Context Statement: The Launch of the HTS Era
The HTS 2018 Roundtable… LEOs… MEOs… GEOs offers an in-depth exploration of the drivers and trends behind the continuing massive growth potential in the market for satellite-based broadband solutions. This is a market which kick-started longer ago than you may think, because it was just earlier this year that we were reminded of the launch of the high throughput satellite (HTS) era when, in June, Thaicom announced that it was considering ways to prolong the life of IPstar, its pioneering HTS spacecraft launched as far back as 2005… 13 years ago.
The Operator as Provider
At that time IPstar was the highest capacity satellite in orbit, offering 45 Gbps of Ku-band capacity. Though projected to run out of fuel in 2022, this example of first generation HTS may exceed its in-orbit capability expectations by as much as two additional years.
Current and future generations of HTS technology provide capacity at prices significantly lower than that of the first generation exemplified by IPstar, prices which mean that satellite operators are moving to provision of services in addition to raw capacity.
The Downward Revision in Capacity Pricing (Erosion, or Market Access Enabler?)
In further illustration of the downward trend in satellite capacity pricing that has been brought about by increasing numbers of more powerful HTS spacecraft in orbit, Northern Sky Research (NSR) has shown that prices are trending between 35% and 60% lower than two years ago.
Whilst the NSR analysis addressed only geostationary satellite systems (GEO) – excluding the medium Earth orbit (MEO) O3b constellation and upcoming low Earth orbit (LEO) mega-constellation–based systems – and additionally acknowledges that the rate of price erosion is slowing, their analysis has shown that sliding prices will continue into 2019. Whilst NSR has found that multiple factors – in addition to HTS – are contributing to the pricing decline, the factor driving the sharpest decline is satellite operators that have gone low, with large connectivity deals in markets like inflight connectivity and maritime.
Indeed, inflight connectivity (IFC) providers – such as Panasonic Avionics, Global Eagle and Gogo – have been buying large sums of HTS capacity, often becoming ‘anchor’ customers that underpin the business case behind entire satellites. In the NSR analysis mobility capacity deals show the steepest pricing declines since 2016, some by slightly over 60%, with HTS consumer broadband and cellular backhaul close behind in the high 50 percentiles.
The Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia
After seeing HTS systems and technology advance over the Americas, Europe and Africa, global and regional operators in Asia are beginning to direct their attention to launching HTS satellites en masse, bringing the HTS focus back to the region, with: SES-12, Eutelsat-172b, Intelsat/JSAT, Horizons-3e, Telesat/APT Satellite Telstar-18 Vantage/Apstar-5C, and more AsiaPac HTS capacity on the way from Kacific, China Satcom and mu Space. Meassat, too, hopes to have orbited by 2021 HTS capacity to provide broadband services to Malaysia.
A year later the Indonesian government plans to have launched a high-throughput satellite to bring internet access to unreached parts its island archipelago, delivering capacity of at least 150 Gbps. With another 50 Gbps of capacity to be leased from other satellites, Indonesia’s satellite programme will be the highest capacity system designated purely for the purpose of closing a single nation’s digital divide.
Africa, too, is likely to see a deluge of new HTS capacity. Eutelsat, Spacecom, Viasat and Global IP all have Ka-band HTS spacecraft under development to bring broadband to the continent.
Hispasat, the world’s leading distributer of Spanish and Portuguese content over satellite, in partnership with Gilat Satellite Networks, will be utilising capacity from the recently launched Amazonas-5 multi-spot-beam Ka satellite, as well as Amazonas-3 Ka, to deliver consumer broadband and enterprise services to local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Brazil.
Methera and the “Capacity Density” Model
Other than GEO, in MEO the only system providing satellite broadband today is SES Networks’ constellation of 16 O3b satellites, but a new British company, Methera, with its own 16-satellite constellation idea, intends to change that, using a “capacity density” model as the key differentiator between its proposed constellation and other emerging systems.
Methera will focus capacity on extremely specific locations, targeting a small number of high-value customers, taking a village or a town from no coverage to being able to provide for everyone. Additionally, Methera may focus on working with other satellite constellations by providing additional capacity, especially for constellations where increasing throughput in a singular location would require scaling up the entire system through multiple additional satellites.
The 2018 HTS Roundtable Programme
The 2018 HTS Roundtable’s exploration will extend to evaluating the opportunities arising from a host of new applications that are being delivered into new market sectors, including into the communications on the move (COTM) ecosystem, applications are being enabled through the deployment of more-highly bandwidth efficient networks built on existing and planned HTS systems in GEO, together with planned future constellations of hundreds of non-geostationary (NGSO-HTS) global communications satellites in MEO and LEO.
HTS supply is projected to grow to nearly 2,000 Gbps by 2018, and nearly 3,600 Gbps by 2020, growth that will be overshadowed by the emergence of NGSO constellations, projects that promise massive volumes of capacity supply, low latency and global (or near-global) coverage. NGSO-HTS projects such as the continued expansion of O3b in MEO, and OneWeb, SpaceX, Telesat and LeoSat in LEO would combine to add over of 40 Tbps of capacity. And, there’s more to come…
Against this contextual background the key interesting questions are myriad. Just some examples: