS is very important to provide the guest experience and control the data between congested and idle. Cruise brings more bandwidth than ever to customers. It isn’t a case of congestion or idle, networks haven’t run in contention. Its about using QoS to control the data that is available.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): Cruise lines have consistently been preparing for future increase in connectivity demand, they are somewhat limited if have a sole supplier and so have learned to ensure that they are not tied to any single solution which opens up the possibilities to meet demand. Managing the allocated bandwidth with priority and optimisation is necessary no matter how think the pipe.

Tim Southard (Anuvu): It’s true, the demand from Cruise passengers is at record levels. We find that no one single satellite Operator can fulfil the demand in busy ports and canals and areas of regulatory-restrictions, so we must employ GEO capacity from multiple operators, Starlink and terrestrial wireless, bonded into a seamless link with our SDWAN.

Chris Insall (ST Engineering iDirect): There’s a mix of capabilities in Cruise (even in quite recent years, some lines were switching beams manually!), and of course the sector was massively disrupted by Covid. Post-pandemic there’s something of a scramble for capacity, as demand rises to 2019 levels (expected over 30m passenger embarkations). As above, QoS is paramount in managing available capacity, especially when future planning has been challenging.


2. While the pandemic was in full swing, Starlink was active in enabling high-speed, low latency connectivity for the Aero and Maritime markets. How do you guys as satellite operators feel about this move in providing GEO based connectivity?

Will Mudge (Speedcast): We are excited as Starlink offers a new experience to our customers. We feel that this is good and are looking to help customers as the state-of-the-art advances in our industry.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): Eutelsat welcome the Starlink service and appreciate the impact on the industry; it brings a lot of new eyes focussed on the satcom world that normally would not be watching, acts as a catalyst for innovation, and challenges the status quo. Eutelsat are embracing multi orbit connectivity solutions and look forward to have OneWeb launch commercial services this year.

Tim Southard (Anuvu): For maritime, Starlink has come at such a good time for the industry. The ability to boost capacity, coverage and availability has a great impact, while GEO capacity and wireless ensure ample capacity and solve issues with political boundaries and regulatory hurdles. Starlink is not on more than a handful of aircraft yet, so too early to tell, but we anticipate they will perform well in areas where there is not heavy contention, such as major cities.


3. Disagree with Timothy… Yachts in Europe have been streaming at sea for years; rule-of-thumb is min. 2Mbps for western streaming services, 5 Mbps for Russian streaming services. They do this with Network Diversity; satellite, cellular, Wi-Fi in the marinas. 

Tim Southard (Anuvu): Oh, definitely agree with you. The answer was focused on Airlines where we see a higher percentage of carriers that seek a smaller amount of capacity or are not yet convinced that connectivity is necessary in order to keep their passenger-base. Good points about Yachts. That market is eager for affordable high-capacity links.


4. There are not 200,000 commercial vessels in the world as mentioned. Make that half.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): Depends what sub-segments of ‘commercial’ you reference…commercial fishing increases the number significantly, for instance, and is a perfectly viable market for satellite connectivity.

Chris Insall (ST Engineering iDirect): Assume this refers to Merchant. With around 20K merchant ships served by VSAT today, this expected to rise above 60K within 10 years.


5. Please keep in mind that there are only 323 active cruise liners… the maritime market is much more diverse.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): Passenger market is much bigger than just the 300 or so cruise ships, and the overall market in maritime is way more diverse, so completely agree.


6. Other than Cruise, nobody in maritime will pay for super-advanced user terminals which are multi-band, and multi-orbit – if everybody blames the antennas for being too expensive.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): Continual innovation always solves the biggest problems and challenges – this is definitely a challenge, but one I am sure we will overcome as an industry or partnerships and cooperation.

Chris Insall (ST Engineering iDirect): Agree with Stephen. Interestingly, a mix of multi-band solutions has already evolved outside Cruise; of course, most involving L-band – however, also C/Ku. And TCO for multi-orbit solutions is expected to fall, also with the increased availability of NGSO.


7. Do you see High Altitude Platform having any effect the Mobility market as they can be lower cost and lower latency than satellites?

Will Mudge (Speedcast): Our evaluation of HAPS (High Altitude Platforms) showed that the challenge is dwell time, or how long they can stay on station. Drones must fuel; balloons and dirigibles have a set period of time before they have to come down for maintenance too. Then you have to cycle a maintenance period. The results of Google Loon illustrate these challenges. While we watch the market, these challenges haven’t been solved in a sustainable way to be competitive.

Tim Southard (Anuvu): HAPS was so promising to us, but the challenges in commercial viability hamper their widespread use. We saw their substantial ground-infrastructure as one of the biggest limitations. It does seem that innovation in laser links will improve their chances, since a robust balloon-to-balloon mesh would reduce the ground infrastructure costs. As you know, Google’s 9 year HAPS experiment failed but they only achieved 150Mbps inter-balloon links, which is inadequate in today’s environment. 10Gbps or 100Gbps links are promising.


8. What price of antenna terminal, and data rate would be reasonable? Because price and data rate should be in balance.

Will Mudge (Speedcast): 12 months ago, this answer would have been much different and I think the lesson learned from that is reasonable depends on who you are asking. Manufacturers will tell you what their costs are, but Starlink has shown us what is possible with terminal prices and Mbps prices. “Reasonable” is really the interesting question of reasonable to who.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): Terminals must have a Return on Investment and this should be easy using connectivity in maritime for operational efficiency and cost savings, to avoid fines etc for missing regulatory thresholds, and to achieve maximum crew retention. If these factors are well considered the total cost of ownership can be low.


9. Do you think that Starlink will be the main choice in Maritime in next 10 years from now?

Will Mudge (Speedcast): Our crystal ball is challenged to reach 10 years; the industry is changing so fast right now. There is a very strong chance the answer is yes, but there are a lot of variables between now and then.

Stephen Conley (Eutelsat): I would not rule out other LEO constellations like OneWeb – their business case had maritime at the front and center from initial design while Starlink never really even intended to enter this market. The rate of investment needed to maintain Starlink as it is long term will eventually require a higher profitability, which I am sure they have planned for.

Tim Southard (Anuvu): Starlink has an incredible running start and a stunning road map, so it feels like they will be in the top one or two. Providers that can mix Starlink’s strengths with constellations that focus capacity in congested areas, will certainly out-perform the competition. We see promise in Lightspeed, OneWeb’s v2 and up-and-coming constellations with surprising capabilities applicable to maritime, like Beetlesat, Rivada and Mangata. The terminal will be key to their success.

Chris Insall (ST Engineering iDirect): As per the panel session comments, there’s no question of the value of role played by NGSO solutions of which of course Starlink is currently inciting strong interest. In line with comments above, extremely difficult to project forward 10 years given the new economic models deployed. Nevertheless, GEO remains a proven model, and will certainly play a fundamental role going forward in the blend of services delivered.