Latin America is at the early stages of what is poised to become a very dynamic and competitive high throughput satellite (HTS) marketplace. On the demand side, bandwidth-hungry applications like residential broadband, 3G/4G data backhaul/offload and mobility (maritime /aereo) have long been awaiting the emergence of lower-cost platforms to enable them. Meanwhile, an increasing number of satellite operators committing to deploy substantial HTS capacity in the 2014-2016 time period signals that the evolution of the Latin American HTS market could be driven by rather supply-side economics.
But what makes Latin America really interesting from an HTS perspective is the range of HTS architectures and business models; and the diverse set of players driving these. Despite some inevitable degree of overlapping among all surfacing architectures and target markets, HTS platforms in the region tend to fall into three broad categories, based on their respective primary targets: Residential Broadband, National Programs and Open B2B Platforms.
- Residential Broadband
The Latin American HTS residential broadband segment is at an embryonic stage but projected to become a high-growth “volume” market, with most of the growth coming from 2016 onwards. Northern Sky Research (NSR) forecasts that by 2022 there will be over 620 thousand HTS broadband subscribers, almost tripling the current installed base of broadband VSATs – used across the region for enterprise-class services via traditional Ku-band capacity.
In October 2013, Media Networks Latin America (MNLA), a B2B division of Telefonica Digital, kicked off commercial operations of the first regional high throughput satellite network via a hosted HTS payload aboard Hispasat’s Amazonas 3 satellite. With over 12 Gbps of aggregate IP throughput distributed across 9 spot beams covering some of the region’s most populated metropolitan areas, MNLA’s main target is clearly the residential broadband market. Similarly to how MNLA approached the DTH market, it has adopted a wholesale, white-label HTS service distribution model. This is: MNLA did the heavy-lifting of procuring, deploying, integrating and operating the hybrid broadband infrastructure so that service distributors can rely on such infrastructure to sell and brand their own services, without the need to deal with the complexities of managing core network resources.
- National Programs
Some countries in the region are actively seeking technology independence through government-funded space programs for the design, construction and operation of national communication satellites, usually with hybrid FSS /HTS payloads. Early in 2014, the Bolivian TKSat-1 satellite, manufactured under the terms of a cooperation agreement between Bolivia and China, entered geostationary orbit with a limited number of spot beams. Argentina’s state-owned operator ARSAT also has plans to include Ka-band spots in the future but Brazil’s satellite program is perhaps the best example of how large and relevant national programs can be for domestic HTS markets. Brazil´s Defense and Strategic Communications Geostationary Satellites (SGDC) are being purposely designed and built to provide Brazil with independence from the commercial satellite sector to meet the demands of strategic defense, civil and social inclusion objectives. The first SGDC satellite (SGDC-1), expected to launch in 2016, will count with X band capacity for defense applications but will also host a large multi-spot-beam Ka-band payload with an estimated capacity of over 40 Gbps, to be mainly used to bridge the “middle mile” digital divide in key areas of the country.
- Open B2B Platforms
This is the category where most of the traditional Latin American FSS satellite operators including Intelsat, Telesat, StarOne will fall into. With the first of the series of EpicNG satellites (IS-29e) scheduled for launch in 2015, Intelsat will be the operator showing the way for “open” HTS B2B service models. EpicNG is truly an evolutionary progression of the traditional model of satcom capacity agnostically leased to service providers that use such capacity as raw material to craft their own differentiated service offerings. Indeed, initial focus is on Ku-band spot beams ensuring a good degree of backward compatibility for traditional service providers and legacy grounds systems. Such natural progression is considered vital for the sustainability of non-broadcast B2B satellite applications such as backhaul, being increasingly challenged economically by the expansion of terrestrial networks and the transition from a voice-dominated to a data-dominated mobile environment – with inherently lower ARPU-to-traffic ratios.
Inmarsat Global Xpress and O3b Networks, both starting commercial services in 2014, are two special cases with global relevance but direct impact on specific Latin American market segments. Global Xpress is a truly global, ka-band HTS platform for last-mile mobility applications and designed as the HTS evolution of BGAN. On the other end of the spectrum, O3b will use Ka-band to bring fiber-like performance and new CAPEX/OPEX trade-offs to the segment of high-speed satcom (IP trunking, backbone and backhaul in particular), reinvigorating satcom high-speed backhaul / trunking and expanding the addressability for satellite-based solutions in the region (see NSR projections).
This article first appeared on SatMagazine
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