Closing the global connectivity gap with satellite technology

While the world speculates on the next great connectivity solution, satellites remain critical to the future of global telecommunications infrastructure.

By Ramesh Ramaswamy

Livelihoods and economies today rely heavily on Internet access to thrive. Studies show that even a 10% rise in broadband penetration among developing nations in the Americas corresponds to a 1.9% GDP increase for those countries. The global Covid-19 health crisis emphasized the essential nature of the Internet to support work, education and social connection. Yet, nearly half the world’s population still lacks this resource, which one could argue is as essential as electricity. Governments, spurred in part by the pandemic, are prioritising connectivity and investing in private and public partnerships to connect the unconnected. And, while media and pundits speculate on the next great connectivity solution, satellite gets the job done now – and will continue to be essential to future global telecommunications infrastructure.

In rural and remote areas, where land-based Internet service providers (e.g., cable, fiber) are reluctant or slow to make costly infrastructure investments, geostationary (GEO) satellites connect thousands of communities and villages without incurring the lead-time and expense of wireline solutions. Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs) transmit near-immediate connectivity to individual homes and businesses once a small, dish-like antenna links with the GEO satellite in space. In areas where the average citizen cannot afford a monthly subscription service, satellite-powered Community Wi-Fi services create shared hotspots that provide critical connectivity to entire villages.

Until recently, Thais Gomes Silva, a market owner in Brazil, had to stand within meters of a particular mango tree to get service. Now, Silva has a satellite-powered Wi-Fi connection in his store, serving as a point of connection for local residents and driving business for his grocery. In General Sandino, a remote town in Mexico, more than 70 families now enjoy the social, economic and educational benefits of broadband Internet access made possible by Community Wi-Fi: one citizen reported being able to hold his first-ever video call with a loved one because of the satellite service. These community Wi-Fi programmes are great examples of how a satellite Internet provider like HughesNet collaborates with public and private partners, such as government entities like the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation in Mexico or businesses like Facebook Connectivity, to provide affordable, reliable Internet access in underserved areas.

GEO VSAT technology isn’t the only way satellites can help connect the unconnected. GEO satellite also enables mobile network operators to extend their coverage into areas that are too costly or difficult to connect over landlines. By providing cellular backhaul, companies like Hughes Network Systems are helping major telecom companies like Yahsat provide connectivity to remote areas in Africa and the Middle East.

In Indonesia, BAKTI (a division of the Indonesian Ministry of Communications and Information) is harnessing the power of satellite to try to close the digital divide for more than 9m of the country’s 264m residents who lack access to the Internet. Deploying satellite connectivity across 8,000 cellular backhaul and VSAT Internet access sites, BAKTI is bringing government offices, community centres and public Internet access sites online. The city of Dekai, Yahukimo, Indonesia formerly held the “the Area of Missing Information” due to its lack of internet. Now that city has 20 Internet access sites in offices, schools, health centres and churches.

Existing GEO satellite technology makes all of this progress possible.

As the industry continues to innovate, the scale and efficiency of satellite solutions will continue to grow. The launch of new high-throughput GEO satellites, like Hughes Jupiter 3, will deliver new capacity density to handle the ever-growing demand for higher speeds. Meanwhile, the expansion and operation of low earth orbit (LEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellite constellations will provide global coverage – including in the polar regions – and lower latency service, complementing the existing GEO service.

The simple fact is that no single technology can meet the demand for seamless, reliable connectivity. Instead, the future of connectivity will rely on multi-path data transmission among multiple transport types including GEO, MEO and LEO satellites — plus cable, fiber, 4G/LTE, 5G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other future transport types. With satellite as a constant, this ecosystem of connectivity types will enable ubiquitous connectivity worldwide.

While we all look forward to this new reality, and all of the opportunities it represents for people worldwide, satellites will continue to connect us now and power the goal of bringing the world online.

Ramesh Ramaswamy is the executive vice president and general manager for the International Division at Hughes Network Systems.