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New Market Opportunities For Satellite Players
Bee Hayes-Thakore, Vice President of Marketing, Kigen + Board Director @ The Planetary Society


3GPP release 17 developments are opening a new market for Satellite NTN connectivity and moving into 5G for massive IoT. Beyond the increased expansion in the numbers of ground segment customers, what opportunities does this open for satellite players?

 Standardization around 5G specifications is creating a foundation for satellite integration  into mainstream telecommunication networks. 3GPP, the international body responsible for developing telecommunications standards, has established a 5G New Radio (NR) system that enables non-terrestrial devices to communicate with base stations. The organization has established performance requirements, customer expectations  and massive opportunities in satellite direct-to-handset, IoT and industrial IoT (IIoT).

The most recent release of the 5G standard, Release 17, marked a significant turning point and established satellite communications (SATCOM) as a crucial factor in the realization of 5G’s potential of “anytime, anywhere coverage, to any device, across any network”.

Being included in the standard has elevated the importance of satellites while creating new opportunities and areas of cooperation between space and terrestrial service providers. These include extending the reach of terrestrial broadband coverage, providing mobile connectivity, creating resilient cellular backhaul and establishing stable, narrowband links to IoT devices, among others.

Case For NB-IoT

Of the connectivity enabled via 3GPP release 17, it is NB-IoT connectivity’s expansion into space that’s worth highlighting. Many hyperscalers have tried non-traditional business models for “internet everywhere” and yet it remains a stretch goal. What is the pressing requirement for a 4K, multi-player game while at sea, or streaming 8K media while in the Australian wilderness? There is, however, much value to be used in these remote areas through basic, narrowband connectivity.

For tracking goods and cargo being shipped over the sea, transported via long-distance freight trains, or monitoring energy and utility assets and fishing vessels, the most effective way to cover a large area is via satellite networks. Additionally, NB-IoT is an excellent way to manage low-bandwidth traffic.

Built on the 3GPP standards for 5G, NB-IoT is a secure, low power, wide-area, data network technology and provides system and spectral efficiency and can support a connected device battery life of as much as ten years across many use cases. Thoroughly integrating 5G NB IoT with the 3GPP standard is crucial, as this provides a guarantee that the technology will be available in any country across the globe. In fact, NB-IoT (and LTE-M) are the only standards that 3GPP plans to support for LPWA use cases.

Big Opportunities

The main advantages for satellite players are enlarging the addressable market for satellite services and leveraging economies of scale to access a larger, less expensive supply of components and chipsets.

The 1st Economy Of Scale

Let’s quantify the first one: Over the next decade, the implementation of 5G will represent a $162 billion opportunity for SATCOM, according to NSR. The mobility market, including in-flight connectivity, maritime and rail, is expected to experience a roughly 10% CAGR over the next decade, according to Euroconsult.

Satellite IoT and Machine-To-Machine (M2M) connectivity in various industries will comprise an estimated $6 billion market by 2031. However, one of the most promising — and potentially the most significant areas of commercial satellite 5G — will be in direct-to-IoT services. As the number of IoT devices exceeds 12 billion, satellite industry experts see an exciting area for direct-to-device 5G at volume.

Further, building 5G into networks opens a series of opportunities for satellite service providers. These range from backhaul and traffic unloading to mobile edge computing and connectivity services to mobile users on land, sea, and air. Satellite direct-to-handset connectivity has already compelled companies such as AST SpaceMobile, Globalstar, Iridium, Lynk Global and SpaceX to strike deals with smartphone manufacturers and mobile carriers.

While the satellite industry takes strides to facilitate the 5G rollout, it is also playing catchup with trends that have defined the modern telecommunications industry. Since 1998, 3GPP has been working to establish and improve standards and interoperability among broadband and mobile devices, operators, and networks. This has helped build a $2.7 trillion global telecommunications market, only a fraction of which traditionally is held by satellite communications.


The 2nd Economy Of Scale

The second economy of scale comes from the wider access to components that can bring the price of ground-based base stations, hubs and customer premise equipment down. Today, customer premise equipment for leading LEO constellations still costs in the $300 to $500 range, with a further $100 to $200 annual subscription. To take advantage of direct-to-device markets beyond IoT, this cost needs to decrease by an order of magnitude.

A supplier that can design a reliable but much less expensive unit could see a market for several million devices. With greater efficiencies in connected equipment manufacturing, satellites can benefit from the wider access to network authenticated and certified silicon and edge computing that can support this effort.

Innovation Potential Of Convergence

The convergence around cellular and 5G NTN is a captivating vision for companies and device makers worldwide who see a future where the most remote parts of the globe are connected and traffic is handed off seamlessly in a hybrid network of terrestrial and non-terrestrial assets. Realizing that vision at a practical level will require continued collaboration across industry participants to understand and address technical challenges as they arise.

