South Korea to spend US$360 million on domestic LEO satellite network

Daniel Chiang, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Credit: AFP

In the face of overseas low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite communication services like StarLink and OneWeb soon available in South Korea, the South Korean government has unveiled a blueprint for the development of domestic satellite communication technology and industry to counter the threat from foreign giants.

According to reports from Korean media Theelec and Ddaily, the South Korean Ministry of Science and ICT (MSIT) recently released a "Satellite Communication Activation Strategy." The government plans to conduct a feasibility study for satellite communication research and development with a budget of 480 billion Korean won (approximately US$360 million) in September 2023. This effort aims to ensure the availability of domestic satellite networks, frequency supply, and strengthen satellite radio wave monitoring.

The outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022 drew attention to satellite communication technology, especially in the realm of LEO satellite communication, which operates between 300 and 1,500 kilometers above the Earth's surface.

The industry predicts that the global satellite communication market will grow at an annual average rate of 24%, reaching US$216.2 billion by 2030, with LEO satellite communication accounting for 67%. However, due to the narrower coverage area of LEO satellites, launching hundreds to thousands of satellites is required to cover the entire globe, leading to higher investment costs. As a result, the current market is dominated by major players like StarLink, OneWeb, and Amazon. While South Korea is competitive in terrestrial and mobile communication, it lags behind in satellite communication technology and industry scale.

Governments worldwide are constructing independent satellite networks or enhancing satellite communication-related regulations to address emergency management needs and safeguard communication sovereignty. To strengthen the competitiveness of its LEO satellite communication industry, the South Korean government plans to invest 480 billion Korean won initially, providing support for certain technical research and development aspects like satellite ground stations. Additionally, it intends to establish facilities for real-world satellite communication experiments.

However, it is considered challenging for local companies to lead in LEO satellite communication satellite launches and network construction in the short term. Therefore, the South Korean government plans to establish a military, civilian, and government-backed body temporarily called the "K-LEO Alliance" in 2024 for medium and long-term feasibility studies. To prevent specific satellite operators from monopolizing satellite frequencies and to ensure the entry of newcomers into the market alongside established players, discussions will be held to formalize procedures and systems for satellite frequency usage applications, negotiations, and operational conditions.

MSIT stated that in order to join the ranks of advanced nations and complete South Korea's next-generation digital network, the government will accelerate the implementation of the Satellite Communication Activation Strategy and aim to achieve an export scale of over US$3 billion in the satellite communication sector by 2030.