There is no doubt that LEO-based communication services are becoming an essential part of the communication ecosystem. The leading entities in this field are starting to invest billions in development of this technology and commercial use cases. What is the key success factor of orbit data centers, and how can you take advantage of this in the telecommunications industry?
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) – strengths and challenges of orbit data centers
There are several providers using geostationary satellites to offer voice and data services for special purpose connectivity in remote areas of the globe, such as maritime systems, satellite broadcasting and rural coverage. Their main advantage is global accessibility, but disadvantages such as high costs of providing the service and limited data throughput with very high latency restrict the use of the geo-satellite communication for modern applications for enterprise and the mass market.
To overcome that, the industry has in the recent years been investing heavily in building satellite constellations on Low Earth Orbit (LEO). They are placed much closer to the Earth’s surface (between 500 and 2,000 kilometers) compared to geostationary orbit that is over 35,000 km above the Earth.
LEO requires the lowest amount of energy for satellite placement. It provides high bandwidth and low communication latency. Satellites and space stations in LEO are more accessible for crew and servicing. Since it requires less energy to place a satellite into LEO, and a satellite there needs less powerful amplifiers for successful transmission, LEO is used for many communication applications. However, unlike geosynchronous satellites, satellites in LEO have a small field of view and so can observe and communicate with only a fraction of the Earth at a time. That means that a network (or "constellation") of satellites is required to provide continuous coverage.
The role of communication providers in LEO range. Starlink and more
According to Ookla, the ability to achieve full global reach using satellite constellations placed in LEO combined with high data transmission bandwidth (over 200Mbps) and low latency (below 100ms) are fundamental to finally realize the vision of “Internet for all”, and this has enticed many global technology giants to invest in the area. The most notable LEO satellite service providers are:
- Amazon’s Project Kuiper
- AST SpaceMobile
Also government agencies such as the EU have decided to invest in their own LEO constellation.
With fast growing competition in LEO communication services and the constant increase of satellite constellations, the future looks very interesting for CSPs, enterprises and consumers who require access to the Internet wherever they live or do business.
Key use cases
Voice and data communication using LEO satellite constellations enables many unique applications that are not available or too expensive for other terrestrial technologies. The range of currently developed use cases of orbit data centers includes:
- Direct Internet access, especially for rural areas, remote enterprises (oil platforms, food plantations and mines), RVs, private jets, marine vessels, etc.
- Backhaul transmission for remote mobile coverage
- Infill transmission capacity for special events (festivals and sports events) – additional capacity that can be available on request for a limited time
- Critical sites connectivity backup – redundant satellite links to provide alternative connectivity to critical network infrastructure
- Emergency communication in the areas where the terrestrial network is heavily damaged due to natural disasters or military operations
- Satellite-to-phone services – consumer service using regular smartphones to connect directly to LEO satellites when no terrestrial coverage is available. Advanced tests have already been carried out by Apple and Rakuten Mobile
- Secure communications for governmental agencies such as police, coast guard, military, national guard and emergency medical response
Datacom orbit data centers
Nowadays, using satellite as the transmission relay connecting users and enterprises in remote locations to the core network and worldwide Internet is not surprising. How it will be in near future?
Data centers in space providing processing power and storage to host services that can be accessible even quicker directly from space are predicted to be develop. It is an extension of the Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) concept into the sky. Currently, researchers work using the experience of the International Space Station (ISS), but there is also interest from CSPs such as NTT.
How does LEO affect OSS platforms?
What are the elements that modern OSS platforms consist of?
They have been transformed in the last couple of years to ensure better management of dynamic networks based on VNFs, CNFs and various technologies such as SD-WAN and 5G network slicing. Currently, most OSS components are designed to operate in near real-time, enabling service and resource orchestration, network discovery for dynamic inventory updates, automated service monitoring and data analytics of fast-changing network statistics. Will there be a rapid adoption of LEO communication for everyday use in the near future? Let’s watch the space