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Connection for All: How Satellite Industry Targets Unconnected and Underserved Communities

During a session entitled “Connectivity: What the Underserved Want, What the Underserved Get” at the SATEXPO Summit Stage at CABSAT 2023, experts convened to discuss the digital divide, barriers to serving people, satellite and mobile innovation, community Wi-Fi and spectrum usage, among other points.

Present on this panel were Imran Malik, vice president of global sales – fixed data, SES; Rhys Morgan, general manager, EMEA media and networks sales, Intelsat; Rami Al-Wazani, system design engineer, Spacebridge; James Trevelyan, senior vice president, enterprise and emerging markets, Speedcast; and moderator Isabelle Mauro, director general, GSOA.

In her introduction, Mauro mentioned the aim of bridging the digital divide, especially for those 2.7 billion people who are still offline. Yet, they also want to shed light on underserved communities “who don’t have access to what has been coined by ITU as meaningful connectivity, whether in rural or suburban.”

According to Mauro, in light of COVID-19, connecting the unconnected was evident in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, but it also unveiled problems within advanced economies like Europe and the US concerning people who cannot afford basic broadband services.

Quoting World Bank President Ajay Banga, Mauro said that “you cannot have the Internet of Things without having the Internet of everyone,” and that is something to keep in mind in the coming years.

Meaningful Connectivity

Malik explained that in bridging the digital divide, “we have come a long way from having people with no connectivity,” and now the main challenge is that of “connectivity not being good enough.”

Anyone in the digital economy will need “meaningful connectivity, and satellites have a role to play.” Malik highlighted the fact that satellites have covered the gap from “no connectivity to some connectivity” and have come to the conclusion that “meaningful connectivity and digital access is not just a fundamental right for everyone, but it is absolutely vital for the economy.”

When asked when the rest of the 2.7 billion people will be covered, Malik answered that there’s no specific time, but “synergies between the satellite and terrestrial worlds are already making meaningful progress towards a future where everyone will be included.”

There are tens of billions of dollars that have gone into space in the last decade, promoting growth and innovation, and the next wave will come when internet technology has reached a certain tipping point.

Connectivity Barriers

Morgan emphasized that the principal barriers, depending on the market, are “availability and affordability.” The problem is that a lot of networks are built to deliver economics that are not suitable for their target market. As he repeatedly mentioned, there’s “no one-size-fits-all solution,” and people need to listen to the market and understand the demand to “react and deliver accordingly.”

Taking into consideration regulators and ESG initiatives, “people need to be flexible about how they deliver.” Trevelyan also mentioned that it’s “quite hard to predict who will win,” as there’s a big cloud of regulation hanging over most countries.

Community Wi-Fi

Developing nations like Sudan are seen as benefiting from community Wi-Fi. Citing the Middle Eastern country as an example, Al-Wazani mentioned that by deploying this service, it helped them bring “an economical value to people and let them utilize internet service when they need, along with essential communications.”

When seeking to reach a larger audience in small villages or rural areas, community Wi-Fi could be the “best or the fastest solution.”

For Morgan, community Wi-Fi needs to be underpinned by the “right source of funding and commercial model” to be able to get that solution into the hands of the people who really need it.

Satellite and Mobile

When it comes to satellite and mobile being complementary to each other, Morgan said that it’s a combination of the “government’s pushing and incumbent players looking for what else they can use to complement what they do.”

Everyone was excited about a standard-based mechanism to use satellites, in line with 3GPP Release 17, as well as the release of Apple’s emergency service. “Those direct-to-device players are about coverage, not density,” explained Trevelyan.

Unless there’s a link to the cloud or some advanced form of artificial intelligence, Trevelyan believes that satellite in mobile can fully meet user needs. Spectrum and regulations must also be considered.

It was also noted that the upcoming WRC 27 could solve the issue of geographical boundaries and spectrum allocations for satellite connectivity.

Future Outlook

AI is also indicated as a catalyst for developing a mechanism where interference elimination rules are automatically taken care of. This could influence spectrum usage, where operators could “use it or lose it.”

Indeed, the satellite industry is more visible now than before, and this visibility is beneficial for collaboration between terrestrial and non-terrestrial industry players. Moreover, antenna evolution will also impact accessibility in underserved communities and help fulfill IoT and mobile connectivity demands.

To wrap it up, the panelists shared that focus, antennas, desire, collaboration and spectrum are the elements needed to connect the unconnected in the long run.

*Taken from Telecom Review: https://www.telecomreview.com/articles/reports-and-coverage/7049-connection-for-all-how-satellite-industry-targets-unconnected-and-underserved-communities

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