Martin Jarrold is Vice President of International Programme Development at GVF.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the prime focus of global attention to the vital contribution of satellite communication – and Earth Observation – technologies to dealing with different crises. Naturally, for the last nine months the crisis of overwhelming concern has been the recurrence of yet another zoonotic virus, with SARS-Cov2 following on from bird ‘flu, swine ‘flu, MERS, SARS, and a chain (an RNA chain, perhaps!) of others.
Response to disasters and the facilitation of communications solutions to support humanitarian assistance has long been a part of the remit for satellite-based solutions. These will still function and can be swiftly deployed when terrestrially-based infrastructures have been crippled by disaster at the very time when they are needed the most.
Whilst Covid-19 has not directly compromised communications infrastructure, it has impacted how the world communicates and this has placed extra demand on existing infrastructure and services. For the developed world, the pandemic has led to increased demand for telecommunications services which require a greater role for satellite communications connectivity. For lower-income countries with far more vulnerabilities, the effects have been much broader with delays in mass programmes of immunisation against diseases like measles and rubella being just one impact.
GVF’s work in the development of the United Nations Crisis Connectivity Charter exemplifies the satellite imperative in humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) arena. That is why this subject will be one to be tackled in a future panel discussion in the GVF Webinar Series, which, since its inception in May 2020, has gained an audience from over 120 countries and thousands of viewers.
In the context of today’s public health circumstances, our communications technologies have been the only resource at our disposal to enable us to continue communications. We have not had the baseline of in-person meetings, workshops, conferences and exhibitions. We have had to be creative in building a greater digital reality than the one we had before.
GVF’s webinar on HADR – The Evolving Role of Satellites in Disaster Response, number 13 in the overall series and scheduled for November 5, 2020 – clearly has a powerful continuing relevance.
On Zoom on alternate Thursdays, this series kicked-off on May 21 with an evaluation of The Satellite Industry’s Response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme was followed by ‘WRC-23: Spectrum Dialogues in a Post-Pandemic World’, which assessed the nature and magnitude of any significant impact from Covid-19-related travel restrictions on the preparatory dialogues for the 2023 ITU World Radiocommunication Conference.
Participating satellite operators expressed general agreement that the processes and procedures to support the rounds of national and regional decision-making were now being fully supported through cycles of “virtual” meetings, with the ITU concurring. If the pandemic had happened just a few months earlier, the decision-making at WRC-19 in Egypt would very likely not have taken place until other arrangements had been established. The insightful array of discussion points which followed, concerning the function of spectrum regulation in centrally underpinning the functioning and scope of the industry’s operations and understanding the effects of the pandemic as an example of an external factor impacting its regulation.
The next theme was about ‘Space Segment Disruptive Evolution: GEO, MEO & LEO – Does a Global Crisis Make a Difference?’ The term “disruptive evolution” had already established its place in satellite industry dialogues before the current public health crisis. The orbital environment had become the subject of much analysis exploring potential impact scenarios of emerging LEO mega-constellations on the established technologies and business models of existing satellite operators. With the advent of a global crisis without precedent, many new questions have arisen. This session reflected the issues behind these questions, many raised by attendees from across the world.
The fourth webinar ‘Will Working from Home Render the Cloud a Different Animal’ focussed on the consequence of officially directed disease response strategy such as the maintenance of social distancing and remote working. It explored the interrelationship of satellite and the cloud, examining if the social distancing-related/public health crisis phenomenon of a mass migration to WFH has impacted satellite, the cloud, and more precisely, the developing satellite-cloud interrelationship.
5G & Satellite: Driving Forward the ‘Network of Networks’ – the next topic in the series – opened with discussion on whether the satellite industry is clear on exactly where it stands as a partner in the phased transition to 5G as a networking architecture. Comments focussed on the extent to which the evolving 3GPP standard is heading, specifically citing key functional roles for non-terrestrial networks. Agreeing that it is the unique characteristics of satellite that makes it so essential to realising the full potential of 5G, the panel addressed inter-related issues pertaining to the major opportunities for satellite in the 5G satellite communication market over the next decade.
The sixth and seventh webinars focussed on the Ground Segment, specifically on Transformational Antennas from the perspectives of End of the Parabolic Paradigm? (Part 1) and Will terminals realise the promised LEO Connectivity Revolution? (Part 2).
Recognising the need for new antenna and terminal technologies such as FPAs to fully realise the potential of the combined parallels of LEO constellation technology roll-out, and increasing demand for satellite services to mobile platforms (such as aircraft, ships, and land vehicles), it was acknowledged, during Part 1, the parabolic antenna will not disappear from the industry or from our skylines. It will still feature in hubs/gateways. Fixed satellite or GEO-based services will not really require new technologies to continue, based on the excellent performance of qualified and type approved parabolics. Questions on the buzz about FPAs and advantages they have over parabolic antennas were addressed in this session.
In Part 2, it was noted that discussion about achieving elevated connectivity gains for more markets and users around the world so often only focusses on advances in the space segment, on the satellites launched to orbit, whereas it needs to be more fully acknowledged that the achievement of those gains is dependent on critical changes in equipment on the ground. It was agreed that a better balance needs to be brought to open and public discussion. This was the first public platform taken by OneWeb since its post-Chapter 11 acquisition by an investment consortium of the United Kingdom Government, Bharti Global, and Hughes.
Our next panel dialogue on Serving Underserved Communities had a two-strand rationale. One, the continuing existence of the digital divide between developed nations with advanced communications infrastructures and countries with a poorly developed capacity to secure reliable internet broadband access; and two, brought into particular focus as a result of the broadband demand structural shifts arising from the pandemic, highlighting the digital divide between well-served urban, and underserved rural and remote areas, within nations that are otherwise seen to have extensive advanced broadband communications capabilities.
Panellists addressed a wide range of issues, for example, identifying the principal barriers to serving the underserved. They looked at whether it was connectivity, affordability, regulatory or the role of Universal Service Funds and discussed the search for solutions to the digital divide. Discussing the role of satellite in meeting the challenges of bridging the divide, comparison was made between the respective advantages and disadvantages of GEO/GSO satellites and NGSO systems, and particular attention was paid to MEO characteristics in extending the reach of government, education and health to underserved communities.
Most recently, the webinar focus was GEO/MEO/LEO – Satellite in the Finance Markets with high-profile players from key verticals addressing the issues raised here.
The series will continue to explore more key satellite industry themes during the GVF Virtual Summit at CABSAT 2020. The event will have a virtual conference track from November 9-10, 2020 while the physical exhibition will take place in May 2021. I hope to see you in cyberspace today and tomorrow.
Martin Jarrold is Vice President of International Programme Development at GVF. Discussions from all of the above the webinar series can be viewed at https://gvf.org/webinars/