Low Earth orbit satellites not the best solution for satellite internet: Rajeev Suri | Mint
Active Stocks
Thu Feb 29 2024 15:49:54
  1. Kotak Mahindra Bank share price
  2. 1,690.80 0.43%
  1. Axis Bank share price
  2. 1,075.70 0.10%
  1. Tata Steel share price
  2. 140.90 0.11%
  1. Power Grid Corporation Of India share price
  2. 282.55 1.07%
  1. ITC share price
  2. 406.50 -0.51%
Business News/ News / World/  Low Earth orbit satellites not the best solution for satellite internet: Rajeev Suri
BackBack

Low Earth orbit satellites not the best solution for satellite internet: Rajeev Suri

Relying on such satellites will need big investments and cause environmental issues, says Suri

Rajeev Suri said he expects to see a lot of consolidation in the global private space sector and funding on the rise. mintPremium
Rajeev Suri said he expects to see a lot of consolidation in the global private space sector and funding on the rise. mint

Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which quickly rose to prominence over the past couple of years as a cost-effective solution for satellite internet providers, may not be the most efficient solution for the field.

Relying solely on LEO satellites to deliver connectivity would require massive investment and also cause major environmental concerns, Rajeev Suri, chief executive of British satellite communications firm Inmarsat, said at the 2022 Technology & Leadership Summit organized by the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom).

“A market estimate says that by the end of 2030, to support a constellation of more than 12,000 satellites, Starlink will need to have launched 23,000 satellites given the five-year lifespan. That is more than double the entire number of satellites launched by the entire world till date. This is a massive number," Suri pointed out.

LEO satellites are deployed at orbits of 2,000km or less from the Earth’s surface and are typically smaller in size than most other types of satellites that offer satellite connectivity. This makes LEO satellites cheaper to build and deploy in orbit. They also offers much lower latency in terms of connectivity in comparison to geostationary earth orbit (GEO) satellites.

The latter are significantly larger and more complicated in size and, therefore, more expensive to build. They are also deployed in geosynchronous orbits at 35,786km above Earth, which makes them more expensive to be put in orbit. The higher altitude of the satellites also increases latencies. Latency is the time taken for data to travel from the source to the end point and what we usually discern as internet speed. However, GEO satellites do not require multiple units to be deployed to offer connectivity and can offer comparable bandwidth. GEOs also are capable of operating for around 15 years, against a five-year lifespan of LEO satellites.

The issue of space junk and the reaction of aluminium with solar radiation because of LEOs in Earth’s higher atmosphere are also key concerns, Suri said. The latter is yet to be studied extensively, though the question of space debris has been raised by many.

“The end result could be akin to Kessler’s Syndrome, in which space pollution becomes so high that collisions cause an unending cascade of follow-on collisions, which produces more debris. That would create a snowball effect in space with potentially disastrous consequences," he said.

Reliance Jio, which recently announced its entry in the satellite internet space in partnership with European satellite operator SES, will use GEO and medium earth orbit satellites for its services. However, most other operators that have announced services are operating on LEO satellites, including Bharti Airtel-OneWeb, SpaceX’s Starlink, Tata-backed Nelco and Telesat, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

The correct approach for a sustainable satellite connectivity service would be a hybrid one, Suri contended.

“Hybrid networks using GEO, LEO, and terrestrial 5G could be a simpler and more efficient way to meet customer needs. For instance, when in an aircraft, you don’t need online gaming, but might want high-speed connectivity but not low latency. In maritime operations, if there is a lot of network congestion and you don’t have enough bandwidth or capacity through GEO satellites, you can use 5G hotspots for this. LEOs would suit other areas, too," he said.

Suri said he expects to see a lot of consolidation in the global private space sector and funding on the rise. He cited a report by investment research firm Space Capital to state that venture capital funding in the global space sector grew by more than 90% in 2021 to reach $17.1 billion.

As innovations continue and new companies enter the sector, many might consolidate into a single entity. “There are about 50 companies in the satellite internet space and I would bet that there would be less than half the number in a decade from now," he said.

Unlock a world of Benefits! From insightful newsletters to real-time stock tracking, breaking news and a personalized newsfeed – it's all here, just a click away! Login Now!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shouvik Das
Shouvik Das is a science, space and technology reporter for Mint and TechCircle. In his previous stints, he worked at publications such as CNN-News18 and Outlook Business. He has also reported on consumer technology and the automobile sector.
Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Check all the latest action on Budget 2024 here. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Published: 18 Feb 2022, 06:44 PM IST
Next Story footLogo
Recommended For You
Switch to the Mint app for fast and personalized news - Get App