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By David Meyer
Today’s speed of business requires lightning-fast, unbroken connections. Video calls, file transfers, workplace safety and other requirements depend on it—24/7. However, the cable and fiber networks that enable lightning-fast speeds have very real physical, geographical and financial constraints. Sometimes the cable can’t be laid, the region is inaccessible or there simply aren’t enough customers in the area for operators to justify the expense.
For cruise lines, airlines, mining companies and other companies operating in remote locations, low–Earth orbit (LEO) satellite networks can fill in the gap. While LEO satellite networks have been discussed for years, significant investments in the past 12 months1 and escalating network costs have intensified the spotlight.2
As companies continue to invest in their networks to support digital business agendas, it may be time for businesses underserved by traditional telecommunications companies (telcos) to reconsider LEO satellite networks. These advantages come primarily in cost-effectiveness and availability.
Designing, building and maintaining conventional networks is significantly expensive for ground-based telcos. If they’re your only options, that cost is passed onto you.
Low–Earth orbit satellites as a cost-effective solution
As workplace transformation becomes the new normal, it’s predicted that 40% of companies will fall behind in executing resilient connectivity strategies due to budget shortfalls by 2026.3 Designing, building and maintaining conventional networks is significantly expensive for ground-based telcos. If they’re your only options, that cost is passed onto you.
LEO satellite networks aren’t limited by the constraints of conventional networks. They don’t have to build towers or run cable—they’re truly wireless. As with any network, there are startup costs—the satellites need to be put into the sky—but those costs are shared by all patrons regardless of their location. Remote and distant customers don’t have to shoulder extra access costs because of their location.
Case in point: OneWeb is a connectivity company with a growing LEO satellite constellation of over 500 already-operational units and more to come. One of its key markets is aviation, where digital transformation powered by its satellite connectivity can optimize operations and lead to cost savings across an airline company, even claiming reductions in fuel costs by as much as 5%.4
Sometimes, the problem isn’t a lack of connectivity choice in an area—it’s that there are no choices at all. Cruise ships, for example, aren’t just out in the middle of the sea, far from the reach of traditional communications infrastructure. They’re moving, too. Airlines face similar issues at far greater speeds and altitudes. Mining companies go where the materials are, regardless of what connectivity in the area is like.
LEO satellite networks shine when it comes to providing blanket coverage to areas unreachable by traditional telcos, like the open sea, the sky and remote locations on land.
Another case in point: Royal Caribbean announced a partnership with SpaceX in 2022 to bring high-speed wireless internet access to its entire fleet via the company’s Starlink satellite network by the end of 2023. Additionally, SpaceX inked similar deals with Hawaiian Airlines and charter airline JSX, and is partnering with T-Mobile to end mobile dead zones in the United States.5
Of course, LEO satellite networks are not without their challenges.
The networks’ generous availability can have a catch, by virtue of the very thing that makes them so available. All one needs to access the network is a clear shot to the sky—so long as that shot is actually clear. Weather systems, clouds, and even solar events can affect the reliability of a connection to a local satellite.
However, as more satellites are added to network constellations, reliability should become as simple as passing the connection off to the next closest satellite.
At the same time, companies that operate in remote and non-remote areas—the latter with access to cable and/or fiber networks—may not reap potential cost savings.
As more satellites are added to network constellations, reliability should become as simple as passing the connection off to the next closest satellite.
Avoid the bottleneck and unleash your digital transformation
Bottom line for CTOs and IT directors: if you only have one real option that meets your speed, latency, and bandwidth needs, consider low–Earth orbit satellite networks.
While some of these networks are still being built out, there are others that have been battle tested and more still to come.
David Meyer is an Associate Director and Infrastructure and Cloud Architect at Kyndryl.
- Amazon’s Starlink Rival To Provide 5G In Remote Regions, Forbes, September 2023
- Network as a Service Market Size, Share & COVID-19 Impact Analysis 2023-2030,
Fortune Business Insights, July 2023
- IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Future of Connectedness 2023 Predictions, IDC, October 2022
- Connected Airline solution, OneWeb.net, August 2023
- Royal Caribbean partners with SpaceX's Starlink for onboard internet, CNBC.com, August 2022