Intelsat on the benefits of satellites for towercos and MNOs

The satellite pioneer keeps expanding its footprint and curating its offering to solve coverage challenges

Read this article to learn:

  • The benefits that satellite solutions can bring to towercos and MNOs
  • Why towercos should integrate satellite solutions in their offer in remote locations
  • How Intelsat has successfully worked with MNOs and towercos to improve coverage and efficiency
  • How will satellite technologies shape the industry in the future?

Intelsat has been one of the pioneers in introducing satellite solutions into the telecom industry. The company is helping operators and towercos in deploying rural solutions, upgrading their networks and solving backhaul issues across the world with their innovative approach. 

TowerXchange spoke with Intelsat’s Senior Account Director, Sharedh Naicker to get an update on their activities in the region and discuss future expansion plans across the globe.

TowerXchange: Intelsat is one of the global pioneers in providing commercial satellite communication services for the industry. What kind of discussions have you had with towercos and MNOs and what would be the benefits that you can provide to them? 

Sharedh Naicker, Senior Account Director, Intelsat:

Tower owners and satellite operators share a common objective of providing MNOs easy access to infrastructure and services for their network geographic extension and upgrade. You can find Intelsat’s satellite nodes sitting alongside towers across sub-Saharan Africa.  Historically, most of our services have been contracted directly with the wireless operators.  However, the improved economics delivered by our new Intelsat EpicNG satellites unlock new network extension solutions that allow us to collaborate directly with the tower providers.

Intelsat has always been at the forefront of innovation; hence our solution to support MNOs’ needs to grow in hard-to-reach areas.  By providing a “turn-key” solution targeted at ultra-rural geographies—which focuses on solving challenges associated with deployment, cost and energy efficiency—Intelsat is able to help our customers in extending their reach within their respective markets in a cost effective and resource efficient manner

Mobile Reach Solar, the newest addition to our IntelsatOne portfolio of managed services, is an end-to-end managed service that delivers 2G, 3G or 4G connectivity though a compact, solar-powered, easily deployable bundle that can be integrated into the existing network and powered by our fleet of satellites.

TowerXchange: In previous discussions, we already addressed the potential for collaboration between satellite providers and towercos. What would be your preferred integration model? Should towercos bundle satellite backhaul with their management offer and new tower build propositions?

Sharedh Naicker, Senior Account Director, Intelsat:

As stated earlier, tower owners and satellite operators share a common objective and collaboration is key as mobile operators are aggressively pursuing lean business models to increase their margins. With the evolution and proliferation of networks, it is not always viable for operators to build their own sites due to capital constraints. Therefore, they are turning to towercos for sharing towers. 

Today, there is a great diversity in towerco business models: independent towercos, operator-led towercos, and power-as-a-service towercos. As mobile operators are looking for managed and cost effective solutions to expand their reach into rural areas, we believe that towercos should add more services and be able to bundle satellite backhaul to their existing offerings.

TowerXchange: Satellite solutions are arising as one of the most reliable alternatives for rural coverage. What would be the size of the coverage gap and what are the competitive advantages of your solutions against other technologies?

Sharedh Naicker, Senior Account Director, Intelsat:

Satellites have a long established reputation of successfully complementing terrestrial mobile networks to seamlessly and cost-effectively deliver connectivity to main cities as well as remote regions.

In remote areas, cost will be an overriding consideration for operators, but performance will also be a key factor. Mobile operators often have to rely on satellite bandwidth to connect remote areas to their core network for multiple reasons:

First, fibre and copper are unlikely to have the necessary reach, and will almost certainly be uneconomic to deploy. Microwave will serve in certain circumstances, for example, where a straightforward point-to point link is required. However, build costs will inevitably multiply where multiple hops are required, such as in a more dispersed small cell deployment. Satellite backhaul, on the other hand, is very well-suited to address rural areas. 

Moreover, modern satellite systems can boast a range of features that make them commercially and technically appropriate for use as a backhaul solution in femtocell or other small-cell deployments. The effectively unlimited coverage area achievable with satellite also means that multiple end users, or multiple small-cell sites, within any given area covered by the satellite footprint, can share the available bandwidth.

