Satellite frontier: the rise of industry-savvy agents

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: AFP

In April 2023, Taiwan's Ministry of Digital Affairs unveiled the outcomes of the initial round of reviews for telecommunications firms vying for commercial satellite communication frequency licenses. Among the successful applicants were Lung Hwa Electronics and Aerkomm Taiwan, paving the way for their foray into the burgeoning satellite communications arena. Shortly after, Chunghwa Telecom made headlines by announcing an exclusive partnership with Eutelsat OneWeb, securing the rights to represent satellite services within Taiwan's borders. This heralds the dawn of satellite applications in Taiwan, heralding a new era of diversified growth for satellite services in the region.

Insiders within the industry analyze that the seamless implementation and promotion of satellite services within Taiwan hinge significantly upon the involvement of local or industry-savvy satellite agents.

These satellite agents, reminiscent of past telecommunications entities in the telecom market, operate without their own base stations, instead leveraging numbers from primary telecom operators to deliver mobile communication services.

While satellite agents lack their own satellites, they play a pivotal role by leasing frequency bands from satellite operators to provide services. Often specializing in specific sectors like maritime applications, they boast a nuanced understanding of industry demands and wield extensive client networks compared to direct satellite operator operations.

The modus operandi for satellite agents revolves around tailoring services from various satellite operators to suit user requirements. This commercial model positions satellite agents as key decision-makers in adopting specific satellite operator user terminals and systems. Moreover, as satellite operators invest heavily in satellite operations, they often rely on satellite agents for business promotion, given their familiarity with practical satellite service applications.

In practical terms, large local telecom operators or satellite agents may secure frequency bands from satellite operators before distributing them to niche sectors or smaller-scale satellite agents. This subletting scenario significantly aids in expanding the satellite service market, with satellite agents playing a pivotal role in market expansion.

Notably, satellite agents specializing in maritime satellite operations highlight that, contrary to expectations, the representation of Starlink services does not necessarily entail direct engagement with SpaceX. Instead, these agents act as intermediaries between satellite operators and end-users, such as ship operators seeking reliable satellite services.

While profits from representing Starlink services may not meet initial expectations, ship operators are drawn to Starlink's competitive pricing, capacity, and bandwidth offerings. This appeal is bolstered by Starlink's extensive satellite constellation, affording it greater influence compared to other satellite operators.

Observing global trends, competition between satellite agents and telecom operators is evident, particularly within the maritime satellite services sphere. Notably, continuous usage of satellite services by ships docking at ports may strain relationships with local telecom operators.

As the global commercial satellite market matures, the role of satellite agents becomes increasingly crucial alongside satellite and telecom operators. Consequently, stakeholders are monitoring industry developments to discern future trends and opportunities in this dynamic landscape.