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 Satellite operators eye off 5G, planes and automobiles

Optus Satellite will look to leverage its relationship with parent company the Singtel Group to play a key role in future 5G rollouts in the Asia Pacific region.

Optus Satellite VP Paul Sheridan said that satellite would be crucial and complementary to the success of 5G mobile networks, both in Australia and throughout the region.

“From our point of view it's positive that we are owned by the largest mobile phone operator across Asia,” Sheridan told an operator roundtable at the Australasia Satellite Forum in Sydney.

“Satellite will play a role in 5G so I'm very interested in Optus Satellite playing a role in Optus Communication and Singtel and all their affiliates,” he added, noting that satellite would be crucial in providing resilience to terrestrial 5G services as well as carrying video and backhaul traffic.

Future 5G service was one of a number of areas that satellite operators expected to drive demand, with connected aircraft, connected cars and the Internet of Things other promising areas. SES APAC senior business development manager Greg Orton agreed that satellite services would be complementary to 5G mobile operators, which he said should look at ways to utilise the strengths of satellite.

“I think they're beginning to look at it now and say 'What can they do that we can't do?' And that's where satellite has a role to play and I think it has a role to play in 5G because of the amount of video that's transiting across networks,” Orton said. “If you can alleviate those terrestrial networks and put that content over satellite and feed that to caches at the edge of the network . . . and use the last mile to feed that content to the end user, then you're going to have a pretty successful business case because satellite is a broadcast-type of network.”

CONNECTED TRANSPORT: One of the other more promising new areas for satellite operators is providing services to aeroplanes, the maritime industry and for connected cars. Intelsat Asia VP Terry Bleakley said mobility was the satellite operator's fastest growing sector.

Optus, Intelsat and SES are all involved in providing connectivity to airlines for in-flight internet, which is expected to be a particularly strong growth area in Asia Pacific. For example, the Forum audience heard that there are only 330 connected aircraft in the Asia Pacific now, but that is expected to grow to 6000 connected aircraft by 2023.

 However, Bleakley said that there could be an even bigger opportunity in the socalled connected cockpit, where sensors on the aircraft provide information back to the airlines and manufacturers. For example, a Boeing 787 has about 1,500 sensors and can generate 1.5TB of data per day, while the Airbus A350 has 2,500 sensors and can generate 2.5TB per day.

According to consultants McKinsey, future aircraft will have around 5,000 sensors and generate around 5B per day by 2025, providing potential cost savings for the aviation sector of up to $70 billion annually in areas such as maintenance, navigation and lifespan of the aircraft. Similarly, Intelsat believes that the car industry will use satellite to provide connectivity to the automobile sector rather than mobile networks, particularly with improvements in antennae design, new high-throughput and LEO constellations, and lower costs chips and sensors.

 “What has stalled connectivity of satellite to car has been the antennae design and also the capability of the satellites,” Bleakley said.

“Toyota predict in 2018 they will need to download 1 terabit of data to a car on a monthly basis to keep it updated. Toyota have looked at different technologies, they've looked at 4G networks and a 4G network being able to deliver 1Tb of data is not an efficient way of distributing an update . . . so satellite is a lot more efficient at delivering a solution like that.”

“And there's also the security aspect. They see with a global mobile phone network many points of entry to hack the files that are updating the car and they see satellite being a lot more secure platform,” he added. Geoff Long, Commsday