The Future of Connectivity at the Poles
A steady expansion of tourism, resource exploration, shipping, and scientific research within the Arctic and on Antarctica has increased the demand for reliable and affordable polar connectivity. Since fiber cables and cell towers are not an option, and GEO satellites fall behind in terms of service quality, availability, and competitive pricing, LEO nanosatellites might seem the best alternative to connect the Earth’s poles.
THE DEMANDS OF POLAR ACTIVITIES HAVE ALREADY BEGUN TO EXCEED THE CAPACITY OF THE EXISTING TELECOMMUNICATIONS INFRASTRUCTURE.
Indeed, apart from more densely populated areas in Iceland, Scandinavia and western Russia, the telecommunications infrastructure for vast spans of the poles is either poor or utterly non-existent. It is time to overcome these limitations and meet the accelerating connectivity needs for personal, commercial, scientific, and governmental interests. However, efforts to do so must overcome a unique set of regional challenges.
First, polar settlement and population is sparse and separated by large distances, which implies a low subscriber volume and makes the economics of fixed line connectivity such as fiber and cable problematic. Secondly, the presence of mountainous terrain, scattered throughout the polar regions, significantly increases the costs of establishing and linking a fixed, ground-based telecommunications infrastructure. Installing fiber-optic backhaul is exorbitantly costly in such terrain. Microwave backhaul is equally problematic, as mountainous terrain complicates the line-of-sight towers require to establish the network.
Thirdly, the extreme cold, high winds, heavy snowfall, and permafrost of these regions impede both the installation and maintenance of infrastructure, as well as substantially increasing the risk of damage to equipment once installed. Lastly, with a considerable portion of the increase in polar activity linked to offshore interests, vessels and offshore platforms simply cannot be served by fixed-line infrastructure. These challenges are not undefeatable, but they do require a more innovative approach than those offered by traditional, fixed, and terrestrial infrastructure alone.
In the emerging domain of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the need for telecommunications systems with a reliable and affordable capacity for global integration has become a central concern. In order to address issues of connectivity, satellite systems have become an established means of overcoming the limitations of terrestrial infrastructure.
Most satellites operate in geostationary orbit, which exists in a fixed position above the equator at an altitude of about 35,000 km. At the high latitudes of the poles, the curvature of the earth or local obstructions such as trees or rolling waves on the ocean will block visibility of these satellites.
The fidelity of the signal will also be affected by the atmosphere. At high latitudes, the signals from GEO must travel through more atmosphere than at low latitudes. With higher frequency systems, such as Ku and Ka-band, this will lead to greater signal loss through the effects of rain fade. Moderate overcast at high latitudes can render a GEO system inoperable.
These challenges also, of course, ignore the reality of the high cost of satellite connectivity, with data costs exceeding their terrestrial counterparts by 10 to 100 times!
The solution to these unique challenges rests with a combination of the strengths of traditional fixed infrastructure with the emergence of a new generation of satellite technology. This new generation of satellite provides a critical component for a comprehensive solution for communication and connectivity at the poles.
KEPLER OVERCOMES THE CHALLENGES OF RELIABLE POLAR SATELLITE CONNECTIVITY THROUGH ITS NETWORK OF NON-GEO SATELLITES, WHICH PROVIDE CONNECTIVITY IN REGIONS MISSED BY TRADITIONAL SATELLITES. OUR HIGH-CAPACITY STORE-AND-FORWARD DATA BACKHAUL SERVICE, ENABLED BY LOW-COST NANOSATELLITES, WILL PROVIDE MUCH-NEEDED CONNECTIVITY RELIEF FOR HIGH LATITUDES.
Customers will be able to shift their delay-tolerant data to an economical and reliable connectivity service, thereby reducing congestion on expensive real-time links and increasing available bandwidth for their activities. Together, these will increase available bandwidth and reduce the customers’ overall cost per GB of connectivity.
Reliable and affordable applications for Kepler’s store-and-forward services include: the ability to send and receive large quantities of scientific data, such as environmental logs or meteorological data; the connective power to support media vaults and transport high bandwidth media content (e.g. Netflix) to a local server; and the expansive capacity to create local drop boxes with the means to share large, bandwidth-intensive files without clogging real-time links. Support for media vaults and drop boxes extend connectivity and empower communities, cruise ship passengers, and mining or offshore platform personnel with the ability to stay connected.
With the growth of polar activity, the issue of affordable connectivity has become a significant challenge, and oftentimes a deterrent, to those activities being undertaken more broadly. Fortunately, a constellation of new satellite technology, existing infrastructure, and contemporary satellite systems have the promise of delivering highly innovative and adaptive solutions to support to growing telecommunication demands of personal, commercial, scientific, and governmental interests in the Arctic and on Antarctica. Kepler is leading the industry in making this solution available in the polar regions.
This article is based on a white paper published by Kepler Communications. To download a copy of the original white paper click here.