Navigating troubled waters: Securing critical connectivity in a complex context

Satellite is sometimes the only way to bring connectivity to hard-to-reach regions that are otherwise difficult and uneconomical to connect.
Rhys Morgan, GM and VP, Media and Networks, EMEA, Intelsat.

By Rhys Morgan is GM and VP, Media and Networks, EMEA, Intelsat.

Undersea cables have always been at risk of accidental, unintentional damage through fishing or anchoring or natural phenomena such as undersea earthquakes or landslides. But their resilience has been put to the test several times recently. Undersea data cables in the Red Sea have been damaged amid fighting in the region, highlighting the risks of a potential seabed warfare. While the Red Sea is known for its maritime routes which represent approximately 15% of global traffic, at least 15 submarine cables pass through the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea, carrying many of the data and financial communications between Europe and Asia.

More recently, cables serving East and West Africa have been impacted by a major undersea landslide causing widespread connectivity challenges across Africa and beyond.

Whilst traffic that would usually be carried on the impacted cables was rerouted, the reliance on internet for daily operations indicates the potential for a total outage to have a devastating impact on the continent’s economy.

Repairing subsea cables is a complex and long operation, requiring highly specialised cable repair ships. It becomes even more challenging in a context of geopolitical sensitivity and ongoing tensions.

A stable and resilient internet infrastructure is critical, therefore, for the economic growth and functioning of modern societies. More than ever, a hybrid solution that includes terrestrial/ maritime cables, wireless technology and satellites is needed to build that resilience into networks. A single technology will not replace another one, but a multi-layered approach with these highly complementary technologies will deliver the resiliency and security that MNOs expect for their networks.

That reliance needs to be built into a network in the early stage of its design to help cover all eventualities. MNOs, companies and governments need to anticipate the ‘what ifs’. The most resilient or robust network deployments always take that into account, and satellites play an effective role by delivering connectivity quickly, easily and cost-effectively – anywhere and at any time.

Towards a multi-orbit solution for enhanced resilience

Satellite is sometimes the only way to bring connectivity to hard-to-reach regions that are otherwise difficult and uneconomical to connect. With experts expecting continued growth of bandwidth hungry technologies such as AI, IoT or Virtual Reality, satellites will play an exponential role in global connectivity.

A multi-orbit network capability, which combines capacity from both geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites and low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, enables us to deliver added levels of network resiliency and performance based on user demand and application requirements. Software-defined satellites as they enter service over the next few years will bring additional agility, flexibility and resilience.

Access to satellite capabilities is also made easier. Technological advances in space assets such as high throughput satellites, dynamic bandwidth allocation and ground equipment continue to make satellites more accessible and more economical. The open architecture of some networks and the integration of non-terrestrial networks (NTN) in 3GPP standards will help integrate services across orbits and across providers with the same seamlessness that users expect from their telecom devices and applications. The satellite network is no longer a separate system, operating on bespoke hardware and standards, but now fully integrated with MNOs.

Resilience also requires enhanced network security and it is important for satellite operators to adopt a systematic approach to detect, prevent and mitigate attacks. Independent third-party Service Organisational Control 3 (SOC 3) accreditation will help maintain effective controls over global satellite and terrestrial networks, ensuring that they are protected against unauthorised access, use or modification.

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