Major global low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite operators are making visits to Taiwan, actively engaging with relevant businesses in the supply chain. While numerous Taiwanese subcontractors possess the relevant capabilities, especially those who have successfully entered the LEO satellite supply chain for ground equipment, industry insiders highlight that the primary objective of the recent visits by multiple satellite operators is likely to explore collaborations with the Taiwanese government.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has underscored the vulnerability of ground network infrastructure. The destruction of Ukrainian ground network facilities by Russia led to communication disruptions. However, Ukraine mitigated this by utilizing SpaceX's Starlink service for non-ground network (NTN) communication, bringing significant attention to Starlink services and the LEO satellite industry. Given Taiwan's geopolitical location in a tense region, the need to enhance digital resilience has become increasingly evident.
To address this, the Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA) has launched the "Enhancing Digital Resilience Verification Project for Communication Networks in Emergency or Wartime Application of Emerging Technologies." The project aims to ensure communication capabilities through non-synchronous orbit satellites in emergency situations in Taiwan. The ultimate goal is to establish 700 non-synchronous orbit satellite terminal equipment hotspots, 70 satellite backhaul sites, and 3 international non-synchronous orbit satellite terminal equipment hotspots by the end of 2024, totaling 773 locations.
Current participants in the digital resilience project include Luxembourg's veteran LEO satellite operator SES and Eutelsat OneWeb. The latter, besides participating in the Proof of Concept (PoC) project, has confirmed collaboration with Chunghwa Telecom to provide LEO satellite services in Taiwan. It will be the first LEO satellite constellation operator to offer services in Taiwan, initially focusing on commercial use for enterprises.
However, MODA officials recently revealed that, in addition to SES and Eutelsat OneWeb, another low Earth orbit satellite operator is in talks to participate in the digital resilience verification project, though the specific operator was not disclosed.
Considering the satellite launch progress, it is highly likely that Amazon's satellite service, Project Kuiper, is rapidly advancing. However, in terms of a collaborative project solely for testing networks, the possibility of involvement by Canadian satellite operator Telesat may not be lower than Amazon.
In response, MODA officials emphasize a preference for diverse choices. If collaborations are established with various operators, there is no concern that a problem with one operator during an emergency would compromise communication, as alternative sources would be available. This aligns with the primary objective of the policy, which is to ensure robust communication in critical situations.
The active engagement and visits by operators are primarily motivated by subsidies, according to MODA officials. For satellite operators, this represents additional revenue. Furthermore, the emphasis of Taiwan's digital resilience verification project on integrating LEO satellites allows operators to validate their abilities to collaborate with other satellite systems, demonstrating cross-system integration capabilities.
Participating in verification projects also offers the opportunity to expand business territories. For example, while participating in the project, OneWeb collaborates with Taiwanese telecos, entering the Taiwanese market. This serves as a significant incentive for low Earth orbit satellite operators coming to Taiwan to participate in verification projects.
For those aiming to enter the low Earth orbit satellite supply chain or already functioning as satellite suppliers, the visit of satellite operators to Taiwan, whether facilitated by the government or initiated by the operators, presents a valuable opportunity to strengthen collaboration. Particularly in the current climate where satellite operators are actively launching satellites and expanding their business, there is a higher likelihood of securing additional orders.