Virus Impact Proves Connectivity Is Vital

2020-03-31  |  5 min read 

The world seems to have come to a stop due to the spread of COVID-19. The majority of countries voluntarily paused activities to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems and further risking lives. Under the stress over the virus’s spread, another concern lurks: the economy. We have no recent history of hitting the “pause” button on much of the economy. As a result, we do not know what to expect. Amidst these worries, the announcement that new-space company OneWeb filed for bankruptcy has focused particular concern on the fast-growing satellite industry. Yet this crisis has greatly underscored the need for people to stay connected – a need that will continue driving the new space market even if the progress of some companies and developments is interrupted.

OneWeb was a noted name in the newer lower earth orbit (LEO) space. The company had launched 74 satellites in its constellation and secured highly valuable spectrum. It reportedly had half of its ground stations finished or under development and had begun working on user terminals for diverse customer markets. In demonstrations of its system, the company reportedly achieved broadband speeds beyond 400 Mbps with latency of 32 ms.

Unfortunately, the beginning of this calendar year saw OneWeb negotiating for investments that would fund it through deployment and commercial launch. With the financial impact of COVID-19, however, progress halted. In its bankruptcy filings, OneWeb seeks to continue operations and access some funds while negotiating financing anew. According to the company, it hopes to “pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company.” The hope is that the OneWeb constellation and services eventually come online as planned.

Excitement around LEO constellations like OneWeb focuses on their ability to provide high-speed, low-latency services to rural areas, governments, and industries ranging from automotive to aviation. Satellites also have a planned role in fifth-generation (5G) cellular to increase coverage and availability. In Release 14, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project studied both the roles and benefits of satellites in 5G. In deciding to support satellite access, it recognized the benefits of using a variety of access technologies for 5G. It also recognized the specific benefits of satellite coverage – particularly for critical communications applications.

It is worth remembering, as we navigate these unpredictable times, that satellites connected us before cellular phones did. They provide key advantages that continue to be enhanced by innovations, such as the new lower and medium earth orbit solutions. As technology companies work to forecast the coming months and adapt, much of their engineering workforces will be home. They will have more time to imagine and envision the connected future.

Some will devote more time to research and development. Teams will collaborate, thankful for the way technology keeps us all connected. More than anything, we will all appreciate how modern communications allowed us to continue to check in with loved ones, go about our workdays, and otherwise stay in touch with the outside world. After this crisis is over, the world will be different – tired, more appreciative of our loved ones and the cadence of regular life, and inspired by the communications innovations that continue to evolve and connect us in new ways.

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