Low Earth orbit (LEO) Broadband Operators Eyeing Asian Market

by | Oct 28, 2022 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

Asian satellite operators believe LEO operators will need the support of regional players.

Starlink is looking to expand its services in Asia and has begun its process with Japan. Mere days after Starlink’s announcement to initiate its services in Japan, KDDI, a Japanese teleco, has agreed to resell Starlink to its customers this year. Starting with Tokyo at the moment, Starlink expects to develop its services in other parts of Japan by the end of the year, with the assistance of KDDI acting as an “authorized Starlink integrator”.

This initiative does not come as a surprise given that during the APSCC 2022 Satellite Conference and Exhibition on October 18, Asian satellite operators mentioned that other low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband operators would need the partnerships of regional players to set foot in Asia.

APSCC Satellite Conference and Exhibition 2022 (Source: APSCC)

While the LEO operators are able to bring the technological side of operations with them, according to Yau Chyong Lim, chief operating officer of Malaysia’s Measat, “how to connect people, how to bring the equipment in and knowing the local culture … that plays a key role in [a] very successful broadband program”. This means that LEO operators may not be able to work alone and instead, they will have to collaborate with local satellite operators to ensure success and strong foothold in Asia. 

There are areas where local satellite operators have a role to play in aiding LEO operators to enter the Asian market. Apart from assimilating into local business and market culture, LEO operators will have to be mindful of logistics, such as regulatory issues that can be unique to each country. Thailand, for instance, has a vastly different regulatory landscape as compared to Indonesia or Malaysia.

The cost of infrastructure to conduct operations, especially in remote areas, can also be an obstacle for the newcomers to tackle. Adi Adiwoso, president of Indonesia’s satellite operator Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), claims that while it may be economical to install a geostationary satellite terminal in developed areas for less than $500, doing the same in a remote area can go up to more than $1000. That’s a substantial margin for LEO operators to work with.

As such, LEO operators have much homework to do before expanding their ventures into Asia. And some have already started. While Starlink plans to expand in the Philippines via local subsidiary (announced in July) and has begun works with a Japanese telco, another U.S. satellite operator, Globalstar, has partnered with Thaicom early this year. OneWeb also confirmed the successful launch of 36 satellites by NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC- SHAR) in Sriharikota, India.