Industry Execs Examine Key Talking Points Ahead of SATELLITE 2017

Issues such as low capacity pricing, new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) systems, reusable rockets, as well as the future of satellite communications in a data-driven society, are just some of the topics that could form the basis for a number of discussions at this year’s SATELLITE Conference & Exhibition.

SATELLITE 2017 comes at an interesting inflection point in the satellite industry. Issues such as low capacity pricing, new Low Earth Orbit (LEO) systems, reusable rockets, as well as the future of satellite communications in a data-driven society, are just some of the topics that could form the basis for a number of discussions at this year’s show. Kirk Pysher, president of International Launch Services (ILS), believes the main talking points will center around the increasing rate of competitive challenges facing the satellite industry. He said continued service introductions of High-Throughput Satellite (HTS) systems, the longer-term disruptions of even higher throughput systems, and the viability and reality of planned LEO and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) constellations will be key discussion points.

“From a launch provider’s perspective, discussions surrounding launch rate constraints, schedule slips, lack of preferred launch opportunities due to crowded or overbooked manifests, and the need for launch diversity are all timely subjects,” he added.

Mark Rigolle, CEO of LeoSat Enterprises, one of the new LEO operators looking to shake up the industry, understandably believes the future of LEO constellations will be a main topic of conversation. He says these satellite constellations already have and will continue to have a positive impact on the industry. He thinks there will be a lot of interest this year in the progress of LEO constellations to date, with specific focus on the capabilities and differentiators of forthcoming systems and what new opportunities they can bring.

“The difference from last year is that we now have a lot more visibility of the technical specifications of each system and therefore the different capabilities and benefits they bring to the communications market. I think people will now see that not all LEO systems are created equal,” Rigolle said. “One of the criticisms levied at LEO systems in general is that they are not a viable business model for communications as they cover the entire Earth and therefore a lot of the capacity is ‘wasted’ over the oceans, tundra, etc. ”

Mauricio Segovia, CEO of Axesat, a Latin American service provider, comes at this topic at a slightly different angle. He said 2016 was the year where the industry saw capacity prices going down, but he believes where the market goes next will be of huge interest. He cites the fact that there is a lot of excess capacity, and he is looking to find out which new markets could potentially consume it. In particular, he believes lower capacity pricing could lead to benefits in the cellular backhaul market. “With [satellite capacity] prices going down (because of lower mhz pricing and better technology), this should make operating expenditure of cellular backhaul sites more affordable for the operator and make them think of using satellite to expand their network coverage. Up to this point, [wireless] operators have mainly used satellite mostly to meet regulation requirements. Is 2017 the year when nano, pico and small cells become mainstream via satellite?” he queried.

New Era

With many new HTS systems coming online, it seems as though the industry is now on the cusp of some major change. “People are looking at new markets, new segments and new technologies,” Samer Halawi, CEO of Thuraya, said. “It’s fluid and exciting. We will see increased capacity on systems and reducing costs, which will push the limits of design, marking a new era for the satellite industry. It is also interesting to note the large number of systems that are working toward deployment around 2020."

Pysher agrees that the satellite industry has exciting prospects in a variety of new market segments and applications. Advances in technology and flexibility, as well as choices in satellites combined with a surge in available launch vehicle options in certain mass categories, “all point to a new era,” Pysher said.

Big Data

Big Data is now a term we hear a lot, not just in the satellite industry, but across the corporate spectrum. The move to a world more centered on data analytics is likely to have a huge impact on how satellite companies conduct their business.

“More data has been created in the past two years than in the entire previous history of the human race. Data is growing faster than ever before and by the year 2020, about 1.7 megabytes of new information will be created every second for every human being on the planet,” said Rigolle.

Dave Rehbehn, vice president of the International Division at Hughes Network Systems, also notes that the industry is in the middle of a transition. Video is still strong but we are seeing a shift toward Over-the-Top (OTT) content and away from so-called linear TV. Rehbehn also believes that data is moving toward HTS capacity and away from wide beam capacity. Rigolle believes the industry needs to reinvent itself and work to move past the DTH and VSAT era because it is simply “not enough anymore.”

Finding a place within the new world of the Internet of Things (IoT) will be vital to its future prospects. “IoT is now front and center if you are looking to expand from traditional core markets. New satellites and satellite technologies will evolve to address this growing demand for IoT connectivity. Satellite companies are investing significantly in IoT infrastructure from backend platforms, gateways, devices and even satellites that can support IoT applications,” said Halawi. VS

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