In the large expanse of land and sea spanning Asia Pacific, any connectivity can significantly improve communications and the economy.
Today, the world of satellites is witnessing disruptive new developments and a multiplication of billionaires-backed low earth orbit (LEO) systems.
Many have claimed that the LEO systems are key to bridging the digital divide – with Starlink services already ‘live’ in the Philippines, and Vietnam to similarly tap on LEO satellites to connect their rural communities.
But is there more than enough room for other lesser-known satellite systems to play an equally important role?
In the Asia Pacific most particularly, connecting the unconnected – 36% of the region’s 4.3 billion people remain offline despite government efforts. The diverse geographical terrain and natural-disaster prone region means that reliable connectivity can only be delivered by using both a mix of networks that includes satellites in space.
For insights and perspectives into developments in satellite technologies and connectivity, DigiconAsia had a Q&A with Sergy Mummert, SVP, Global Cloud & Strategic Partnerships, SES.
Could you give us an overview of the role satellites play in delivering connectivity in the region?
Mummert: APAC’s digital economy is forecast to grow exponentially by 2025, driven by the rapid shift to online services initiated by enterprises and governments and the ever-evolving needs of businesses for “broadband-hungry” applications. Businesses and governments alike accelerate indeed their digital transformation ambitions to fulfill the potential of millions of lives, for which reliable, secure, and high-performance connectivity services are paramount.
Satellites, especially next-generation software-driven satellites, play a critical role in meeting those needs – with the capability to extend reach to locations where fiber network solutions alone are not capable of delivering sufficient connectivity.
What has SES been doing in the region to support businesses to provide connectivity?
Mummert: As a global content and connectivity provider, SES has been working with local partners for over a decade to leverage the superpower of satellites, even in the most remote parts of the region. For instance, we are celebrating this year the 10th anniversary of our partnership with Vodafone Cook Islands to bring 3G/4G services to the Island. They were our first customers in APAC to adopt O3b, our first Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellite constellation and were also the first APAC customer to sign our second-gen MEO satellite fleet O3b mPOWER in late 2022.
With 100 times the throughput of GEO solutions, O3b mPOWER will go beyond connecting the Cook Islands to accelerating its transformation into a digitally empowered economy by boosting network quality to power online health, education, banking, commerce, and tourism services for residents.
The onus is on satcom providers to extend the same level of connectivity to even the most under-connected regions of the world, particularly with an increasing number of organisations in APAC turning to cloud-based platforms. With more operations at the edge – all connected by the cloud – they are required to become more agile, efficient, and effective; this is why we are partnering with major cloud service providers to not only extend their networks but also provide resilient and reliable connectivity in these areas.
How are new, advanced satellite systems like SES’s O3b mPOWER taking connectivity to the next level in Asia?
Mummert: With our satellite system O3b mPOWER, operating in MEO, businesses and in particular telco operators in APAC can expect predictable low latency and industry-best throughput enabling them to deliver up to multiple gigabits of uncontended capacity and carrier-grade services. This enables enterprises and customers to build resiliency into their networks regardless of their location, deliver public and private 5G services and deploy instant network response.
How are Cloud Service Providers leveraging satellites to meet connectivity demands?
Mummert: Cloud Service Providers(CSPs) today need satellite-based networks to not only augment the reach of existing terrestrial networks, but simultaneously boost the resilience of these networks. Specifically with the growing adoption of cloud-based applications at the edge, networks are strained with the demand of capacity going upward. Satellites can plug these gaps with additional network capacity whenever needed and service resiliency to meet those CSPs’ needs.
Partnering with mega-scale cloud providers such as Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS), we have managed to skyrocket connectivity experience anywhere, anytime for communications on the move – to name a few, offshore energy platforms, mining facilities on remote mountains, or even governments – with cloud services accessible seamlessly.
APAC as a region is driving rapid digital transformation across countries. How will network connectivity play a part in propelling the region even further?
Mummert: There are three ways network connectivity propel the APAC digital economy: one is as mentioned, ensuring equitable network connectivity access for all. Satellite-enabled connectivity has already enabled new education and employment opportunities that are boosting local economies in Papua New Guinea for example.
Secondly, and that’s especially for Asia’s niche economies, connectivity has the power to unlock new levels of performance across the region. As heavy adopters of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning-enabled IoT devices and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to drive efficiency in the industrial sector, India and Indonesia would leverage the performance to increase the production in manufacturing for instance.
Thirdly and not least, network connectivity resiliency is a futureproof solution for APAC, considering the multiple disaster-prone parts of the region frequently exposed to network disruptions. We have been working with our long-time partner Digicel to fortify their networks while also providing emergency broadband, such as in Papua New Guinea and the Kingdom of Tonga.