Steve Collar - CEO, SES Networks


1) How has the role of satellite in addressing Africa’s connectivity requirements evolved over the past decade or so?

Satellite continues to play a major role in the Africa telecommunications landscape as the demand for data, and in particular, mobile data grows at an ever increasing rate. The last decade has seen a substantial increase in the supply of bandwidth delivered over submarine cable systems to the African coastline. We have also seen substantial investment in mobile networks across Africa and also a significant increase in satellite based networks and the integration of satellite into the terrestrial ecosystem. Africa currently exhibits the fastest mobile subscriber growth for 3G and 4G voice and data access, fueled by network build out by Mobile Network Operators, but also a myriad of Universal Service Fund initiatives championed by governments and regulators and the rise of mobile money, a lifeline for many in Africa.  

We have seen a shift in demand and more discernment and differentiation from the market as satellite operators and service providers have tailored their solutions to the growing number of applications and services required. Geostationery bandwidth and services continue to be in high demand in rural areas, especially for cellular backhaul extension for the Mobile Network Operators. This is driven by Government through the Universal Service Funds initiatives, demand from consumers as mobile phone penetration increases and hard to reach terrain in need of access to connectivity. As networks evolve from voice only, to voice and data, operators, SES included, are evolving their pricing and utilization models to be more consistent with those of the MNOs. This presents challenges for satellite operators in the short term but is generating market growth.

The emergence of SES’s unique O3b constellation and the advent of affordable, low latency, high performance bandwidth and solutions to land locked Africa and numerous locations beyond the coastline has revolutionized the continent and provided opportunity to many who otherwise would be cut off from a broadband environment.  SES is the only operator who combines the benefits of Geostationary and medium earth orbit systems with capabilities to offer turnkey connectivity solutions positioned to address the explosive growth demand for Africa over the next decade.


2) What’s your view on the relatively recent and expected emergence of MEO & LEO satellite constellations, respectively, and how they complement GEO services?

There is a tremendous amount of growing interest in the role that space can – and really must – play in a cloud-scale world that will require ubiquitous gigabit broadband. At SES, we really believe in the benefits of MEO; we bought-in early, we’ve invested accordingly, and now we operate the only broadband MEO fleet and we’re growing that fleet and we’re even entering the second-generation of MEO satellites with O3b mPOWER, which brings much greater scale and flexibility to MEO solutions. We see MEO as offering the ideal balance between service performance and constellation simplicity – both of which are essential to meeting the expected demand for bandwidth as we drive toward things like 5G mobile networking, mobile edge computing and the Internet of Things. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t think LEO has a future role; it’s just that at this point, we have yet to be convinced that it can strike the same performance/simplicity balance as MEO. We think it’s good for the industry that there are people working on making the LEO business case a stronger one down the road.

To us, though, one of the key attributes for success in the medium-term is the integration of GEO/MEO infrastructure so that it creates a unified network that’s flexible and intelligent enough to route traffic through the appropriate assets based on application requirements. That’s the kind of scale and efficiency that will be required to support the massive requirements of connecting billions of people, applications and machines in the years ahead.


3) Given the steady push to fiberize ever more population centers in Africa and elsewhere, do you anticipate SES playing a role in such projects?

We see several roles for SES in a world that seamlessly interconnects networks regardless of whether it’s fiber, microwave or satellite.

First, as the only service provider with a MEO-based offering, we’re the only provider that can deliver a fiber resiliency service that can match (or even approach) the capacity, performance and low-latency of fiber. This means we’re in a unique position to offer continuity of service for a wide range of rich media, latency-sensitive applications (if you’re back-up is GEO, you might be able to support voice but not much else). We can deliver a fiber resiliency solution as either a rapid-response deployment within two to three days, or we can deploy a satellite-enabled managed service as an active, diverse path alongside a terrestrial or microwave connection. In the latter case, the operator can fail over to the satellite link within 0-30 seconds. Again, if this diverse path is MEO-based, we are enabling the operator to drive higher capacity levels and a great latency performance.

But let’s not stop there. We think the role of satellite technology in the cloud-scale era is actually much larger than that. As I said before, the amount of bandwidth required for, say, a truly global Internet of Things, will absolutely require high-performance satellite connectivity. But for the satellite industry to take full advantage of that opportunity, it requires changing the way we participate and collaborate with other parts of the broader networking community – and SES is leading that charge on behalf of the industry. We are working to make it as frictionless as possible for customers to integrate satellite-enabled solutions into their existing terrestrial networks. This means working alongside networking peers in global standards bodies to shape and implement new standards; it means providing open interfaces for seamless interoperability across systems; it means achieving telco-grade certifications (like MEF Carrier Ethernet 2.0) to assure customers that the quality of experience enabled by satellite fully meets the service level agreements they’ve already got in place; and it means adopting software-defined networking capabilities to deliver secure, intent-based, application-aware capacity. We think that if a customer wants to flexibly provision satellite services, they should be able to do so seamlessly right alongside their existing fiber assets in a common environment – all while delivering the same quality of experience. We’re doing a lot of work – and making great progress – with standards groups and others in the satellite industry to ensure that satellite becomes a mainstream part of that global environment because it’s going to be a critical requirement in the cloud-scale world.

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