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Beyond the Billionaires

The Race to Space is About Connectivity

photo: NASA on Unsplash

For this episode of the Future Perfect Tech podcast, we sat down with Joel Schroeder, Director of Land Mobile for Intelsat, which operates the largest, most advanced satellite fleet and connectivity infrastructure in the world. Joel is responsible for building the product and partner strategies that will enable Intelsat to deliver portable and mobile satellite services across the enterprise and mobility vertical markets.

Prior to joining Intelsat, Joel was vice president of business development for Inmarsat’s connected car program. His experience in emerging markets on several continents has led him to understand the impacts of gaps in connectivity as well as the cost and bandwidth constraints that customers from industry to telemedicine feel across the world.

The following are just a few of the topics that Joel touches on in our podcast. Listen to the full podcast here.

THE BILLIONAIRE HORSE-RACE

Until recently, satellites delivered into space by rockets were the epitome of ultra-high-tech tools available only to the most privileged governments and corporations on earth. The legacy land mobility networks that these satellites enabled offered relatively low data-rates (hundreds of kilobytes per second) at exorbitantly high cost. The majority of applications that used them did basic telematics and tracking that didn’t require a true IP network or high throughput capabilities. Though they met critical communications requirements, these networks couldn’t scale to the evolving demands of emerging markets.

Today, orbiting satellites are a critical component of global communications not only in emerging markets but everywhere that users need continuous connectivity. The networks they help create play a huge role in the value created by Smart Systems and connected equipment. Many of the use cases that Harbor Research monitors—such as mining, railways, oil and gas—involve remote situations that are off the normal cellular grid and yet still require reliable communication. In fact, network services for mission critical markets and applications will probably eclipse $100 billion by 2025.

Network landscape is fragmented

THE TRUE DIRECTION OF THE SATELLITE INDUSTRY

However, if you watched mass media last week you might think the real story is about which billionaire will take the first ride in space, or beat his (they’re all men, of course) competitors to Mars. Sadly, the media’s focus on the billionaire space race overshadows the truly important space innovations that will affect us all here on earth.

To give the devil its due, new private space ventures like SpaceX’s Starlink and Alphabet’s Loon Division have driven significant development in broadband for the masses. And there are a number of startups offering low data-rate IoT-focused solutions to enable real-time monitoring of anything from agricultural sensors on rubber trees to connected vehicles, pipelines and other kinds of assets. These emerging technologies face many technical and social challenges, but the opportunities are far greater.

The true future of the mobility markets, however, will include support for cloud-based applications, autonomous operation of equipment and vehicles, greater proliferation of smart products and sensors, and hybrid networking solutions that include 5G and private LTE.

This is the true future of the satellite industry, and it requires much larger data-pipes than satellites have been available to deliver so far. That, combined with a decreasing tolerance for gaps in connectivity, is driving the direction that the satellite industry needs to go.

Remote operations often require satellite connectivity

Remote operations often require satellite connectivity

source: Harbor Research Inc.

CREATING A NEW “NETWORK OF NETWORKS”

Although it may not seem obvious, there is a fairly natural complement between terrestrial and satellite networks. There are many hybrid solutions where satellites and terrestrial technologies like 5G can work together and enable each other.

Satellite operators already provide backhaul from remote base stations and hotspots in many remote parts of the world, and they expect that use to continue indefinitely. But there is also the role that satellites play as a failover for vehicles going through dark spots in cellular networks. Even in North American and Europe, where cellular has become pervasive, major gaps in coverage still exist along major roadways, as anyone who has taken a road trip outside a major U.S. city knows all too well.

In more remote operations, such as a mine site, private LTE (as opposed to commercial cellular) is deployed within the operation’s perimeter. But here too satellites are used to connect moving assets—like trucks, buses and trains—that transport people and resources between the site and larger towns and seaports, often hundreds of miles away, and are not connected by cellular or private LTE networks. And there are new space technologies capable of operating a 5G network and connecting people on the ground directly to that network from satellites in low orbit. ◆

This brief excerpt is merely a glimpse of our fascinating interview with Joel Schrader of Intelsat. Listen to the full podcast to learn more about a new “network of networks” alternative to expensive terrestrial build-out, specific use cases from mining and telemedicine to disaster-recovery, and Intelsat’s brand-new FlexMove product.


Fill out the form below to download Harbor’s collaboration with Intelsat, “The Future Is Here: Next-Generation Land Mobility Networks.”

Intelsat FlexMove eBook cover

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