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Internet convergence and space: Challenges and opportunities

Internet convergence and space: Challenges and opportunities

By Dr. Riad Hartani (*).

Space has always been the last frontier of mankind. The rise of the Internet has probably been one of the most disruptive and exciting things of the past few decades.

As the 2020s approached, space and Internet technologies have been converging. Global technology leaders who view the evolution of the Internet, in terms of adoption, affordability, performance and reach as fundamental to their continued growth, are now pumping tens of billions into space-based Internet technologies . Exciting, but risky times ahead!

Simply put, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) networks are satellite constellations that orbit at altitudes less than 1,200 miles above the Earth’s surface. These constellations have been around for a while, and many have been launched in the past, with the Iridium network being the best known from the late 90s.

The novelty is that these recent network launches are essentially aimed at enabling internet connectivity on a global scale, ushering in a new era of space-based internet technologies. Almost every major internet/cloud provider is working on various aspects of these deployments, including Amazon, Google, and Facebook, as well as large-scale tech players such as Virgin, SpaceX, and Softbank, as well as some of the existing satellite communications providers. They are actually working on the GEO (Geostationary Orbit) and MEO (Medium Earth Orbit), and through venture capital-backed startups and government-funded consortia in China, Japan, Korea, Europe and North America. Most constellation launches are on the horizon of 2025, with tens of billions of dollars invested.

At the same time, it is still a high-risk initiative given the technical and business challenges that need to be resolved. As such, this is a high-reward, high-risk equation, and only time will tell how it will affect the evolution of the Internet, global competitiveness, and geopolitical issues of the Internet over the next decade. The new LEO satellite networks being designed offer a whole new set of opportunities, taking advantage of the potential low latency, wide range and high capacity of these networks. The scale of investment in these initiatives, primarily from the private sector, adds a significant upside to their potential. These LEO space networks offer a set of opportunities benefiting from the low potential latency and from the high scale, high capacity of these networks. They are designed to take advantage of mechanisms intended for terrestrial networks such as those for routing, switching, quality of service (QoS), resource management, software-defined network control, orchestration of virtual network functions, cybersecurity, etc. However, many of these mechanisms are far from optimal considering the characteristics of LEO space networks, in terms of mobility, management of terrestrial-to-space wireless links and connectivity of space-to-space wireless links.

In some cases, these mechanisms should be highly adapted and, in other cases, completely redesigned. In fact, these LEO space networks are at an early stage to take advantage of internet/wireless networking mechanisms that have been developed, deployed and in some cases abandoned over the past 20 years. It is possible to take advantage of cutting-edge Internet designs and scale them optimally to enable the deployment of this next generation of spatial networks. The global nature of LEO networks and the new interconnection models it provides with terrestrial wired, wireless, submarine and cloud networks, have the potential to significantly change the dynamics of high-speed broadband deployment in the rural areas, especially in developing countries. As such, it is a clear opportunity for many countries to explore ways to accelerate the implementation of their digital infrastructure strategies.

  (*) Riad Hartani, Managing Director of Xona Partners which is an international consulting firm specializing in telecommunications, media and technology (TMT) and particularly in satellites. Riad Hartani is a graduate of the National Polytechnic School. At 25, he obtained the title of doctor for a thesis on artificial intelligence at the University of Paris. He continues his research in the field of machine learning and computational intelligence in Berkeley (California).

In Tokyo, he took part in various inventions in the field of the design of intelligent integrated circuits in the prestigious Advanced Research Labs of Hitachi. He then joined the National Research Council of Canada, then Nortel, a Canadian telecommunications giant, where he worked as a senior research and development engineer and devoted himself to the development of advanced Internet network systems. He then leaves Canada for the United States and settles in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he will lead with other various technology start-ups working in Internet routing solutions, intelligent analysis, 4G, 5G the Internet of Things and nano-satellites.

 

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