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Australasia Satellite Forum 2019 

5G, IoT seen as an opportunity to take satellite more mainstream

The rollout of 5G networks, coupled with the expansion of existing 4G networks and Internet of Things services, offers satellite operators an opportunity to become a bigger part of the mainstream telecommunications sector, according to speakers at the Australasia Satellite Forum in Sydney yesterday.

Providing a keynote speech to the forum, Speedcast CEO Pierre-Jean Beylier said that for the first time, satellite is very much an integrated part and is contributing to the next telecommunications standard in 5G. He said that 5G was developed with satellite in mind and would bring it into the overall telecom ecosystem.

“Close to 1.5 million 5G subscribers are expected by 2025 and what's exciting about that is that satellite will be an essential part of 5G… because it will [deliver] 5G to rural areas,” he said. “5G is really one of the key developments that is going to change the satellite industry and another one is IoT.”

Beylier also noted that Australia was an important country for the company, which is listed on the ASX. “Our history started in Hong Kong, but the first phase of the next generation is very much Australian-driven,” he said and noted that one of its first acquisitions was Adelaide-based Australia Satellite Communications back in 2012.

MASS MARKET APPEAL: Terry Bleakley, VP Asia for Intelsat, said that 5G offers the satellite sector the chance to become more mass-market and he noted that Intelsat was now a part of a number of 5G standards bodies. “We have approached 5G as an organisation in a lot different way than we looked at 4G. Intelsat is the first satellite member of the GSMA and we're trying to understand what is driving these organisations,” he said.

“I do agree with some of the 5G hype, but we also still have challenges around 4G. And satellite is playing a large role in the build out of 4G, and that's both in the developed and developing world. We've signed two large deals in Japan in the last 12 months, one for a 4000 site extension of a cellular network and the other for a 1000 site extension of a cellular network. So that's in Japan, the third largest economy in the world and a developed country using satellite extensively to build out their mobile networks,” he noted.

Imran Malik, VP fixed data global sales for SES Networks, said he expects the 5G impact to come at a later stage, noting some estimates that its influence will start around 2026. “My opinion is a bit different – I see there is a lot of hype for 5G, but I think 4G is what's going to pay the bills,” Malik said. “So 4G now, 5G later, but lets worry about that when the market is ready for 5G.”

Optus director of satellite sales Nick Miller said that although 5G networks were not ready yet, he said the planning for pushing content to the edges of  the network and combining mobile with satellite was happening now. “We're going to look at how we can distribute data best through either our own GEO systems for future or the coming LEO systems,” Miller told yesterday's panel session.

PRICING IMPACT: Meanwhile, declining prices for capacity in the satellite market are also pushing it into mainstream consideration. Malik said that while in the past telcos had seen satellite as a last-resort service, the pricing points are now such that it has a more attractive business model and total cost of ownership case.

“I think it's incumbent on all of us to educate the mobile network operators and the telcos of the world on the relevance of satellite and now, in my opinion, the price points are such that we can challenge the terrestrial alternatives,” Malik said.

Bleakley also noted the lower prices but added that it was no longer relevant to compare pricing on a per-megahertz basis. “Every satellite is different, performance is different and megahertz pricing means nothing. We talk about three things: performance, economics and accessibility and there is a good thing with the pressure of pricing and that is it's making us more acceptable mass market and we're getting closer to other wireless technologies and pricing,” he said.

“We want to be more a part of that telecom space – we don't want to be the last one percent that we are today. If we can be the last 5% in the world that goes forward, and our pricing may suffer but we increase the volume and we improve the efficiencies through a changing ecosystem with high throughput and equipment on the ground and modems, then we're going to be in a good space,” the Intelsat VP suggested. – Geoff Long and Jessica Taulaga, Commsday / talk Satellite