Exploring Satellite-Telecom Partnerships: Boon or Bane for 5G Expansion?

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Analyst firm, Juniper Research has highlighted the substantial financial potential for telecom operators partnering with satellite companies to offer satellite-based 5G services. An estimated revenue uplift of US$17 billion could be achieved from 2024 to 2030, indicating a strong case for immediate partnerships.

The recommended collaborations involve geostationary orbit satellite operators. The consistent position of these types of satellites is highly appealing for operators seeking dependable connectivity. Such operators include giants like SES, Eutelsat, Intelsat, Inmarsat and alike.

The benefits of such a partnership are clear. Telecom operators can leverage their satellite partners to rollout monetizable satellite-based 5G services. Satellite experts can contribute their unique expertise in launching next-generation satellite tech, as well as managing and operating the resulting networks. Simultaneously, telecom operators offer a billing relationship with massive client bases, which in some cases amounts to tens of millions of customers.

Juniper Research anticipates the first commercial launch of a 5G satellite network by 2024. By 2030, over 110 million 3GPP-compliant 5G satellite connections are expected to be operational. Obvious areas for growth include improved network coverage, notably in rural or sparsely populated areas where terrestrial networks are cost-prohibitive, and backhaul operations.

As the firm explained, “Given the data-intensive nature of 5G services, satellite infrastructure will be used to carry data in a similar fashion to fibre services in terrestrial networks.” Other benefits include adding capacity and throughput by offloading data from terrestrial networks and increasing network resilience via satellite infrastructure redundancy.

Satellite partnerships also open up opportunities for service expansion into areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), specifically in sectors requiring global connectivity like agriculture and automotive. Fixed broadband alternatives are another possibility, both commercially and enterprise-wide.

Moreover, these partnerships are seen as a strategic move for facing 6G networks. “Operators must not only think of 5G satellite services when choosing an SNO [satellite network operator] partner, but also the forward plan for 6G networks, including coverage and throughput capabilities,” said Sam Barker, VP of telecoms market research at Juniper Networks.

The idea of a network of networks, a key concept of 6G, necessitates reliable and wide-reaching connectivity for forthcoming applications and services. Given that, satellite partnerships become a logical strategic progression. It isn’t unreasonable to suggest mobile operators forming early alliances with satellite companies could find themselves favoured when preparing for 6G.

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