The end in sight for Geo-sats?
September 13, 2023
Euroconsult used their Paris World Satellite Business Week conference to make a dramatic forecast in suggesting that geostationary satellite capacity would shrink to “meaningless” amounts within the next five years, with non-Geo constellations providing 95 per cent or more of global satcom capacity by 2028.
Euroconsult’s data showed that today’s non-geo constellations were almost all operating in the Ku-bands (owing to Starlink and OneWeb) but suggested that over time there would be a “slight shift” towards Ka-band owing to the launch of Telesat’s Lightspeed, Amazon’s Kuiper and SES’ O3b.
There was also a growing trend of multi-orbit strategies emerging (SES and O3b, Eutelsat and OneWeb, Inmarsat and Orchestra) and where geostationary satellites operated in tandem with non-geostationary satellites.
However, the forecast generated some further questions and comments – not that there were always answers available. For example, one question asked whether the LEO+GEO demand would be meaningful.
Another comment suggested that there is a huge difference between raw capacity and usable capacity. LEO system capacity is devalued by the time a satellite spends over unpopulated areas and regions where service cannot be sold for political reasons. GEO system capacity is focused exactly where needed.
Intelsat used the Paris event to confirm it is making a series of investments on companies that focus on handsets and lower orbits as the older industry satellite operators attempt to keep up with challenges from the likes of Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
“We’re starting to place some strategic bets,” Intelsat CEO David Wajsgras said in an interview. “Bets on companies that are bringing new technologies to the industry: Think direct-to-handset, think spectrum expansion, think new capabilities at the gateway level, terminal level.”
Intelsat has taken stakes worth between $5 million to $25 million in four businesses focused on satellites in low Earth orbit — with an altitude of less than 1,200 miles — to offer new services, according to Wajsgras.
Lower orbit offers faster connection speeds, enabling connectivity straight from space to smartphones. Intelsat is seeking to get a foothold in the technology that has gained traction in recent years, in part due to advances in chips. Apple Inc. began offering emergency texting via satellite on the iPhone 14 last year.
Two of the closely held companies Intelsat invested in specialize in direct-to-handset technology, according to Wajsgras, who declined to identify them. Intelsat is taking board seats and helping steer the firms’ technology to work with its own systems, he said in an interview with Bloomberg.