Arctic connectivity competition is heating up

Satellite operators are venturing into the Arctic to improve connectivity as the changing atmospheric and geopolitical climate drives demand for more bandwidth in one of Earth’s last remaining frontiers.

Fledgling and established operators alike see a growing market for capacity in areas best served by satellites in non-geostationary orbit (NGSO).

OneWeb and SpaceX’s Starlink, the world’s largest broadband megaconstellations in low Earth orbit (LEO), already have polar-orbiting satellites in their expanding fleets.

SES is looking at using inclined planes to cover the Arctic with O3b mPower, its next-generation medium Earth orbit network that aims to start deploying satellites this year.

The Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission (ASBM) — a joint venture between British satellite operator Inmarsat, the Norwegian Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Air Force — plans to deploy two satellites in highly elliptical orbits on a SpaceX Falcon 9 in 2023 for polar coverage.

Russian Satellite Communications Co. (RSCC) has outlined plans to add four satellites in highly elliptical orbits to its fleet in the following years to extend coverage deep into the Arctic Circle.

And Telesat has committed to connecting indigenous communities in Canada’s northernmost areas with its planned LEO constellation in return for government funding.

These high-speed networks are looking to transform connectivity in the Arctic. For decades, Iridium Communications has been the only operator able to provide continuous coverage over the poles — and only for less bandwidth-hungry services such as mobile telephony and various monitoring and tracking applications.

For higher bandwidth needs, operators have been using satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) to cover parts of the Arctic with a line of sight to their fixed positions along the equator, noted Armand Musey, founder of advisory firm Summit Ridge Group.

The curvature of the Earth means geostationary satellites positioned…


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