Increased access to space constellations and the falling cost of launch makes new business models possible and garners demand from large cellular OEMs. During the last year, we’ve seen Apple announce its offering around emergency service using satellite provider Globalstar, and Qualcomm partnering with Iridium to bring satellite connectivity to Android devices.

New players, such as Sateliot, are looking to establish purpose-built, LEO smallsats with new collaborative business approaches. Further, Samsung has announced plans to secure standardized NB-IoT NTN in next generation modems, following a demonstration on the company’s Exynos Modem 5300 platform — doing away with high power wireless antenna chip within smartphone devices.

Until last year, most equivalent services have been developed independently, using non-standardized, proprietary technology — 2023 already marked the milestone wherein the capabilities of networks expand and the power and flexibility of future NB-IoT networks will lead to the deployment of new, innovative solutions that were previously unsupportable — and even unimagined.

NB-IoT devices are, however, constrained — meaning they are typically restricted to being battery operated, they may operate without any UI or screen for environmental protection and they may be deployed in extremely remote locations. Therefore, it’s important to know that when data is transmitted up to satellite, or across multiple terrestrial networks, it is secure and originates from authenticated data sources.

Role Of eSIMs

At the heart of this is a small, yet important, role played by the eSIM or iSIM — new generation versions that extend the functionality of secure device identity and authentication performed by the traditional SIM for Massive IoT. eSIMs and iSIMs are also technologies that have benefited from extensive standardized approaches and interoperability testing — bringing the advantage of a wide range of chipset and module providers now being able to serve NTN networks running adjunct to their terrestrial network channels.

Skylo Technologies, for example, is a wholesale connectivity provider partnering with terrestrial networks and recently announced work with Kigen, the global security leader on eSIM and iSIM to make satellite connectivity frictionless for device makers. Through the benefit of combinations of GNSS and Kigen’s multi-IMSI or Roaming eSIMs being widely deployed in leading chipsets and modules, no hardware change is required on the ground base hubs

or cellular devices. The companies already have multiple companies developing value-added services based on this implementation with a key forerunner customer: leading rugged tech brand Bullitt.

Bullitt aims to seize the opportunity of more than 500 million, business critical, rural and remote workers plus a further 750 million hobbyists worldwide, through novel products such as the Bullitt Satellite Messenger available on

the Motorola Defy Satellite Link. This is a great example of how a leading OEM is extending their unique understanding of their subscriber base into new digital revenues that augment the experience of the hardware.

The service execution is incredibly thoughtful, both in how it works natively on the Cat S75 smartphone and its compatibility with any iOS or Android device. Being able to leverage the wide ecosystem of leading chipset and module vendor ecosystem addressing cellular devices allows connected device makers greater design flexibility.

Another direct use case that may be more familiar to SATCOM companies is augmenting space data and services with IoT-based data from the ground. Consider an ecological monitoring scenario where data from satellite monitoring through platforms such as Planet can be correlated to real time sensor data for avalanche monitoring, rainforest health monitoring, reporting on fishing data or environmental monitoring of packages on a moving cargo vehicle. To win in this market with secure and smart data insights, value-added services are a must.

Beyond IoT

Looking to the future, 3GPP is now enhancing its NTN specifications for IoT and 5GNR within Release 18. R18 NTN will enhance coverage, roaming, identity, location and terrestrial network integration. Most excitingly, R18 includes NR enhancements for NTN, that are the foundation for 5G direct-to-smartphone satellite voice and data services.

“Business models need to be carefully evaluated but it seems most likely that satellite networks will do this in partnership with terrestrial MNOs with standardized chipsets and standardized hybrid satellite-terrestrial networks. Expect to see more and more satellite smartphone trials in the next two to three years as the specifications, semiconductors and networks mature both technically and commercially.”
— Jonathan Beavon, a leading satellite and telecommunications expert

There are certainly regulatory, government and technical challenges to address as more systems and approaches are deployed. This is an exciting, new market opportunity, smack-dab in the middle of rapid evolution.

Some of this will benefit cellular space as well as satellite players. Like many companies in this new and exciting space, the major vendors are flying into uncharted territory and will be looking for expert partners to help them understand the opportunity in this market, adopt telecommunication standards and their economic returns.

Satellites will, no doubt, play a role in realizing the vision of 5G, but exactly how big a role they will play will be defined by a player’s willingness to address this expanding market.

Bee Hayes-Thakore is Vice President of Marketing at Kigen and Board Director at The Planetary Society. With an early career in space systems, Bee has focused for the past ten years in helping customers adopt trusted and scalable IoT at computing giant, Arm.

Kigen is the global security leader for Integrated SIM (iSIM) and eSIM technology solutions and services or connected devices. Find out more on https://kigen. com/ and connect with #FutureofSIM conversation on LinkedIn and via Kigen_Ltd on Twitter.