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Unlocking the Next Stage of Digital Transformation: How Satellite Communications Can Bridge the Gap Between the Digital Divide
April 22, 2021 News


When thinking of an Internet connection, people tend to look at their fibre connection, which is linked globally underwater, or at cell towers that connect devices through the air. However, just outside the Earth’s atmosphere is another way the world can be interconnected – the satellite communication industry is providing interconnectivity anywhere on the globe.

Satellites have played a significant role in the advancements of technology in the past. Today, satellites are becoming a vital part of a digital revolution aiming to connect virtually anyone, no matter where they are.

Discussing how and why is this possible, experts from the field gathered in the recent “Satellite Communications and the Next Stage of Digital Transformation in Malaysia” webinar, including Harsh Verma, Sales Director, Asia for Fixed Data, SES Networks; Jose del Rosario, Research Director, Northern Sky Research (NSR) and Tuan Haji Azlikamil Napiah, Director General, Malaysian Space Agency (MYSA).

Starting the session, Jose highlighted the benefits of satellites to humankind. “It’s a very robust and reliable infrastructure solution. It’s the only viable solution in underserved and remote areas, reaching topographies telco providers can’t”, explained Jose.

As for enterprises, Jose mentioned that satellites provide services to industries in geographically challenging locations, such as oil rigs, mining sites and financial services machines in island nations. Having such capabilities, it is just high time for satellites to enable interconnectivity anywhere, such as in Malaysia, which aspires to become a fully connected nation.

According to Jose, there is still a digital divide within Malaysia today. In order to bridge this divide, Jose believes that companies such as NSR and SES can leverage satellites and internet infrastructure advantages, not only to leapfrog but to even quantum leapfrog infrastructure challenges. He believes that satellites are instrumental in bridging the gap in dense urban and thinly populated rural areas in Malaysia.

“The good news is that Malaysia recognises that there is a digital divide and has now provided a very generous budget last year”, said Jose, mentioning also that no other communications technology comes close to space technologies. However, they also come with big challenges.

For instance, Jose said that building a satellite is highly complex and needs to be operated from thousands of kilometres away for seven to 15 years. In Malaysia, MEO (Medium Earth Orbit) and LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites are the ideal solutions, according to Jose, since they offer high data rates and provide spot beams in the country.

Focusing on a new phase that taps into data applications, this is where satellites from SES Networks play a major role. Its existing SES O3b in the MEO orbit is the only operational broadband constellation today, providing technical and market performance across the world but with less interference and better debris management.

Leveraging the advantage and the success of O3b, SES is now launching O3b mPower, a more robust system that can help Malaysia realise its digitisation objectives going forward. “With all the bandwidth requirements that are needed for e-commerce and other applications, moving to the cloud as we go through this pandemic, programs for intelligent highways and smart cities, Malaysia will need huge pipes going forward. Once again, if you want a ubiquitous, robust solution for these types of applications, satellites are ideal”, added Jose.

To speak for SES and its plans in connecting Malaysia and helping with the country’s digital transformation, Jose passed the discussion over to Harsh Verma. According to him, SES already has 54 satellites in orbit, out of which four cover Malaysia and three high throughput satellites across the globe, out of which one is covering Malaysia.

Today, Harsh said SES is looking forward to the O3b mPower constellation, which will be live by next year. The innovations included in the new O3b mPower are:

  • Fibre-like quality of experience.
  • High throughput links (to multi-Gbps).
  • Low latency MEO (150ms).
  • Software-defined digital payload.
  • Electrically steered beam.
  • Full Ka spectrum reuse.

“SES differentiates itself from the other satellite players or operators. We don’t consider ourselves as just a capacity service provider but really an end-to-end managed service provider, where we partner with an in-country license service provider to offer the service”, said Harsh.

He added that the O3b mPower is a $1.5 billion dollar project, and SES will be launching the first three O3b mPower satellites later this year through the SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle. SES aims to start the O3b mPower service in the third quarter of next year up to 2025.

To discuss the plans of the Malaysian government for satellites, Tuan Haji Azlikamil Napiah talked about the space-based technology role for digital transformation in the country. Starting his talk, Azlikamil mentioned three main players in space tech applications – global positioning and navigation, remote sensing, and communications.

“Now, we are in place to come up with the space industry road map for the next ten years. Our roles involve leading the implementation of national space policy, empowering the research and development for space sector and coordination the acquisition of satellite data”, said Azlikamil.

Currently, MYSA has already developed 40 application systems in various sectors throughout the country. However,  Azlikamil said it is still not enough, as they need to reach at least 90 system applications by 2030, involving 110 Malaysian agencies and government departments.

“In the long run, we are aiming to contribute at least 0.3 per cent of the nation’s GDP, accounting to RM 3.2 billion by 2030. We plan to create new jobs and income for the country and with this capability, we can be in the top three space agencies in Southeast Asia”, he added.

With that, Azlikamil shared that space-based technology offers an innovative approach in bridging the digital divide, especially for remote and underserved areas and that with the advancement of such technology and supported government policies, Malaysia will have a great opportunity to support the next stage of its digital transformation.

Click here to watch the full webinar.