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Companies are competing to bring global populations affordable high-speed internet service through "megaconstellations" of satellites. Who will win the race to achieve a sustainable and profitable approach?
We are in the midst of another space race, with participants competing not to reach the moon or Mars but to connect the world’s unconnected and underconnected populations. Deloitte’s recent Technology, Media, and Telecommunications Predictions 2020 report details how a number of companies are working to build and deploy “megaconstellations” of hundreds or thousands of satellites to bring affordable high-speed internet services to businesses, governments, schools, and individuals around the world.
These companies are looking to provide a multitude of potential applications such as:
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Hundreds of satellites are already in orbit as part of these growing networks, with hundreds more slated to launch this year. Amid many technical and business challenges, the question is who will be first to achieve a sustainable and profitable approach.
The industry is moving at a breakneck pace, with a number of new developments occurring just since our Predictions 2020 report was released:
Exactly how will customers connect to these constellations through user terminals? That remains unclear. The terminals contain an antenna, receiver, and additional networking equipment; they must be highly reliable and physically robust, technologically advanced, easy to install and use, and inexpensive—in total, a hard ask. Companies have poured a lot of research and investment into this piece of the puzzle, but little is publicly known.5 SpaceX CEO Elon Musk recently described Starlink’s antennas as simple to install and use, looking like “a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick.”6 Much more specificity is needed to better gauge cost and capability.
Organizations shouldn’t wait for these systems to be fully deployed before acting. Now is the time to look at which business areas could be improved with direct access to high-speed broadband internet. Could it dramatically improve current services? Enable new capabilities? Potentially disrupt current business models?
“New LEO satellite-based broadband solutions will likely be in the market within the next year that offer higher speeds, lower latency, expanded global coverage, and improved end user equipment compared to existing satellite solutions,” says Kevin Thompson, managing director in Deloitte Consulting LLP's Telecommunications practice. “If these startup ventures can overcome the technical and economic challenges, we may soon see the era of true global broadband connectivity and the new potential it creates in both the developed and developing world.”