Next-Gen Satellites Revolutionize the Telco Industry

Apart from terrestrial network operators and vendors, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) connectivity satellite providers are important customers of Amartus. The below article contains our view on that booming industry and is mainly based on our hands-on experiences with satellite connectivity challenges.

The global satellite industry is expected to double in size within a decade, from $12 billion in 2020 to $26 billion in 2029, according to estimates from Northern Sky Research (NSR). This is driven by the exponential growth in demand for satellite connectivity which terrestrial operators start to use as a way to extend their network coverage to hard-to-reach regions of the world. A multitude of inter-operator contact points, the need for flexible management of connectivity services, and the limited satellite resources have made the integration of satellite service providers’ architecture components and the automation of data exchange with their partners the key challenges faced by the industry nowadays. This is the niche in which Amartus specializes and where it has become one of the most important players globally.

The race on the satellite market began to gather pace in 2019 when SpaceX launched 60 of its satellites on a Low Earth Orbit (LEO), creating a basis for a system called Starlink. However, this was not the first chapter in this story. There had been several attempts to offer access to telecommunications networks using LEO satellites, made by such companies as GlobalStar, Iridium, Odyssey, and TeleDesic in the 1990s. The plans were not completed as originally intended due to high costs and technological constraints at that time.

“LEO satellites were to become an alternative to satellites in the geostationary orbit (GEO) that had existed since the 1950s. GEO satellites run at 35,786 km over the Equator and you need only three of them to deliver the signal to the entire planet. The drawback of GEO satellites is that delays in transmission caused by the distance prevent the use of many real-time services. LEO satellites circle the Earth at altitudes of 500 to 2,000 kilometers and you need significantly more of them (in the case of Starlink about 12,000) to cover its entire surface. Also, the life cycle of LEO satellites is much shorter than for geostationary satellites. However, the delays are shorter thanks to which LEO constellations have become an alternative option for providing broadband internet services,” explained Marcin Paszkiewicz, CEO at Amartus.

LEO constellations promise to offer backhaul for 5G telephony in regions where optical fibers are not commercially viable. In addition, a single LEO satellite covers a much smaller area of the Earth’s surface which is why it can offer a wider transmission bandwidth for the user in comparison to GEO, added Amartus’ representative.

Whole world with broadband internet

The vision of easily available high-speed satellite internet is so attractive that at the turn of the millennium more companies became interested in providing such services. The development of the market was conducive to technological progress, an enormous demand for broadband connectivity, as well as a greater tendency to invest — factors that had been missing earlier.

The SpaceX-owned Starlink, which currently operates over 1,700 satellites, was the first one to offer commercial services. Other companies close to finalizing the works on their LEO constellations include OneWeb or Amazon’s Project Kuiper. Also, some of the operators of existing geostationary satellites, including EUTELSAT, Telesat, or SES, have been trying to seize their piece of the new market. The last company has also been working intensively to start a MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) constellation based on satellites circulating in an orbit 8,063 kilometers from the Earth, representing a trade-off between the signal latency and the number of satellites in the constellation.

“Transmission using LEO satellites involves a signal latency of 0.04 seconds, enabling technologies that need a real-time connection, including video-conferencing software. For MEO satellites the latency is slightly higher, reaching 0.18 seconds, but this is significantly better than the 0.60 seconds latency of GEO satellites. However, each of these satellite systems lets telco operators provide internet access to all residents of the Earth. And you should realize that nearly 40% of people still do not have that access,” said Marcin Paszkiewicz.

This 40% means over 3.5 billion people digitally excluded due to the lack of access to the internet. Internet access is a problem mainly outside of large urban areas, even in the most developed countries in the world, like in the USA or Germany. For terrestrial telecommunications operators, providing high-bandwidth internet access to such places is in many cases not viable as the investment in infrastructure significantly exceeds potential profits. Satellite communication is a financially favorable alternative here. This is why terrestrial operators increasingly partner with satellite networks – including AT&T with OneWeb in the US, or Deutsche Telekom with Eutelsat in Germany.

“Satellite connectivity is not only about broadband access for residents of areas without proper infrastructure. Many sectors of economy have been already benefiting from quality satellite internet access, including aviation, maritime shipping, transport, mining industry, or manufacturing. Also education should be mentioned — thanks to LEO satellites qualified teaching personnel will be able to reach children in less developed regions of the world remotely. Some operators on the market also promise to offer services based on a direct link between a smartphone and a satellite that will function in a way as a mobile telephony base station. At present, these companies are close to offering text messaging services which can be of great importance, for example in rescue operations. We have been following these initiatives closely because they offer great potential if they manage to overcome the present constraints,” said Marcin Paszkiewicz.

Automation is one of the biggest challenges

One of the main challenges for the satellite communication industry is posed by issues related to the integration of components within the operator’s IT architecture and the automation of communication with terrestrial operators and cloud service providers. The purposes of such integration and automation include the effective provisioning of services that cannot be implemented using a company’s own infrastructure. Solving this problem will let operators reduce the time-to-market for new services, accelerate establishing connectivity services for end-users and automate service quality and performance management, while ensuring more effective use of limited satellite resources.

These are the areas where Amartus specializes. Since the very beginning the company, founded in 2003 by two Irish entrepreneurs, Michael Kearns and Richard Meade, has cooperated with Polish engineers who form part of the company’s management and hold key positions in the organization now. Also the company’s main development center is located in Krakow where it currently employs 70 engineers. Next year it plans to double its headcount.

“The satellite operator market was closed in a technological bubble for decades as most software was created by inhouse IT teams and for this reason it was not prepared e.g. for inter-operator cooperation. LEO constellations offer a completely different approach. They are designed from the beginning with a to cooperating with terrestrial operators who will generate a large part of the revenue in most of the cases. Additionally, they implement industry standards proposed by organizations such as the MEF Forum or TM Forum. Also, internal IT systems of a LEO operator are based on open technologies, including standards widely adopted by the market and prioritizing the flexibility and ease of doing business. The result is a full orchestration of service management, focus on customer needs, and facilitated information flow between the operators who co-create the final product,” explained Amartus’ CEO.

Amartus supports the world’s largest telecommunications enterprises in the process of transforming their stack of IT systems into an automated and software-centric infrastructure. It facilitates the operator’s business processes, including the purchase and implementation of services and performance monitoring, also in relations with other operators and business clients. Its long-term specialization has made Amartus one of the most competent enterprises globally as regards the automation and orchestration services in the telecommunications industry. The company is also a member of international associations, such as the MEF Forum, performing key roles there in the process of defining and implementing industry standards (e.g. Michael Kearns, Chief Strategy Officer at Amartus, acts as “Co-Chair” in the committee responsible for LSO in the MEF).

“Amartus supports the revolution on the telecommunications market. That revolution is happening not only thanks to satellite technologies but also other services with software-oriented DNA, such as SD-WAN, SASE, 5G, or cloud computing. It is also driven by new ways of creating and delivering software and increasingly mature open standards in the area of enterprise processes and information exchange between IT systems. All these factors mean that shortly we can witness a significant reshuffle in the global telecommunications services market. Satellite communication operators are certainly well-positioned to gain from it,” sums up Marcin Paszkiewicz.