Legacy satellite operators are evaluating the transformation fueled by Starlink

Legacy satellite operators are evaluating the transformation fueled by Starlink

TAMPA, Fla. — The arrival of SpaceX’s broadband service has transformed satellite communications and what customers have come to expect from other companies in the market, executives told a panel of legacy operators on Sept. 11.

“The reality is that Starlink has had a real impact on the market,” Telesat CEO Dan Goldberg said at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week conference in Paris.

Goldberg added that LEO broadband has changed what customers expect from user terminals, including what they look like, how much they should cost, and how much work they have to set up.

Starlink’s popularity is also reducing what customers expect to pay for connectivity, increasing demand for ubiquitous coverage, and pushing the industry away from traditional long-term contract obligations.

However, Goldberg said customers are demanding more competition in the market, which the Canadian geostationary operator hopes to provide in 2027 through recently funded plans for a low-Earth orbit constellation.

Eutelsat CEO Eva Bernicky said industrialization and cost-cutting in the launch sector was one of SpaceX’s biggest innovations, and operators need to adapt to a similar change in satellite connectivity.

Eutelsat is close to buying OneWeb’s LEO network as it seeks to meet the growing demand it sees for low-latency connectivity from space.

Berneke agreed that satellite connectivity is not a “winner takes all” market due to the need for sovereign and redundant networks.

“On the other hand, I don’t think you’ll have your 10s or 20s,” she said. The scale these companies use is a limited resource distributed to first movers, which means “it would be somewhat painful to launch later with a lower priority.”

The rush to get other constellations of broadband satellites into non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) to track Starlink and OneWeb will help define the industry over the next decade, Bernicky said.

“But we can’t do that without a supply chain that becomes hyper-competitive with us, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that this industry needs to solve,” Berneke warned.

Price erosion

Demand for connectivity is growing but operators also need to be careful about pricing pressures caused by the deluge of capacity to meet it, according to Rui Pinto, CEO of SES, which has satellites in geostationary and medium orbit.

“[W]“As an industry, we have had no problem minimizing the price erosion, capacity scale and competition that hits us every year,” Pinto said.

Rather than focusing head-on in areas with “almost predatory prices,” he said SES prioritizes areas where it can provide differentiated service, for example through specialist government partnerships.

“I don’t think retreating into protected sectors is a permanent solution,” said Mark Dankberg, CEO of US-based Viasat, which recently acquired UK-based Inmarsat to expand globally.

Viasat sees a lot of opportunities built around heterogeneous fleets in GEO and NGSO, he said.

However, there are big questions about how much space is available in LEO and how those resources are shared, according to Dankberg, who said they could be resolved in part by releasing more information about spectrum implications and other details to help operators and other countries make more informed decisions.

Space sustainability is becoming an increasingly important topic for all satellite operators as the number of satellites in the NGSO rises, Eutelsat’s Pernick said.

She called on the industry to come together to review how companies operate and share spectrum, rather than sitting and waiting for regulators to intervene on their behalf.

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