Finally, recent innovations in satellite have largely overcome issues of data speed latency, so that today’s IP-over satellite systems can deliver two-way IP connectivity that is fast and reliable. Satellite time-to-market is much shorter and provides much quicker ROI for operators

We firmly believe that Intelsat EpicNG next generation satellite technology is a proven game changer for the sector. The EpicNG satellites were specifically designed to provide high performance data connectivity for mobile networks with improved business models and economics.

TowerXchange: The perceived high cost of satellite backhaul is seen as a real barrier in lowering the cost of delivering connectivity in rural areas. How is this evolving? Can satellite offer a cost effective option for towercos in remote locations?

Sharedh Naicker, Senior Account Director, Intelsat:

Recent innovations in space and ground satellite technologies considerably improve the profitability of cellular networks while transforming the business model from a CAPEX heavy to a flexible OPEX-driven model.

Expanding network coverage to rural areas does no longer result in higher operational costs and poor ROI. Intelsat had recently provided Rural Cellular Services in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Our customer Vodacom expanded services across 800 rural sites that became profitable quickly.

Also, the rise of high-throughput satellites (HTS) means satellites are capable of not only handling high-speed broadband traffic, but also delivering a much lower cost per megabit and more efficient use of spectrum, which also means lower opex costs for operators.

Satellite has a lot of benefits as it can provide backhaul in areas where there is limited fibre.  Satellite combined with solar power can also help tower owners reduce their opex. Increasingly, converged traffic represents a fast growing requirement and satellite can be used to deliver more content to the towers – in particular video that can be cached locally.

TowerXchange: What is the potential for collaboration between satellite companies and alternative infrastructure providers specialised in fibre and small cells in urban areas? 

Sharedh Naicker, Senior Account Director, Intelsat:

We view satellite connectivity as complementary to terrestrial network connectivity. Satellite allows you to get into the periphery and swiftly cater for any seasonal or daily shifts in network traffic. This applies to the current generations of mobile networks and for future network requirements such as 5G sites in ultra- high capacity network designs with traffic rates at 10x LTE-A.

Today, approximately 100 of our customers use our satellite-based backhaul services as a core component of their network infrastructure. This includes 9 of the top 10 mobile groups worldwide, who serve a third of the world’s subscribers.

The projects cover all the scenarios including quick deploy rural solutions, upgrades from 2G to 3G/4G LTE, better, shared backhaul, usage based billing, disaster recovery and addressing new market segments with deployments in developing and developed regions. Deployments range from basic voice in the Democratic Republic of Congo to providing 4G/LTE in Japan, the USA, Latin America and throughout the EMEA region.

TowerXchange: What are the main challenges and opportunities for satellite solutions in African and Asian telecom sectors? What are the main differences between those markets in terms of potential for integration?

Sharedh Naicker, Senior Account Director, Intelsat:

There is room for growth in the two regions and across sectors, but there are regulatory restrictions.  

According to a recent report from Research and Market, the Asian mobile broadband market continues to grow strongly with 3.9 billion mobile subscribers and over 50% of the mobile subscribers in the world, spread across a diverse range of markets, the region is already rapidly advancing in the adoption of mobile broadband services. The mobile broadband subscriber base across all of Asia continues to grow strongly. The total number of mobile broadband subscribers has increased from 1.12 billion in 2014 to 1.41 billion in 2015 and 1.6 billion in 2016, implying that there is still significant growth opportunity left in the market over the next five years to 2021. For instance, in Japan, we are working with a leading mobile network company to support its upcoming 4G LTE network, which will allow the company to further expand and meet Japan’s connectivity demands.  Initially, the company is expected to utilise existing satellite and disaster recovery services which are expected to migrate to our joint venture satellite, Horizons 3e, Intelsat’s 6th planned Intelsat EpicNG satellite, when it enters service in 2019. 

On the other hand, the mobile adoption in Africa has grown rapidly in recent years: overall subscriber penetration reached 44% in 2017, up from just 25% at the start of this decade. Mobile broadband connections will more than double from the 419 million in place today to 1.07 billion by 2022, according to analysts.

For the customers we serve across multiple sectors—aero/maritime broadband; government; broadband—the ability to quickly scale and to meet their emerging connectivity demands is critical.  Luckily, Intelsat’s global fleet strongly positions us…particularly with our work with satellite manufacturers and innovators of new technology because we can offer volume.

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