Explore the growing satellite market and how satellite-enabled
community Wi-Fi is a critical part of connecting the unconnected.
Nearly half the world lacks
access to the internet (Viasat, 2021). Remote and
low-income areas have experienced difficulty with connectivity, partly due to
the lack of access to major networks, high costs of technology and services, or
a lack of infrastructure.
Today, many companies are
launching satellite networks and ground infrastructure to provide
satellite-enabled community internet or "Internet access offered over a Wi-Fi Hotspot and powered by
satellite connectivity" (Hughes, 2021). Such a setup makes
it possible to provide affordable Internet access, particularly in areas where
grid-powered and wireless broadband are unavailable (Hughes, 2021). Typically, these
systems are individual connections or community hubs unrestrained by
traditional ground infrastructure requirements and powered by renewable energy
sources. By linking to new satellite networks and providing low-cost community Wi-Fi
hubs, service providers can deliver high-speed broadband internet access to
remote and low-income areas where access has been unreliable or completely
unavailable and challenging to implement. These solutions are finding
innovative ways to combat the industry’s previous challenges.
Expansion of the Satellite Network
As of late
2020, there were reportedly nearly 6,000 satellites circling Earth, with
approximately 40% being operational units and the rest considered
non-functional ‘space junk’ (Visual Capitalist, 2020). This number is expected
to grow as the demand for communication and data grows. Significant growth is
projected in the global Small Satellite or ‘smallsat’ market. NASA defines
smallsats as spacecraft roughly the size of a large kitchen fridge and with a
mass of 180 kilograms or less (Mabrouk, 2017).
Research and Markets project that
the global small satellite market will grow significantly over the next few
years. Starting from USD 2.8 billion in 2020, the market is expected to expand
to $7.1 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 20.5% from 2020-2025. Earth observation
and broadband commercial internet are the two most significant drivers of this
growth. The latter of these two, commercial internet, is the fastest-growing
segment of the Small Satellite market. Increasing involvement by various
private players in the Global Space Industry is driving the growth of this
segment. These companies can ultimately create small satellites in larger
volumes as they are “cheaper, faster to build, and can be launched for
commercial purposes” (Research and Markets, 2020 ).
Connecting the unconnected
is a vast global effort by many prominent technology players to bring the
internet to all via satellite – with major corporations like Amazon, Hughes, and
Starlink working to put satellites into the sky (Tuerk, 2021). Starlink, the Space
X satellite-based connectivity service, has launched 1,300 satellites as of
March 24, 2021, and has plans to launch over 30,000 in the coming years. This infrastructure
allows individuals and communities to access Wi-Fi services through the satellite
network. (Thompson, 2021).
Viasat is another company with a satellite network delivering
Wi-Fi services to remote communities. Initially focused on the target areas of Mexico
and South America, the company’s goal is to expand the service globally. This
will be made possible with its planned ViaSat-3 satellites. The ViaSat-3 is “a
series of three satellites that will encircle the globe; each is designed to
cover one-third of the planet” (Viasat, 2018). As part of this initiative, Viasat is
launching a global service called “Community Internet,” The first of these
satellites was launched in 2020. Viasat is likely to deploy significant
installations for this program, with pilots in 2021 and large rollouts of
deployments starting in 2022 (Viasat, 2021).
Although smaller, these satellites and their
infrastructure are still costly to the companies launching them, so why is this
market growing so steadily? What are the benefits to users and service
providers that enable the unrelenting growth of the community Wi-Fi and small-satellite
Why is Community Wi-Fi Needed?
Community Wi-Fi supports ‘digital inclusion,’ which the National Digital Inclusion Alliance defines as “the activities necessary to ensure that all individuals and communities, including the most disadvantaged, have access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)” (National Digital Inclusion Alliance, 2021). Digital inclusion makes the digital revolution equitable by making the benefits of connectivity universally accessible.
With the benefits to the community being significant and the apparent benefits to suppliers being exponential growth of service revenue as communities grow and get connected, what are the challenges to these deployments, and how can they be resolved?
Community Wi-Fi Challenges
The two biggest challenges of bridging the rural
digital divide by implementing community Wi-Fi are providing reliable backhaul
and ensuring the service is affordable (Hughes, 2021). To implement community Wi-Fi, reliable
off-grid power is crucial. Also, systems must be low-cost and easy to install
so that rural communities can get up and running quickly.
Many satellite and service providers are turning to Smart
Off-Grid power providers to find innovative power systems that meet these
solutions' reliability and low-cost requirements. With solar or hybrid off-grid
energy systems to power these services, providers can get the power they
require without the traditional high costs and headaches associated with
grid-based power systems. When ‘smart’ off-grid power systems are used, costs
can be lowered by up to 80%. Power can be managed and controlled via the
internet to further reduce ongoing costs while increasing the reliability and availability
of off-grid power. Better power management and control provide available power
for other services such as street lighting, cell phone charging, and security
camera surveillance, all of which can be enabled at these sites (Clear Blue Technologies,
What are the next steps?
Many European operators already have large active
community Wi-Fi deployments and plan to expand (CableLabs, 2014). Additionally,
companies like Hughes, Viasat and Starlink are driving the deployment of these
solutions to help connect unconnected or under-connected across Asia, Africa
and South America. Critical partners in this journey are power providers that
can enable these systems anywhere and anytime with reliable, low-cost power systems
actively managed over the internet. While everyone is looking at the sky for
satellites, Smart Off-Grid providers such as Clear Blue are looking towards the
sky to forecast energy and ensure that these life-changing satellite-enabled
community Wi-Fi systems stay online.
- CableLabs. (2014,
September 11). Community Wi-Fi – A Primer. Retrieved from CableLabs
Informed Blog: https://www.cablelabs.com/community-wi-fi-a-primer#:~:text=What%20is%20Community%20Wi%2DFi,roaming%E....
- Clear Blue
Technologies. (2021). Clear Blue Technologies. Retrieved from Clear
Blue Technologies: www.clearbluetechnologies.com
- Hughes. (2021). Satellite-enabled
Community Wi-Fi Solutions. Retrieved from Hughes:
- Mabrouk, E.
(2017, August 7). What are SmallSats and CubeSats? Retrieved from
- National Digital
Inclusion Alliance. (2021). Definitions. Retrieved from
- Research and
Markets. (2020 , August 26). World Smart Satellite Market Outlook to 2025:
Increased Demand for Leo-Based Services and Demand for Earth Observation
Imagery and Analytics Are Major Growth Drivers. Retrieved from Intrado
- Thompson, A.
(2021, March). SpaceX launches 60 new Starlink internet satellites, nails
latest rocket landing at sea. Retrieved from Space.com:
- Viasat. (2018,
November 30). Community Wi-Fi service is opening digital doors in Mexico
and beyond. Retrieved from Viasat.com:
- Viasat. (2021). Community
Internet. Retrieved from Viasat.com:
Capitalist. (2020, October 20). Visualizing All of Earth’s Satellites: Who
Owns Our Orbit? Retrieved from Visual Capitalist: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-all-of-earths-satellites/