satellites in space

Satellites in space are enabling internet connectivity in rural areas.

Why internet from satellites in space work best in Southeast Asia

Satellites in space have revolutionized communications. Innovations in satellite capabilities and the ability of reusable rockets for launches have also made the cost of sending more satellites to space a lot cheaper.

Today, there are approximately 7,702 active satellites in space, spanning various Earth orbits with thousands more expected to be launched soon. Unsurprisingly, the US dominates orbiting hardware with the greatest number of satellites, with China playing catch up.

While communications are the main purpose of satellites in space, they have been also used for military purposes, imaging, and research and observation of the planet. Now, satellites in space are also capable of providing internet capabilities.

In fact, satellite internet has been a game-changer for network connectivity and availability today. While fixed-line broadband is still the preferred method for internet connectivity, satellite-based internet is catered more towards those located in rural areas, where internet infrastructure is not available or costly.

The global satellite internet market size is expected to reach US$19.71 billion by 2030, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. The market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 11.6% from 2022 to 2030. The key factors driving the growth of the satellite internet market globally include a surge in the adoption of satellite services in government and military and growing adoption of satellite internet for connectivity in rural areas.

Over the years there has been an increase in satellite internet providers. Elon Musk’s Starlink is currently the most popular satellite internet provider in the world. Available in over 56 countries, the satellite internet constellation is operated by SpaceX. Starlink also made headlines last year when Musk used the satellites to provide internet connectivity to Ukraine whose citizens had been cut off from the network due to the conflict with Russia.

Internet from satellites in space

Starlink provides internet through its low earth orbit (LEO) satellites in space. Currently, there are over 4,000 LEO satellites in Earth’s orbit. Starlink has plans to deploy up to 12,000 satellites in the future to meet the growing demand for its service.

The growing number of LEO satellites in space has raised some concerns about space junk as well. Thankfully, satellite-based internet can also be provided from mid-earth orbit (MEO) and geostationary satellites which require smaller constellations.

One company that is working to provide this service is SES. The Luxembourgish satellite telecommunications network provider not only supplies video and data connectivity worldwide to broadcasters, content and internet service providers but also to mobile and fixed network operators, governments and institutions.

According to Sergy Mummert, SVP of Global Cloud & Strategic Partnerships at SES, satellites in space are not just capable of improving connectivity for those in rural locations but also enable organizations to communicate securely.

Cloud service providers (CSPs), for example, are utilizing MEO satellites to improve data transfer, especially between physically challenging locations. For example, some CSPs are using satellites to transfer data to and from aircraft and cruise ships. Meanwhile, telco companies are also using MEO satellites to provide network coverage to locations that do not have physical infrastructure.

Other satellite internet providers include Viasat and HughesNet. Amazon hopes to enter the field as well through Project Kuiper. Project Kuiper is an initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). Its mission is to bring fast, affordable broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world.

Satellites in space to connect rural indonesia.

A screenshot of a report on Twitter on Starlink’s satellite internet in Indonesia.

Internet in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. However, apart from Singapore, internet connectivity in other countries in the region is a problem. Countries like the Philippines and Indonesia, which are made up of thousands of islands, still lack the infrastructure needed to provide internet to some areas.

In fact, about 20% of Southeast Asians still do not have internet accessibility. The region also has a long way to go when it comes to the adoption of the next generation of internet connectivity, with 5G penetration rates still below those of developed countries at about 4% or 5%, according to statistics in a report by Kearney.

Affordability and availability of the internet remain the main reasons for this. Building internet infrastructure in the islands of the Philippines and Indonesia or the interiors of Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia can be a costly affair. Most telco companies feel that the investment made to build this infrastructure will not be as profitable compared to improving networks in urban areas.

This is where satellite internet works best. The network from satellites in space can be easily set up in these areas, enabling greater connectivity. For example, SES is providing network and internet coverage to several Pacific islands and is expected to work with local telcos as well as the Indonesian and the Philippines governments in providing the network.

Indonesia also recently launched its first satellite to enable better internet connectivity in its T3 region, which is made up of a bunch of remote islands. The government is working with a local telco provider to ensure affordable internet is available in these islands.

Unfortunately, not every company can offer affordable internet. While Starlink’s internet has been proven to be popular in most urban areas, it’s a different scenario when it comes to rural connectivity. The affordability of Starlink, which is about US$99 pcm on average, is beyond what many living in rural areas can afford.