What are the three major trends in the satellite industry for 2024?

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0


In 2023, the global satellite industry experienced unprecedented advancements in both operational efficiency and satellite launch capabilities, setting the stage for a dynamic trajectory. As we transition into 2024, the satellite sector is poised to sustain the strategic frameworks and planning initiatives initiated in 2023, with three prominent global trends on the horizon: the integration of multiple orbits spanning high-, medium-, and low-Earth orbits; the widespread adoption of direct-to-device connectivity; and a shift from the historical reliance on small satellites for network deployment towards a greater emphasis on medium to large-scale satellite investments.

Historically, satellite applications have predominantly revolved around high and medium Earth orbit satellites, with greater distances from Earth correlating to broader coverage capabilities. Notably, a mere trio of geosynchronous orbit satellites (GSO) suffices to comprehensively cover the entire globe. However, the surge in low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites in recent years necessitates a larger constellation to achieve global coverage, exemplified by the continual satellite launches in Elon Musk's Starlink initiative. While LEO satellite communication offers cost-effective deployment and reduced latency, the challenge lies in the sheer quantity required.

In response, the industry is witnessing a paradigm shift towards the integration of multiple orbits to cater to diverse usage scenarios, ensuring a comprehensive approach to satellite communication services. Strategic moves by satellite operators, such as Eutelsat's merger with OneWeb, underscore the industry's pivot towards integrating LEO satellite assets with existing GSO infrastructure to deliver more expansive satellite communication services.

This trend is not confined to the global arena but is also evident in Taiwan's satellite industry, with key players like Rapidtek unveiling cutting-edge solutions such as the "Radio Frequency Front-End Module (RFFEM)" to address the evolving communication needs of multi-orbit satellite systems.

Furthermore, the ascent of direct-to-device satellite connectivity is gaining prominence in 2023 and is anticipated to become ubiquitous in 2024. The growing prevalence of satellite communication functionalities on consumer devices, particularly smartphones, is reshaping the landscape of satellite commercial services.

Industry observers delineate two potential trajectories: the establishment of satellite communication technology standards through entities like 3GPP, enabling industry giants Qualcomm and MediaTek to develop compliant devices; and a satellite-centric approach involving enhancements such as increased satellite signal power or the incorporation of innovative array antennas.

While the standardization process is inherently time-intensive, its role in shaping long-term industry trends is pivotal. Conversely, the latter approach, involving the rapid launch of new satellites facilitating satellite-to-cell services for smartphones, offers expediency but is contingent on the capabilities of specific satellite operators.

Concluding the satellite industry metamorphosis is the evolution of LEO satellites from a historical focus on small-scale models to the emergence of larger and more robust medium-sized satellites. A notable example is Starlink's proactive deployment of V2 satellites, characterized by increased dimensions, enhanced performance metrics, and the capacity to facilitate direct-to-device connectivity for mobile devices.

In the past, LEO satellites prioritized lightweight and compact designs to mitigate launch costs and enable widespread deployment. However, the contemporary landscape, marked by escalating satellite communication demand and refined business models, underscores the significance of advancements in launch technology and cost reductions. This confluence of factors positions the launch of medium to large satellites as a viable strategy. Additionally, the constrained capacity of LEO satellites and the evolving competitive landscape in deployment permits predicate a more stringent regulatory environment. Consequently, the shift towards deploying fewer but more sophisticated medium to large satellites emerges as a salient and strategic response to industry imperatives.