Satellite communication: still a luxury connectivity option?

These days, being connected can make all the difference between a business succeeding or failing, and between an industry thriving or diving. Efficient connectivity can be a real catalyst for communities of all kinds to reach their full potential. Thankfully, there are various ways of getting online and transmitting data these days, both wirelessly and terrestrially. But satellite communication is different from the others, owing to the added benefits it can provide, unlike its “competitors”, 5G and fibre optics.



Ubiquitous connectivity: the gold standard that only satellite Internet can aspire to

The ability to stay constantly connected to the Internet and transmit data at very high speeds – without any kind of restrictions and regardless of your geographical location – has always been the dream of technology users and providers since the possibility was first even dreamed about. It’s what we call ubiquitous connectivity. But, realistically, the only infrastructure that even gets close to achieving this feat nowadays in any meaningful way is satellite connectivity.


And while it’s true that wireless connectivity can offer enviable geographic coverage – and is getting better every day –, gradually overcoming geographic barriers, vast distances and connecting very distant points on the planet is only really made possible by the satellites that orbit the Earth and have been specifically designed to meet our communication needs.



So why is satellite connectivity still such a luxury?

Short answer: it’s complicated. But put simply, and speaking very generally, the in-orbit stabilisation of communications satellites, as well as the process of manufacturing and commissioning the required infrastructure and hardware – which end customers need to be able to access satellite connectivity – still incur costs that can only be borne by a handful of operators and players in the telecommunications market.


Despite the fact that the burden on your average user’s wallet is far from prohibitive, and that the possibility of almost complete coverage is a tantalising selling point, latency remains a central issue when it comes to accessing the Internet, ahead of more affordable options, such as 5G or 6G. The differences in latency aren’t astronomical – and the gap is closing all the time – but significant enough to prevent the widespread adoption of satellite connectivity. For the moment, the option to call on satellites to connect your mobile device to a network, for example, remains a service reserved for high-ticket customers.



Democratising satellite connectivity: LEOs and nanosatellites

To resolve both the high costs and minor latency issues at play, access to aerospace and geostationary orbits are being democratised. This is mainly thanks to new satellites operating in low-Earth orbit (LEO) and nanosatellites.
In the case of LEOs, placing satellites in the lower layers of the atmosphere – in the thermosphere – can help to alleviate those small latency issues that are liable to occur today with satellite communications, meaning satellites orbiting at lower levels can operate with latencies ranging from 30-50 milliseconds.


As for nanosatellites, they’ve proved their worth in reducing the complexity, size and weight of satellites – in some cases weighing no more than 10kg – which ostensibly cuts costs and the amount of financial backing needed to deploy functional satellite “constellations” in the world of telecommunications.


Taking both solutions into account, we could soon tip over the edge and see a drastic drop in the barriers standing in the way of satellite communication, both for operators and end-users alike, and satellite connectivity’s reputation as a “luxury” could soon be a distant memory…

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