Recently, I joined with Don Frey, Principal Analyst at Ovum, and Jeffrey Hill, Chairman of Aerospace Events & Via Satellite Executive Editor, for a webinar about Powering Cellular Connections by Satellite. Targeted to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), the event was attended by representatives from across the ecosystem: MNOs, satellite operators, industry organizations and government regulators on several continents.
The webinar set out to explore how cell services can be deployed in rural and hard-to-serve areas cost-effectively, using satellite backhaul. Don Frey did an excellent job reviewing the growing market for mobile broadband in developing countries and remote areas and the ways in which satellite will help meet the demand for the higher connections expected with 4G deployments over the next several years.
After Don set the stage, I addressed four topics that I have heard from MNOs about using satellite for cellular backhaul, summarized below.
- A Proven Cellular Backhaul Option. For anyone who wonders whether satellite can backhaul cellular traffic, the answer is, unequivocally, yes. In fact, with no distance limitations on deployment like the wireline and wireless options, satellite is easy to deploy for 2G, 3G and 4G backhaul. Satellite has been used for cellular backhaul for decades, and today supports no less than 50,000 sites, expected to grow to 180,000 sites by 2027.
- Capacity is Growing. I have heard some question whether there is enough satellite bandwidth to support cellular backhaul. As High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) are launched, the worldwide capacity is increasing dramatically. In 2019, there will be more than 2,000 Gbps of HTS capacity in service across the globe! Yes. There is plenty of capacity…and the cost is coming down, too.
- Prices are Dropping. This is great news for MNOs that want to use satellite for cell backhaul, especially as the asymmetry of mobile traffic aligns perfectly to the ability of satellite to support a very high-speed forward channel, consistent with video and data streaming demands. Satellite also handles peak busy traffic effortlessly, while maintaining required speeds. The fact is that satellite backhaul is not only financially viable, it’s often more cost-effective than other transport methods.
- Satellite Backhaul Works. In areas all around the globe, satellite backhauls 2G, 3G and 4G cell traffic. From India, where Reliance Jio uses 4G over satellite to support 1,000 sites, to the DRC where Vodacom uses satellite to backhaul traffic from 1,100 sites, MNOs are using satellite backhaul because it works.
As MNOs seek to grow their wireless footprints to meet the accelerating connectivity needs of their markets, satellite backhaul will continue to be an important part of the infrastructure. Even as 5G proliferates, satellite will continue to play a supporting role there, as well, especially in bringing core functions to the network edge, distributing content cost-effectively, and backhauling IoT data.