The arrival of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) system will benefit underserved users in remote areas by supporting high-speed, low latency broadband service.
Global tech market advisory firm ABI Research forecasts that the satellite broadband market will reach 3.5 million subscribers in 2021, growing at a CAGR of 8% to reach 5.2 million users in 2026, and generate US$4.1 billion service revenue.
In the past, Geostationary Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites have provided residential and business services to rural and remote customers. ABI says that while GEO satellites offer speeds faster than 100 Mbps, their distance from the earth – 36,000 km – pushes latency to 600ms, which limits the applications for which they can be used.
LEOs, which reduce latency due to their lower orbits, may change the game. The biggest name is Starlink, which is part of Elon Musk’s SpaceX. It launched last year and so far has put more than 1,000 satellites in orbit. Plans call for it to serve more than 600,000 homes and businesses in the U.S.
The company is now working toward the expansion of its broadband service to some markets in Latin America. Other companies such as OneWeb and Telesat have launched LEO satellites providing connectivity to the business segment. Amazon, which plans to launch LEO constellations named project Kupier, received FCC approval for its project in mid-2020, although the first satellite launch date is yet to be confirmed.
"LEO satellites will play an important role in satellite broadband services in the years to come. High Throughput Satellite (HTS) LEO systems can support multi-Gbps speed per satellite. Orbiting around 800-1600 km from the Earth's surface, LEO systems offer a major advantage of low latency between 30-50 milliseconds, enabling LEO broadband services to support low latency services such as online gaming and live video streaming," said Khin Sandi Lynn, Industry Analyst at ABI Research.
"As broadband connectivity is becoming an essential service in today's homes, satellite broadband services will remain an important part of the broadband market. There is inevitable competition from terrestrial broadband networks due to the expansion of fixed broadband networks and mobile networks. The expansion of LTE and 5G networks will challenge the satellite broadband industry by supplying fixed wireless access (FWA) services to residential users. However, the cost and time associated with terrestrial network deployments can limit distribution in remote areas. Satellite systems will continue to provide broadband services to underserved and unserved areas," Lynn added.