Views around the ramifications of a move for satellite operators and VSAT providers toward a ‘data-centric’ operating model informed morning debates on day two of the main conference at VSAT Global.
In his opening remarks, chair Christopher Baugh, President at Northern Sky Research, described the satellite sector as going through “an upside down time”, starting with a glut of capacity that’s placing satellite operators under pressure to look further toward diversified revenue streams. This ‘new normal’ is also having a knock-on effect on VSAT service providers anxious to stabilise their own revenue expectations by reviewing operating models and embracing exigent strategies focused on partnerships, consortia, and other forms of consolidation – including M&A.
Baugh observed how the satellite sector is “now data-centric and starting to look like a telco market”, with the sustainability of some pricing models now within sight of being tested down to $500-per-Mb.
Following on from earlier discussions around the future evolution of flat-panel antennas, Baugh reiterated the perception that value-added prospects for the satellite business in general are being coupled to the speed with which this technology can be brought to market.
Ronald van der Breggen of LeoSat focused on the implications of the move to a data-centric market: when fully deployed, LeoSat’s solution, he told delegates, is “not a satellite technology, not a gap-filler for when waiting for fibre installation… it is a networking technology”. Indeed, it will be in some cases superior to both fibre and other satellite technologies and terrestrial fibre, Breggen said.
In response to challenging delegate questions on LeoSat pricing models, Breggen confirmed that the company’s core service (scheduled for launch 2018-2020) would not necessarily be competing against GEO and other satellite offerings, but rather positioned as a ‘premium product’ – a differentiator that he predicted (without irony) will lift it above higher-altitude rivals: LeoSat customers will be prepared to pay a premium for services that offer better latency, and whose ‘touchless architecture’ means is able to offer additional security assurances.
How satellite technology will ‘be used’ in 5G environments was also a key theme. In some opening devil’s advocacy, a delegate questioned whether speculative debates on satellite and 5G interplays were really a discussion priority, for the time being, the global satellite industry faced other issues of higher criticality.
However, panellists’ responses confirmed that there are some topics that it is timely to place under consideration. Jesus Hector Jimenez, VP–Global Engineering at RigNet, said that 5G is undoubtedly forcing satellite operators at least to think differently about their future role in the wider communications ecosystem. Satellite could play a very big role in 5G deployment in some parts of the world, he added, because in the absence of fibre, it will drive opportunities for satellite operators to become primary endpoint device service enablers in the move toward 6G and 7G standards.
Jimenez also pointed out that from an OPEX perspective, maintaining satellite-based 5G network infrastructures may well prove to be less costly that having to dispatch engineers to repair broken fibre installations in remote regions of developing global markets.
In his comments John Landovskis, VP, PLM & Business Development VSAT & Modem Products at Advantech Wireless, called attention to the fact that latency should not be the only issue of concern in regard to running enterprise-class applications across all-5G networks. Jimenez envisaged a future scenario where end-user organisations entering emerging overseas markets where 5G becomes the only available communications infrastructure, might find that core applications – SAP or Citrix, say – might have to be reconfigured to operate wholly over satellite-enabled nets.
Panellist Renato Goodfellow, Head of Global Satellite, BT Global Services, called upon leading players in the satellite industry to initiate conversations with major enterprise applications software vendors with a view to identifying any issues that deploying their software extensively and exclusively over satellite-based 5G networks might throw up.
The closing panel discussion focused on how mobility applications are increasingly becoming a growth sector that’s providing opportunities for VSAT players to fill revenue gaps left by downturned markets such as energy (oil and gas). Panellists including Harris CapRock Communications President Tracey Haslam, and Intellian Technologies VP Global Satcom Jon Harrison, agreed that many of the best prospects here lie in maritime, as shipping fleets the world over turn increasingly to satellite to support a panoply of applications for both manned and unmanned vessels, including tackling the growing threats of maritime cyber-security.