As we enter a new digitalized era, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are under intense pressure to expand networks and earn new subscribers. In the developing world, connectivity paves the way to local commerce, education, and economic growth. In remote parts of the world that are unconnected, mobile networks are often the only means of connectivity available. This is why many MNOs are beginning to build and expand their networks into rural and remote areas to capture this opportunity.
While expanding into new areas has a number of benefits, it’s not without its challenges for the operators. Less accessible locations are home to smaller populations, and this means less revenue potential. But by utilizing cellular backhaul through satellite, MNOs are now able to remain profitable while meeting worldwide demand for greater connectivity and 5G. Satellite has become a top choice for those wanting to provide cellular backhaul in rural or remote areas.
The race to connect new subscribers is driving a wave of mobile expansion around the world. NSR forecasts that satellite backhaul will generate $30 billion in revenue over the next 10 years — not taking into account the impact of 5G satellite deployment, where evolving standards have huge potential to further improve the cost effectiveness of satellite backhaul.
As a result, MNOs are looking for solutions which offer improved efficiency, performance, flexibility, and scalability. In remote regions, operators cannot easlily roll out individual backhaul networks. In many African countries, for example, rural Middle populations are very sparsely spread, and expenditure would be several times the amount compared to urban areas. But cellular backhaul over satellite can offer a compelling business case, allowing people to remain connected and keep pace with the fast-developing technology landscape. As the majority of people access the internet via a mobile phone or tablet, rather than desktop computers or laptops, this technology is also easily accessible, allowing people to get online quickly and easily.
For many years now, MNOs have relied on satellite for backhaul in more remote and less developed regions of the globe. For example, Telefonica – one of the largest MNOs in the world – had an aim to sell wholesale satellite capacity to other operators and to expand coverage areas across Latin and Central America. Utilizing satellite backhaul, Telefonica helped mobile operators bypass high capital costs and accelerated their timelines to build out services in those markets.
To give another example, Intelsat and Andesat are collaborating to bring an end-to-end mobile broadband (3G) service to remote communities in Perú. With the help of ST Engineering iDirect and ZTE, they are extending 3G access to 154 rural Peruvian communities in 2020, and as many as 400 remote sites across the country over the next 18 months. Here, satellite-based backhaul solutions provide the answer to bridging the digital divide.
The aim for the Te Conectamos Perú project is to ensure people are connected, which is essential for the economic and educational development of the country. Research shows that connectivity can have life-changing impacts for unconnected remote communities. The World Bank estimates that for every 10 percent increase in high-speed Internet connections, a country’s gross domestic product rises approximately by 1.4 percent.
In most cases, bridging the digital divide in the outmost rural corners of the world requires more than just technology. A continued partnership between satellite and MNOs is also key to create opportunities and change the landscape of the cellular connectivity market for the better. With satellite at their disposal, MNOs have more room to extend the reach of their services and address new use cases, such as Over-the-Top (OTT) content distribution and critical connectivity for disaster response efforts. Mobile banking and finance are also extremely popular applications and only set to grow further.
High Throughput Satellites (HTS) and ground equipment with the ability to support hundreds of megabits per second of capacity for backhaul, along with attractive price points, are also crucial in enabling service providers, telcos, and MNOs to not only connect the unconnected, but also to bridge the bandwidth gap between urban and unserved and underserved areas.
As we enter the 5G era, satellite connectivity is particularly crucial for the next stage of the evolution for MNOs. In fact, NSR estimates that 5G-differentiated applications — such as 5G backhaul and hybrid networks — will generate close to one third of net satellite capacity revenue growth in backhaul over the next 10 years. Satellite and terrestrial will work in a complementary way to unlock many use cases. This is due, in part, to the fact that 5G backhaul capacity demand will consume four to five times the bandwidth of a 4G site, according to NSR. Satellite technology has already proved itself as being highly adaptable for mobile backhaul purposes.
Connecting billions of people worldwide, broadband is a core pillar of modern society and the next stage of evolution for mobile networks calls for a total integration of satellite connectivity with the 5G network model. Satellites are set to play an integral role when it comes to the widespread deployment of 5G thanks to this combination of lower latency and compliance with 5G standards.
It’s clear that satellite will also become more prevalent in this new connectivity era, opening significant business opportunities for the entire industry. For operators to ensure they serve their customers in an efficient way, they should consider migrating their operations to one multiservice platform to allow them to serve numerous markets at the same time and grow their network with their business.
Semir Hassanaly is the head of Cellular Backhaul and Trunking at ST Engineering iDirect.