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BEYOND20


COMMENT


deployed now, both in space and in the all- important ground segment. These will not only provide full global coverage – something that will take many thousands of LEO satellites to match – but are also bringing a step change in capabilities. Rather than some theoretical future capa-


bility, current GEO technologies already meet the mobile connectivity needs of large, critical sectors such as maritime and aviation. They have the proven, secure services that can fulfil the demanding specifications of governments and they can also support the needs of all kinds of Internet of Things applications in sectors such as rail, utilities and agriculture. All of this is available today, and without


the challenges of stand-alone LEO systems. And, let’s be clear: those challenges are not small. They range from environmental (poorly under- stood impact on Earth’s upper atmosphere); to financial (McKinsey has noted that costs must come down by at least 75% for LEO constella- tions to be viable); to technical (such as the need for terminals with costly, bulky anten- nae); to societal (the high risk of space junk); to regulatory (inadequate governance); to opera- tional (the requirement of hundreds of ground stations) and beyond. Of course, such challenges are surmounta-


ble. I am a firm believer in human ingenuity and with enough time, money and innovation, I have no doubt some of these issues will be solved. But others, such as the broad impact of tens of thousands of new spacecraft flying near the Earth, will remain difficult to address. I do believe – and we believe at Inmarsat –


there is a role for LEO satellites. This role, how- ever, is not what is being considered today; it is not some all-encompassing, hugely expensive, unproven, massive global constellation largely focused on consumer markets. Rather, we see LEO satellites as a potential add-on to existing systems to provide additional capacity where it is needed the most; essentially ‘hot spots’ designed to meet specific user needs. Take ship- ping, for example: there might not be a need for massive capacity in themiddle of the ocean, but in the PanamaCanal? Surely yes. As a result, the real answer is not ‘either/or’


LEO and GEO satellites, it is almost certainly ‘both’. But the excitement about so-called new space needs to be tempered with some hard- headed reality checks. While history does not


June/July 2021 www.fDiIntelligence.com


have to repeat itself, the risks are real that it does, and that plenty of investormoney is spent chasing a solution to a problem that does not exist – and that creates plenty of new problems along the way. In this new space race, though, it’s not only


commercial capital being risked. Governments are also investing and, in some instances, quite heavily. Of course, there is an argument to be made about the potential imbalance that gov- ernment funding for new satellite operators creates in terms of terrestrial competitors. I would argue that the same can be said for its impact on the existing commercial satellite industry. This not to say that governments should not


be doing more to connect their citizens, but surely supporting consumers and allowing them to make the choice of the connectivity service that they want and best suits them is a more practical and less risky strategy? The world deserves a more considered


approach, one that focuses on the needs of the customers and considers the long-termimpact and very real dangers – both financial and envi- ronmental – that come with a ‘Wild West’ approach to space. Of course, competition is important; it drives innovation. But so too is co- operation. And the space industry could take the lead here and become an example for other industries in tackling the massive challenges our world faces in the coming decades.


Rajeev Suri is the CEO of Inmarsat, a role he has held since March 2021. He was previously president and CEO of Nokia.■


THIS TIME IT DOES FEEL DIFFERENT; THIS TIME, TECHNOLOGY HAS SEEMINGLY CAUGHTUP WITH AMBITION


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