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The Challenges Ahead for Satellite Communications in LatAm

By | May 16, 2018

After my recent visit to SATELLITE 2018, the most important event of the satellite communications industry, I would like to highlight the main challenges and focus of the industry going forward, contemplating their potential impact in Latin America. The common theme on everyone´s agenda underscores the following questions: what does the ecosystem need in order to take the next step as an industry? How do we prepare for what is to come?

I have compiled a list of the challenges we face as industry players, first with regards to technology and customer demand, second with regards to the adaptation of traditional business models and the evolution of new ones, and lastly, with regards to the evolution of complementary technologies that need to further evolve for massification.

Project LEO

The aim of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations is to lower prices and exponentially increase connectivity demand across mass markets. Its current state of development is at a stage where technological hurdles still need to be resolved. Once these hurdles are overcome, a viable business model needs to be developed alongside a feasible commercial strategy coupled with complementary technologies that will make LEO a viable commercial alternative.

LEO initiatives seem very well suited for markets across Latin America and Africa due to lack of coverage and the satellite footprints in some areas, which would provide new opportunities for markets where the appetite for broadband is clearly strong.

On the other hand, on a less positive note, Latin America has a complex regulatory environment that still needs to evolve to serve and facilitate the implementation of these types of technologies. Regulators need to fine tune legislation to expedite the use and adoption of LEO satellites and services.

LEO technology will not only force regulators, but all industry players, to rethink several aspects of the business. Not only will the value chain of the industry change along with commercial efforts, but there will also be considerable legal implications in addition to technological advances that need to happen across all fronts, especially with antenna technology, for successful deployment and implementation to take place.

Flat Panel Antennas

Within the realm of complementary technologies for the satellite industry, flat panel antennas are perhaps one of the most closely watched developments in the industry, with high expectations for success, and the market anxiously awaiting their arrival which, without a doubt, will expand the spectrum of applications and opportunities in the industry.

It is commonly known that the main bottleneck of the satellite industry is technology such as antennas that is required to provide service to the end customer. There are implications when using this technology (physical space, logistics, etc.), which limit the extent to which satellite services can be provided.

Flat panel antenna technology will eliminate several barriers for the industry allowing service providers to serve new markets and verticals, as well as compete more aggressively with terrestrial offerings.

As service providers in the region, we have witnessed a slow advance in this type of solution, which is worrying given the desire for quick deployment and mass adoption. Time and time again we have seen more players with deep interest in advancing and developing this technology, but we do not have conclusive evidence when we will see these solutions hit the mass market. Flat panel antennas are not only a decisive component for the success of LEO constellations, but will also benefit providers offering ample capacity through High Throughput Satellites (HTS), since these antennas will open new avenues for doing business in the industry and allow players to address new markets and verticals.

Similar to what occurred with the arrival of the Ku-band where Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology was created as a complement, with the arrival of LEO constellations flat panel antennas need to be ready for mass market deployment and with a particular focus on mobile service requirements.

The Atmosphere in the Industry

Leaving the technology component aside and focusing on the business aspect, today´s industry outlook is all about refining strategies and trying to predict where the demand will come for LEO satellite capacity and services.

There is uncertainty, anxiety and high expectations of this change. New topics of conversation about business models in the industry are being generated. The relationship with suppliers is focusing on the establishment of alliances seeking to generate more value for the market. Everyone is thinking into the future and exploring opportunities to position themselves and to be prepared for these new opportunities that have, in many cases, yet to manifest themselves. The industry is moving at blazing speed, and the entire value chain is accepting this, looking for ways and means to successfully stay afloat.

There is evolution and change. In the short and medium term, it can be painful for some, but a positive future is attainable and real in a new era. Technology changes and the evolution of business models will allow the industry to become a much more significant component of the communications world.

Pablo Hoyos, vice president of product and operations at Axesat.

Pablo Hoyos is the vice president of product and operations at Axesat. He has more than 15 years of experience in the technology and telecommunications sector. Hoyos has led the development and the portfolio of the company, always having as an axis of work the innovation which has allowed Axesat to position itself as a leading company in the region and for five consecutive years has been recognized by the WTA as one of the operators of the most important teleports in the world.