Rapid Momentum Expected for LEO Satellite Internet, Backhaul, the IoT, and 5G NTN

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By Andrew Cavalier | 4Q 2023 | IN-7176

This ABI Insight explores the implications of the rise of Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) networks and what is in store for the space sector for 2024 and beyond.

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Starlink and Amazon's Project Kuiper to Spearhead Satellite Connectivity in 2024


SpaceX’s Starlink Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite network has made significant inroads in 2023, amassing more than 2 million broadband subscribers, earning cellular backhaul contracts with KDDI, Africa Mobile Networks (AMN), and more, as well as authorization from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to test Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN)-mobile connectivity with modified Gen2 Starlink Satellites within the 1910 – 1915 Megahertz (MHz) and 1990 – 1995 MHz bands. All these efforts set the stage for Starlink’s core businesses in satellite broadband access, cellular backhaul, NTN-mobile connectivity, and the Internet of things (IoT), representing what will likely be the core business of most Non-Geostationary Orbit (NGSO) networks moving forward. Alongside Starlink, another major LEO constellation, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, is set to begin launches in 2024.

LEO Networks Will Continue to Disrupt the Space Industry


LEO satellite networks will continue to disrupt the space industry. As the capacity for SpaceX’s Starlink reaches more than 5,500 satellites (over 230 Terabytes per Second (Tbps) capacity) and reports more than 2 million subscribers at the close of 2023, the company’s projected 144 rocket launches in 2024 (an added ~1.6 Tbps capacity per launch) could potentially allow the company to gain significant market share. Furthermore, the company anticipates the start of its NTN-Mobile text messaging service in 2024, with voice and data and the Internet of Things (IoT) following in 2025. Alongside Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper achieved a 100% success rate for prototype testing in 2023 and is gearing up for the first launches of its commercial satellite Internet network in 2024, which alongside broadband, will provide mobile backhaul with Vodafone, like Starlink’s mobile backhaul agreement with KDDI announced in August. Amazon entering the IoT and 5G NTN market is also expected sometime soon.

These developments show that NGSO operators are quickly moving to multi-application network models. In this way, they are monetizing their assets and expanding their network capabilities to not focus on just one core business (like many networks of the past), but on several diverse applications and verticals. From the developments with Starlink and Project Kuiper, these core businesses appear to be broadband, cellular backhaul, 5G NTN, and the IoT. With hundreds of Tbps of capacity and various capabilities coming online with these networks, the space industry will likely see rapid consolidation and even an oligopoly in the years to come.

The rise of LEO is apparent on all fronts. The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) New Radio (NR) NTN standard, for example, focuses on connecting 5G terrestrial devices to 5G NR gNB onboard LEO satellites, so the proliferation of LEO systems is inherently tied to the industry’s standardization efforts and opening commercial hybrid (terrestrial and satellite) connectivity opportunities in the future. Developments from WRC-23 also show that LEO networks, chiefly SpaceX and Amazon, are aggressively pushing to change the international regulations on power output for their systems, something that would likely disrupt Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) networks due to interference. Finally, these LEO companies are funding their satellite networks and taking on all the risks, enabling them to act with greater agility and purpose than legacy players who wait for government funding before moving a project forward.

Embrace a Multi-Application Future


With the evolution toward multi-application and rapidly evolving satellite networks, stakeholders in the industry can prepare for the future in two essential ways:

  • Accelerating Standardization: Stakeholders in broadband, backhaul, NTN-Mobile, and IoT markets can help enhance access to satellite connectivity through standardization work. 3GPP has already built inroads for 5G NTN and the IoT; however, more work needs to be done to embrace broadband and cellular backhaul markets. While much of the industry is still entrenched in using proprietary solutions, a move toward widely used industry standards would unlock lower costs and reduce barriers to entry. This would also help with the compatibility and integration of existing infrastructure with Starlink and Amazon Kuiper networks, such as ground station equipment for backhaul or 5G NTN mobile modems. Ultimately, the promise of widely available standardized solutions that offer hybrid connectivity (terrestrial and satellite) will unlock ubiquitous connectivity across markets.
  • Explore Collaboration Opportunities: Explore commercial opportunities with Starlink and Amazon to leverage their satellite constellations for improved connectivity solutions and offerings. Starlink’s NTN-mobile and cellular backhaul service still relies on access to a partner Mobile Network Operator's (MNO) infrastructure, an opportunity for MNOs and solutions providers alike. Additionally, LEO satellite broadband and the IoT can help enhance connectivity for a variety of market solutions, such as heavy industry equipment, telematics, and fleet management, and keep up with the increasing data needs of end markets.

ABI Research anticipates that the adoption of the above recommendations by the industry is already underway and will have a positive impact on the satellite communications market. In this respect, ABI Research anticipates an upside forecast for satellite services (all core satellite businesses) to reach over US$126 billion in annual revenue and 480 million subscriptions by 2030. For more information, see ABI Research’s latest satellite communications research found in Highlights and Developments in the SatCom Marketplace: 3Q 2023 (PT-2782) and SatCom Constellations: Deployments & Subscriptions (MD-SATCC-102).