LEO Operators Pitch the Orbit’s Value for IFC at Connected Aviation Event
DENVER, COLORADO — Satellite operators building constellations in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) are targeting in-flight connectivity as a critical market for their businesses. Executives made bold projections for how airlines will adopt LEO at the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit, in Denver, Colorado, on Sept. 7.
Jason Sperry, head of Business Aviation for OneWeb, projects that the aviation and airline community will “absolutely” achieve a majority of traffic over LEO by 2030, estimating 50% or more.
Ronald van der Breggen, chief commercial officer at Rivada Space Networks, agreed on LEO’s significance, but put the traffic figure at more than 70%. “It’s all about the user,” he said. “It’s not about what the airlines want, or the capabilities of the satellite companies. It’s about the end user.”
Why will LEO be so disruptive to this market? Dylan Browne, global head of Mobility Business Development at Amazon, said that it has to do with latency, capacity, and consistency. “LEO is designed for that,” Browne said. “It’s a managed service out of the gate. Customers are going to vote with their feet. They want the service that has those attributes and characteristics.”
Amazon is working on Project Kuiper, an initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in LEO. The first two prototype satellites are set to launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) mission this fall.
Phillippe Schleret, Telesat’s vice president of Aviation, represented Telesat on the panel, soon after the operator secured funding and announced a new manufacturer for its Lightspeed LEO constellation. Telesat is building the LEO constellation from the ground up for enterprise-grade services, Schleret said. “In-flight connectivity in our target markets influenced the design of the network,” he said.
They are looking to create very consistent, superior customer experience at lower cost, and a “future-proof solution” with full global service including around the poles and anywhere on the ocean.
“The beam-hopping technology (of LEO) allows us to bring very large amount of capacity, where it’s needed when it’s needed,” Schleret said. “I’m thinking in particular for the high concentration around airport hubs.”
The panelists discussed active deals underway in IFC business development. Browne said that there is a big contract with a terrestrial partner now in the works. “The deal flow is happening,” he said. “We need to engage now. I’m here at this summit specifically with our partners to gain their insights to start that journey. We’d like to announce a new deal next year. There is a lot of work to do and we need to do it together.”
Sperry said that, following on the two announcements by OneWeb — the most recent in August demonstrating LEO global connectivity to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Switzerland — there will be other announcements in the next few months from airlines and their partners adopting technology that will support OneWeb in a multi-orbit capacity. “Whether that multi-orbit is with LEO and GEO, we want to work with the airline through our partners to ensure that they get what they need to deliver that consistent, reliable customer experience. So whatever that solution may be, we’re there to support it.”
Browne spoke to the importance of developing a cohesive service.
All the aspects of the IFC need to be “perfectly choreographed,” Browne said, to remove any points of failure and any bottlenecks “We’re not stuck in the today,” he said. “We’re building this for the future and customers’ future growth. We want our customers to have a delightful experience. That means we’ve got a huge amount of work to do to make sure we’ve mapped that out end to end.”