LEO x GEO = Innovation Squared

By Thierry Guillemin, Executive Vice President & Chief Technology Officer

A short time ago, I wrote about the strengths and limitations of LEO systems and my belief that LEO constellations can be a complementary, rather than competing, offering to GEO satellites. Today’s announcement of our strategic alliance with OneWeb reflects our view that bringing these satellite systems together will expand our collective abilities to make broadband more accessible to consumers and businesses, wherever they might be, on the ground, sea or skies.

As a result of our alliance, the interoperability of the OneWeb constellation with the Intelsat GEO network will allow customers to seamlessly switch from one constellation to the other, taking advantage of their respective strengths.  For instance, Intelsat’s aero and maritime customers will be able to maintain broadband connectivity through the polar regions that are not accessible to GEO satellites.  This is very important to some of their international routes.

Similarly, OneWeb will be able to hand off traffic to Intelsat capacity over the equatorial zones – the region where GEO spectrum has priority, and a hurdle otherwise difficult for LEO constellations to overcome.

In my view it is always about using the right technology for the right circumstance.  By leveraging the OneWeb constellation to complement our services for promising applications of the future such as the Internet of Things or connected cars, we can leverage the strength of our global GEO hybrid satellite network and our highly efficient broadcast capabilities with the high elevation angles that LEO can provide, to better support all user environments, including those where line of sight conditions may be a challenge for GEO.   Applications in the government and oil and gas sectors will also benefit from leveraging the strengths of both systems.

I noted in my previous blog about LEO constellations that a key to our collective success will require manufacturers to break new ground. Given the scale of the OneWeb constellation, satellite manufacturing and, to a certain extent, launch planning and technology will effectively be reimagined, starting from a clean sheet of paper.  I expect that technology enhancements realized as OneWeb comes to fruition will spur innovation that can benefit GEO-based infrastructure economics, as well.

Further, technologies from founding partners such as Qualcomm that are being used in the broader telecom sector can bring scale and innovation to progress our collective goals of better performance, better economics and simpler access. The sharing of the same Ku-band frequency spectrum by OneWeb and Intelsat should lead to very interesting LEO-GEO synergies as they relate to ground technologies and platforms.  This could include advancements in mobile-tracking antennas and more affordable miniaturized modems with higher performance. Leveraging the same ground ecosystem with larger volumes will bring valuable economies of scale to both OneWeb and Intelsat applications.  I am looking forward to riding the wave of innovation together and to the inevitable cross-pollination of ideas that will result.

Leadership in commercial space communications means being open to all technologies and always looking for the innovations that can improve the solutions we provide to our customers.  We are energized by the potential for collaboration on the OneWeb project, and our collective ability to unleash new broadband capabilities for new applications in this fast changing world.

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