Telcos could make billions from 5G satellite services

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Telecoms operators could make a lot of money from partnering with satellite companies to offer satellite-based 5G services, one analyst firm pointed out this week.

Juniper Research puts the potential revenue uplift at US$17 billion over the 2024 to 2030 period and, as a result, is strongly advising telcos to team up with their satellite counterparts.

Working with satellite operators will also help telcos get ready for 6G – more on that in a moment – but rather than looking ahead to the next generation of mobile technology, they need to act now, Juniper Research says. Or in its own words, it advises telcos ” to prioritise immediate partnerships” with satellite players.

Specifically, telcos should look at working with operators of geostationary orbit satellites, their consistent position being what operators need for consistent connectivity, of course. It did not give names, but we’re talking about the likes of SES, Eutelsat, Intelsat, Inmarsat and others.

Essentially, the telecoms operators can use their satellite partners to enable them to launch monetisable satellite-based 5G services. The satellite players bring their ability to launch next-generation satellite hardware into space, as well as the operation and management of the resulting networks to the partnership, while the telcos can offer a billing relationship with what, in some cases, amounts to many tens of millions of customers.

Juniper Research predicts that the first commercial launch of a 5G satellite network will come in 2024, which is now fast approaching, and that there will be more than 110 million 3GPP-compliant 5G satellite connections in operation by 2030.

That’s a lot of potential growth for operators to capitalise upon. In the near term, the biggest benefits for telecoms operators will come in increased network coverage, particularly in rural and/or sparsely populated areas in which terrestrial networks are too costly to roll out, and in backhaul: “Given the data-intensive nature of 5G services, satellite infrastructure will be used to carry data in a similar fashion to fibre services in terrestrial networks,” Juniper Research notes in a white paper. It also highlights increased network capacity and throughput, with satellite networks able to offload data from terrestrial networks, and greater network resilience with extra redundancy coming from satellite infrastructure.

In addition to augmenting their core cellular phone services with satellite connectivity, operators have a couple of other key use cases to explore, Juniper Research notes. The Internet of Things is an obvious candidate, particularly in sectors where global connectivity is a requirement, such as the agriculture and automotive spaces. And fixed broadband alternatives, in both the consumer and enterprise markets, much as we’re starting to see with fixed wireless access offerings based on 5G.

There’s also a longer-term goal for telcos when it comes to embracing satellite partnerships.

“Operators must not only think of 5G satellite services when choosing an SNO [satellite network operator] partner, but also the forward plan for 6G networks, including coverage and throughput capabilities,” said Sam Barker, VP of telecoms market research at Juniper Networks.

Indeed. While 6G remains a fairly nebulous concept, it is becoming less so, and one of its key tenets is the idea of a network of networks to ensure the breadth and reliability of connectivity that new generation applications and services will require. In that case, satellite becomes a natural partner to cellular. And it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that mobile operators that forge early partnerships with satellite players could find themselves in a stronger position when the time comes.


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