GEO & LEO satellite services – different distances from earth, different applications on earthLow-Earth Orbit (LEO) services such as Starlink, OneWeb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper represent the latest development in satellite communications technology but are designed to complement rather than replace existing Geo-stationary (GEO) services.
Newer does not necessarily equate to better for every end user; rather, LEO services will add capacity and scale to global satellite networks as the use of satellite services increases in both current and new user applications. This explains why leading satellite connectivity solutions provider Twoobii now offers both technologies in order to better meet the needs of multiple target audiences.
As the provider of Twoobii satellite connectivity services, Q-KON Africa has offered GEO services since 2018. Last year, they enhanced their Smart Satellite Services by forming partnerships with two international GEO service providers, including Spacecom, the owner-operator of the AMOS satellite fleet. In addition, they recently expanded their portfolio through an arrangement with the OneWeb LEO network.
But what is the difference between GEO and LEO services, and which applications are each service best suited to?
GEO and LEO satellites are defined by their relative distances from the Earth, which in turn determines their performance metrics and suitability for various applications GEO services depend on accessing a single satellite positioned at a “fixed” location at 35 786km above the earth, while LEO services use a constellation of 648 satellites all orbiting the globe at a distance of approximately 1 200km.
Primary differences between the two technologies include latency (much lower for LEO services as a function of their proximity to our planet), and the requirement to track satellites, which is absent from GEO services. Each system has its pros and cons, meaning that a holistic satellite connectivity solution will require the inclusion of both.
These differences impact terrestrial user experience (UX): GEO VSAT terminals use fixed antenna dishes, while LEO services have an inherent tracking requirement which adds to the technical complexity and cost of ground stations.
Availability is another key metric, with enterprise-grade GEO services delivering some 99.95% service uptime (or as little as 20 minutes downtime per month); equivalent LEO services in contrast deliver an expected availability of 99.5% (up to 3.6hrs downtime per month).
The abiding but outdated myth about satellite connectivity speeds means that data rates will always be a consideration for customers. By this measure, LEO services (approximately 195Mbps receive data rates) appear to have the upper hand over GEO services (~50Mbps).
Currently, LEO services are at a cost disadvantage owing to their relative novelty and complexity. These costs are particularly apparent in the development and manufacturing stages – costs to end-users are expected to fall over time as economies of scale are achieved, and possibly also thanks to subsidisation by service providers looking to grow market share even at an operating loss.
While it might be too soon to definitively allocate applications to either GEO or LEO technologies, the fundamental differences between them mean that some degree of determination can be made as to which uses are most suited to either technology.
The scale, availability and cost point of GEO services make them the preferred option for ATM and point-of-sale primary services, backup services to the retail industry, SD-WAN underlay services, IoT data-aggregated nodes and security applications. In contrast, the enhanced performance (low latency, high data usage delivery but with high data rates) for LEO services makes them better suited to less cost-sensitive, more critical applications such as financial transactions (fin trading), primary services for the hospitality market, branch back-up services for businesses and enterprises, as well as ISP’s, WISP’s and telco trunk backhaul back-up services.
To conclude, Dawie de Wet, Group CEO of Q-KON Africa and Chief Engineer for Twoobii, adds, “Twoobii is committed to Leveraging emerging technologies to open new markets and to building partnerships with service providers that allow us to expand our offering, and deliver optimum satellite connectivity solutions to a wider range of users. By providing both GEO and LEO services, we can broaden the range of service and costing models available to customers across key African markets.”
To learn more about Twoobii’s satellite connectivity services and whether LEO or GEO services would provide the best solution for your specific business needs, visit www.twoobii.com
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