"Field of Dreams” Constellations Still Splitting Vote
Shagun Sachdeva, Analyst, NSR
THE topic of the conference was LEO constellations. These were major points of debate in almost every session. The oversupply of capacity expected from these business plans was quite aptly compared to the “If you build it, they will come” mantra of the now-famous "Field of Dreams" picture. Operators were keen to indicate the spread of capacity over different services and orbits renders that concern invalid. The biggest challenge highlighted however by the same operators is keeping capital expenditure low. Still, polling results were optimistic, but questions asked by the audience showed more pessimism. At the same time, smallsat Earth Observation (EO) constellations are today still “a thing,” with more start-ups announcing plans and recent launch rates showing more are on the way to becoming a reality.
Ground, Not Space, Is the Final Frontier
Dallas Kasaboski, Analyst, NSR
While LEO constellations were the talk of the town, the satellite industry is giving a second, or maybe first, look at how that capacity will reach the ground. Fast-tracking and multi-beam capabilities will be key in distributing LEO capacity supply, and many agree that Flat Panel Antennas (FPAs) will be necessary going forward. Great strides were made in recent years in FPA technology, and satellite saw more than its fair share of new, vocal players announcing more partnerships and deals this year than ever before. Discussions centered on performance and cost curves not being quite optimal, with most solutions catering to niche, deeper-pocketed enterprises, rather than the widespread consumer market. Despite the hype, the feeling was that a gap in getting there still exists, in particular to close the LEO satellite business case loop, which means assets may hang in space until the market catches up.
The ‘s’ in ABCs Is for Security
Brad Grady, Senior Analyst, NSR
Amongst the talk of Aeronautical, Backhaul, and Consumer Broadband (the ABCs) as the “growth engine” for satellite communication, security was mentioned as becoming a must-have item. With satellite networks looking and feeling more and more like their terrestrial counterparts through SD-WANs, terrestrial threats are very much a reality.
Walking the exhibit floor, talking to attendees, and listening to presentations throughout the conference, the security concerns (be it cyber, personal data, or physical) were front and center conversation points. What was unclear is what levels of security are “must-have” and what are “will pay for”?
In-Orbit Servicing: Moving from Fiction to Reality
Siddharth Shihora, Analyst, NSR
A more focused approach was seen in SATELLITE 2018, which made things clearer about the “do's and don'ts” for in-orbit servicing, in terms of regulations. The overall message conveyed was: in-orbit servicing will become a reality, sooner rather than later.
Satellite Manufacturers: Reality Check
Siddharth Shihora, Analyst, NSR
Slowly and steadily, satellite manufacturers are seeing the real picture and are moving away from fantasy land mainly due to the large drop in GEO satellites, where everything works and brings millions of dollars in revenue. They are moving toward LEO constellations but also asking questions about the best LEO business model moving forward.
Smallsats: Part of the Club
Carolyn Belle, Senior Analyst, NSR
While not yet taking center stage, smallsat players made a splash on the exhibit floor, in panels, and in special announcements alongside industry giants. Commercial and government operators spoke of more mixed architectures, blending not only orbits but satellite mass and capability in their search for a robust set of assets with optimized capex and revenue potential. Manufacturers and launch service providers highlighted solutions targeted for smallsats, from advanced manufacturing facilities and partnerships to new options for rideshare launch.
Launch Bottleneck Still Here
Shivaprakash Muruganandham, Analyst, NSR
Launch service providers recognize the bottleneck that is becoming increasingly apparent, acknowledging their limitations in manufacturing and production for the near-term, and the need for greater launch cadence to match up with the increasing demand. What will be the key factors to be addressed for launch vehicle availability? Flexibility and launch cadence alone?
5G is Here
Lluc Palerm, Senior Analyst, NSR
After years of hype generation, actual 5G deployments are here. 5G is much more than “faster speeds” and it involves a complete rethinking of how networks are conceived. Satellite and ground have worked in silos for years, but 5G opens the opportunity for satellite to seemingly integrate in the telecom ecosystem while unlocking new use cases such as traffic offload, network resiliency, streaming multicast or network densification. But to get to this vision, satellite must do its homework influencing satcom-friendly protocols, making it easier for telecom networks to integrate satellite and achieving much lower price points.
Don’t Forget About Software
Jose Del Rosario, Research Director, NSR
The industry has focused on the space segment and is now beginning to seriously take ground equipment into account. That's the good news. The bad news is one area that seems to be ignored or paid little attention to is network management software. With complex LEO systems, smallsats and other assets flying around and needing coordination, software to manage traffic as well as deal with interference issues and debris needs to be integrated into future systems today. From a market perspective, monetizing software products and services is still unclear but can prove to be of high value given the complex and critical requirements that need to be addressed.
Alan Crisp, Senior Analyst, NSR
The connected car via satellite has been subjected to much hype in recent years; however, NSR has always felt this will be best served by terrestrial technologies (with some exceptions). Now satellite constellations, both traditional operators and upcoming smallsats are turning their attention to autonomous cars, a field which NSR believes is much more suited to satellite connectivity. While this is a longer-term proposition, operators are beginning to gear up early for this large market opportunity. Unlike the connected car, connectivity requirements for the autonomous car are orders of magnitude more critical and will more quickly reach mass market status. The only question is how quickly autonomous cars will become technically feasible to end users before the benefits flow through to the satellite value chain. VS