Taiwan's satellite business opportunities rise, but post-inauguration variables remain

Allen Hsieh, Taipei; Vyra Wu, DIGITIMES Asia 0

Credit: Taiwan Kaohsiung City Search And Rescue Team

When a powerful earthquake struck Hualien in eastern Taiwan on April 3, the island nation turned to an unconventional ally: low-Earth orbit(LEO) satellites.

In a groundbreaking move, Taiwan deployed these satellites for the first time to fast-track recovery efforts. This not only showcased Taiwan's innovative approach to disaster response but also highlighted the transformative potential of satellite technology in a nation boasting near-universal mobile network coverage.

Taiwan's partnership with European satellite giant Eutelsat OneWeb is central to this satellite strategy. Currently, user terminals are sourced mainly from international players like Kymeta from the US. However, with Taiwan's telecom companies eyeing the burgeoning LEO satellite market, they're poised to produce their own cutting-edge terminals.

The ambitious plan by Taiwan's Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA) aims to set up 700 non-geosynchronous satellite terminal hotspots and 70 backhaul sites by the end of 2024. The industry is buzzing with speculation about which Taiwanese firms will step up to partner with Chunghwa Telecom, Eutelsat OneWeb's exclusive agent in Taiwan, for these groundbreaking initiatives.

While Eutelsat OneWeb requires rigorous certification for user terminals, limiting participation to select players, Taiwanese firms are eager to meet these standards. However, challenges persist due to OneWeb's intricate shareholder structure and operational uncertainties.

Sources in the industry indicate that FIH is leading the charge among Taiwanese firms in submitting equipment for OneWeb's testing. However, OneWeb's intricate shareholder makeup complicates decision-making processes, creating fluctuations in satellite launch numbers, timing, and supply chain dynamics. OneWeb's diverse investor base includes stakeholders from India, the UK, and some satellite operators, as well as a roughly 4% investment from China. This adds to Taiwan's concerns about ensuring digital resilience.

For Taiwanese manufacturers, the satellite industry presents a golden opportunity to diversify and compete globally. With SpaceX dominating the satellite launch arena, OneWeb offers Taiwanese firms a more accessible entry point into the satellite supply chain. Ultimately, Taiwan's most immediate gains are anticipated from the collaborative efforts with Chunghwa Telecom in constructing the government-led ground stations.

As Taiwan transitions to a new presidential administration this May, the satellite strategy's future remains a topic of keen interest. With the current digital resilience plan concluding in late 2024, the direction of government investment in satellite deployment post-2025 is still up in the air. However, plans are underway for OneWeb to establish a satellite terminal verification center in Taiwan by 2025, promising tangible benefits and exciting opportunities for Taiwanese firms in the satellite ecosystem.