It was a huge year for Flat Panel Antennas (FPAs) at SATELLITE 2018, with announcements and panels throughout the entire event. This key event was hosted by Isotropic Systems, and SES trumpeted their antenna partnerships with ViaSat, Alcan, and Isotropic Systems for mPower. It had us all expecting something to come online soon with a suite of new products. Yet, only two panels will address FPAs this year. Antennas have been under development for some time, and some nifty-looking ones have made their way to the exhibits on truck, cars, and boats — so we’re expecting them to make a grand entrance soon to better assess when will FPAs make an impact. At a conference that's usually full of antennas both on the show floor and in conversations and panel sessions, we’re asking: where are the FPAs?
The SATELLITE show features an increasingly outstanding line-up of panels and sessions with “fresh-faced” speakers from non-satellite companies. It steps up a notch this year with representatives from Amazon, Softbank, Sprint, Mastercard, Merck, Dupont, IBM, and Siemens that are active in much larger industries and markets outside of satellite. We think this will create a buzz about deals that could be signed with satellite players to expand capabilities via partnerships or new technology. Perhaps a surprise announcement for yet another constellation, this time from Apple, Facebook, or Google? Or better yet, an acquisition by a major telco of a satellite operator? Everything is on the table as the industry looks for answers to its woes not just from the inside, but also from outside. And when you get these huge players involved in a relatively smaller market, you have to be on the lookout for them potentially making the next big deal.
More sessions are discussing the different aspects of in-orbit servicing, including business and regulations. This aspect of satellite acitivites is gaining ground (beyond just the CAPEX savings that it entails), considering the topic of “life after life extension” will be discussed. It seems like this new eco-friendly end-of-life approach will help us understand if in-orbiting servicing is entering in to the satellite industry mainstream, or not.
Has the three-letter acronym for In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) become a four-letter word, given the poor service provider results, continued delays, installed equipment defects, business models far from win-win situations, and indecisions by potential clients? With only one session at SATELLITE focusing on this “high-growth” market, one has to ask: “What happened?” There are bright spots with passenger aircraft IFC retail revenues growing supported by commercial passenger traffic hitting record highs. But aside from demystifying satellite technology, yet again, we’ll be on the lookout for evidence of the promise for cheaper, better service with more capacity and, finally, a strong business model, and not a four-letter word when discussing IFC.
The question remains: when will lasercom make its mark on the industry? Relegated to one of a few “new” spin-in technologies, its importance to the future of data-intensive Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Earth Observation (EO) satellites is not forgotten. Given the high dependence of this sector on serious buy-in from ground station and non-Geostationary Orbit (GEO) operators for data downlinks and intersatellite links, lasers seem to remain under the purview of NASA’s efforts at the moment. However, presence from the only operational in-orbit lasercom relay system, the European Data Relay System (EDRS)/SpaceDataHighway, could be a promising start, and one has to wonder: will this indeed be the “Decade of Light?”
There have been many Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) announcements over the past year, especially with regards to small satellite tech, with new founding rounds and new constellations left, right, and center. However, at SATELLITE 2019, we expect to see an increased focus on how to actually deliver these services to the end customer. The nuts and bolts of new smallsat constellations will need to be better defined, no more promotion of “millions of devices out there,” but announcing more end-user developments, application specific focus, and integrating smallsat ground equipment and terminals. Watch out for announcements in particular for new IoT systems integrating with old, and be on the lookout for who's not there as well — an increasing number of IoT startups that raised initial funding, then burned out.
Is there more to watch out for? If we listed another 10 things to watch out for, there wouldn't be much of a mobility-focused satcom industry left. What NSR expects to hear are more end-user announcements that will hopefully aim to fill the gut of capacity that's been launched, and will be launched in the next 12-18 months. A walk down the exhibit hall will likely yield #YetAnotherFPA... and subsequent #ParabolicOrNot debates. Every mobility-focused conversation will include the word "hybrid," and some flavor of "agnostic" (be it orbit, frequency, or vertical). Hopefully, we won't hear another LEO-High Throuhgput Satellite (HTS) constellation announcement — that's so 2018.
Space Force! All conversations will focus yet again on the need for U.S. government purchasing acquisition reform, a dedicated focus on space activities, and the need for the U.S. government to adopt a more “commercially-focused” architecture. Today, that happens to be caught up in the hashtag-friendly "Space Force" (memes included), but the industry should expect some updated on the creation of the Space Development Agency and the other “nuts and bolts” changes underway.
5G is creating a lot of expectations in the satellite community as many hope it will make satcom part of the mainstream telecom ecosystem. 5G is around the corner and if the industry wants to meet this vision, SATELLITE 2019 should showcase concrete steps forward on how the industry will meet the 5G performance requirements. The event should also showcase how standard interoperable orchestration with terrestrial networks is taking shape, and what applications are starting to gain traction from the market. All this, not forgetting that 4G will pay the bills for the coming years and most of the so-called 5G use cases, can be kick-started today.
Pricing has been in a relentless decline over the last three years, plummeting at 15 to 20 percent per year in 2019. Not only have spot prices decreased, but the commoditization rate of capacity is also increasing. Operators have been slow in pivoting their business models, and the interplay between improving manufacturing technology and regional competition looks to exert immense pressure on pricing in the medium term. Government, military, and enterprise data both declined by approximately 24 percent since 2018, while backhaul and broadband segments posted declines of approximately 16 percent in Q1 2019. With anticipations of large HTS payloads and LEOs to come in by 2021, the push on lease pricing remains strong in the near term. VS