Interest has exploded in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellations recently, driving more change and activity than the space market has seen in decades. Fueled by the vision of ubiquitous, high-throughput, low-latency connectivity delivered globally, multiple systems have been launched or soon will be.
The vision isn’t new, but the industry reception definitely is. Why is it now seen as LEO’s time to shine?
Why Now for LEO?
The concept of LEO has been around for many years. In the 1990s, Globalstar, Iridium, Odyssey and Teledesic all had ambitious LEO plans, but eventually many of them struggled or canceled their constellations due to high costs. Every decade there seemed to be a plan for how LEO communications systems would be introduced. The critical difference today is LEO has moved from concept to reality.
In addition to Iridium’s narrowband 66-satellite constellation, Starlink has launched roughly 3,000 LEO satellites and OneWeb has launched about 400 LEO satellites to deliver broadband from LEO. LEO broadband connectivity is not a theoretical concept anymore.
What made this change possible was a drop in the costs of building and launching a LEO satellite constellation. Costs of digital processing, optical inter-satellite links (OISLs), launch costs and manufacturing have all decreased exponentially over the past decade.
LEO will change the connectivity paradigm in remote and rural geographies. Low latency and better security will lead the charge. Modern cloud-based applications assume low latency. Without it, they fail, or at best work in a very suboptimal way. Most internet applications assume low latency for good performance and security.
By complementing terrestrial networks, LEO will enable global digital equality, so everyone can benefit from digital innovations.
The Right Business Model is Required
Amidst all the industry excitement it’s easy to forget that LEO is not a technology – it’s simply a location in space. The target market and business model that the satellite operator intends to serve should drive the network design. It’s like how you develop a piece of real estate; you could build a condo, a house, a shopping mall or a factory. Each option has an intended purpose and outcome.
Enterprise, Mobility and Government markets don’t want best-effort services; they want guaranteed service levels backed by SLAs. Telesat’s approach is to build an enterprise-class network that offers a more rigorous, resilient architecture than consumer-grade LEO. Telesat Lightspeed uses larger, more powerful satellites and features such as OISLs, to reinforce resiliency that other LEO operators lack. Powerful onboard processing and an AI/ML-based network operating system allow guaranteed SLAs and efficient resource usage.
Further, Telesat’s LEO network, Telesat Lightspeed, will provide partners with a programmable Virtual Network Operator (pVNO) capability. As a pVNO, partners can customize network services based on their use cases and customer needs, dynamically manage services to all their remotes and allocate network resources to optimize economics.
The Telesat Lightspeed architecture provides unprecedented performance and flexibility to enterprise customers. Telesat Lightspeed was designed to be steerable fibre in the sky, ready to fill the gap wherever terrestrial fibre is not cost-effective or feasible. This highly flexible and scalable LEO backhaul network connects remote communities, airplanes and ships to the core telecom network and puts service providers in control of where, when, and how they serve their customers. And it ensures that enterprise and telecom service providers can provide their customers with a city-like broadband experience, no matter how rural or remote their location.
Enterprise-class LEO networks also make it possible for non-terrestrial networks (NTNs) to be fully integrated into terrestrial networks. Telesat Lightspeed will be MEF certified, simplifying the integration of LEO with terrestrial networks. This makes the creation of hybrid terrestrial/non-terrestrial 5G mobile infrastructures possible, dramatically elevating throughput and reliability for enterprises and consumers alike.
All of these features are why Telesat Lightspeed can guarantee enterprise-class availability.
That’s the approach that will take full advantage of the potential of LEO connectivity. The future of enterprise-class LEO is very bright indeed.