The satellite communications market has long been a monolith, standing apart and operating relatively independently from terrestrial communications markets typified by mobile and landline networks. Today, two significant technology advances in telecommunications are blurring the lines between these distinct markets, driving innovation and opening-up competition.
The first is the emergence of Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, and the second is the rollout of 5G networks. The amalgamation of the two will kickstart a dynamic transition in the satellite market with the advent of significant commercialization opportunities, notably for enterprise. As such, the prospects for the development of a cybersecurity market specializing around the new services that LEO satellites and 5G together can offer are likely to be in demand and potentially highly lucrative as well.
In a first instance, the development of LEO satellite constellations from high-profile companies has intensified competition in the space, with fairly new companies focused on LEO satellites (such as SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon), and on the other, GEO satellite vendors keen to expand into a promising new market (such as Telesat and Viasat/Inmarsat, among others). While the focus has been around offering consumer internet solutions from the start-up group, the more established satellite players are looking at the bigger picture, which includes enterprise. This is where cybersecurity will play a key role in terms of solution offerings.
The commercialization of LEO satellite communications meshes nicely with 5G networks, which are set to significantly extend dedicated telecommunications services to enterprise. The standalone fifth generation of cellular connectivity will be split into three distinct service categories from a user perspective: enhanced mobile broadband, ultra-reliable low latency, and massive machine type communications. These three broad service applications have been devised to better suit the varying needs and use cases of modern connected societies, and in particular enterprises and in industrial environments, which will be served up on software-defined platforms by communications service providers.
LEO satellite constellations will be able to supplement 5G infrastructure by extending coverage to remote areas. As such, there is market traction between the various stakeholders in the mobile and satellite space to collaborate and start developing commercial solutions. These will primarily target consumers, but in time, use cases may well evolve for enterprise. Added to the mix are hyperscalers and other technology companies from outside the telco space that have thrown their hats in the 5G ring and see the LEO space as a natural extension of their total addressable market. Hence the announcements of partnerships such as Verizon and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, AT&T and OneWeb, Rakuten Mobile and Ligado Networks, which are coming up against full-stack offerings like Inmarsat’s Orchestra (which promises to combine GEO, LEO, and 5G capabilities in one network).
For the security industry, this is an opportunity to seed the market with the offer of security solutions. The opening up of the satellite market and the roll-out of 5G will usher in new threats and unknowns, and the risk of unauthorized interception and interference are multiplied exponentially. As such, the offer of secure communications services will be a key priority for many of these new networks, but this will be especially important if the target market is enterprise, even though this is a much longer-term opportunity. There will be expectations on components and network service quality, including security in the supply chain and for service operation. LEO and 5G is set to offer high throughput and low latency and in order to minimize the potential damage of modern cyberthreats, and this cybersecurity will be a key technology to counter those.
The 5G standard has been designed with security in mind, and while various security technologies can be leveraged, the demand for security will vary depending on the enterprise use case, i.e., an IoT device measuring temperature will have a different risk profile than a smart traffic light system or a tele-robotic surgery device, and therefore different security solutions can be applied. The predefined 5G categories will service the connectivity requirements of these different applications but in parallel, there will be a strict requirement for the security of those services as well. These will range from credential management and device identity, to network encryption and data protection.
How these security functions are to be offered (and by whom) will depend on how the network or the network slice is configured. Service providers will be able to propose a variety of different security service level agreements for such use cases, aligning them broadly with the three standard-based categories that are eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband, URLLC (Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications) and mMTC (massive Machine Type Communications).
The commercialization of security services for enterprises in 5G networks is still very nascent, with a number of different players from different parts of the value chain hoping to monetize the opportunity: from network equipment vendors and telcos to hyperscalers and pure-play cybersecurity providers. But key to the offer of those new security services will be their ability to work seamlessly in a network that includes LEO satellite communications, without impacting quality or cost.
While the former will be important to critical infrastructure and other highly regulated industries, the brunt of the opportunity for monetization will be in those markets where security is not really a priority (and notably for the mMTC market). As such, cost will be a strong determinant for an enterprise investment in a security service. Providers will have to be able to effectively translate the value that a security service offering can bring to a prospective client.
Consequently, service providers will have to ensure that cybersecurity in LEO satellites is designed in from the start and is serviceable once the constellation is launched and during its whole lifetime of operation. This will require secure monitoring, secure over-the-air functionality for updates and patching, identity and access controls, network resiliency, lifecycle management and secure decommissioning, among others. These demands present opportunities for security vendors to offer dedicated security solutions to satellite original equipment manufacturers, service operators and, down the road, to enterprises directly.
In short, the cybersecurity market for LEO satellite communications, in tandem with 5G, is poised to be lucrative and expansive for those ready to seize it. Enterprises certainly will not deploy 5G or even satellite without security guarantees, and while the market is far from mature, the security solutions will have to be in place before being commercially introduced in the market. Enterprise adoption will be contingent on security being an integral part of the communications infrastructure. VS
Michela Menting is a research director at ABI Research focused on digital security. She studies the latest solutions in cybersecurity technologies, blockchain, IoT, and critical infrastructure protection, risk management and strategies, and opportunities for growth. ABI Research is a global technology intelligence firm.