By Ryan Schradin
Earlier this month, SES Space & Defense and OneWeb Technologies announced they would be partnering to deliver low-latency connectivity to the citizens, government agencies, educational institutions, and healthcare organizations of rural Alaska.
These organizations and individuals in geographically isolated and remote areas of Alaska have long lived on the other side of a digital divide – unable to experience and benefit from the same high-speed broadband connectivity and modern digital services that many take for granted in the contiguous United States.
The addition of OneWeb’s satellite connectivity from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) has the potential to bridge that divide and bring low latency connectivity to many of the rural and remote locations that have struggled with limited or no connectivity in the past. According to SES Space & Defense’s President & CEO, Dave Fields, this new collaboration will, “…provide our customers with secure and reliable connectivity, which is crucial in Alaska’s remote and unforgiving environments.”
To learn more about this revolutionary announcement, we sat down with Michael Martinez, a Program Manager at SES Space & Defense, responsible for delivering connectivity to Alaskans for over a decade.
Government Satellite Report (GSR): Why is connectivity such a challenge in Alaska?
Michael Martinez: There are two major challenges that make it difficult for providers to service some regions and areas of Alaska – remoteness and logistics. These areas are incredibly difficult in which to run fiber. There are rivers, mountains, and other geographic and topographic features that make the installation of fiber lines difficult. And that would be a challenge even with access to the same tools, equipment, and transportation available in the lower 48 states.
GSR: Prior to this announcement, what was SES Space & Defense delivering to the State of Alaska?
Michael Martinez: Depending on the location, we provided connectivity via satellite service utilizing geosynchronous orbit (GEO) satellites or delivered connectivity from a purpose-built microwave network we constructed to service these areas.
While satellites at GEO were incredible for applications that would request a download and then receive the data, these new applications require that data move back and forth quickly.” -Michael Martinez
This was an excellent solution for a very long time. GEO satellites deliver a wide number of communications services and capabilities to this region. However, technological advancements have made it necessary to provide a lower latency, higher-bandwidth solution for the civilian and government users in these regions.
GSR: What technologies are you referring to? What about these technologies require lower latency than what GEO satellites can provide?
Michael Martinez: Most of the traditional applications and data sent over satellite networks involved the data moving one way – it would be pushed to the satellite, and then back down to the recipient that needed the data. This worked fine with GEO satellites because the latency was only experienced in that one direction. But that’s not how modern applications work.
Today, we’re seeing the rise of cloud applications, artificial intelligence (AI) applications, and other advanced workloads and capabilities that I like to call “chatty.” These “chatty” applications require a large amount of data to move back and forth, and all those extra trips to and from the satellite drastically increase the impact of latency.
While satellites at GEO were incredible for applications that would request a download and then receive the data, these new applications require that data move back and forth quickly. And those repeated trips back and forth increase the effect of latency exponentially, which can cause disruption.
GSR: What is OneWeb bringing to this arrangement? What about SES Space & Defense? How do OneWeb’s solutions integrate with the SES network that exists already?
Michael Martinez: For years, we’ve been limited in the tools we could leverage to deliver lower latency connectivity to the very edge. We had terrestrial transport systems, when available, and any microwave or fiber networks that could effectively be run to the edge despite the logistical challenges.
With the addition of OneWeb’s satellite capabilities, we can place a terminal into an area with no coverage and almost immediately deliver connectivity with latency similar to a microwave network.” -Michael Martinez
Our agreement with OneWeb changes the game and gives us a new tool in our connectivity toolbox. OneWeb’s network of satellites in LEO breaks that chokehold. It allows us to deliver low latency satellite connectivity to practically anywhere it’s needed in the more rural and geographically isolated regions of Alaska.
With the addition of OneWeb’s satellite capabilities, we can place a terminal into an area with no coverage and almost immediately deliver connectivity with latency similar to a microwave network.
That’s what OneWeb is delivering as part of this partnership. But SES Space & Defense is also bringing incredibly important capabilities to these regions, as well.
Considering that this connectivity is being leveraged by schools, health clinics, government offices, and other important customers, it must work when needed. SES has built a system or network with redundancy in its WAN transport, enabling connectivity even if there is an interruption.
This is important for our customers. Healthcare organizations, state and local government agencies, and educational institutions simply cannot have degradation in their connectivity when there is an outage. The redundancy that SES has built into the networks that serve these areas ensures that data is transported all the time – even when one mode of transport is degraded or denied.
GSR: What new services or capabilities will be enabled by this announcement? What new organizations or offices will get access to communications?
Michael Martinez: Every existing SES Space & Defense customer in Alaska will soon be able to acquire low-latency connectivity at a reasonable price. That’s the single most important capability that we’re delivering through this partnership with OneWeb.
In 2023, operating in an educational or healthcare environment is difficult without reliable connectivity. That’s what we’re delivering.” -Michael Martinez
What will that allow them to do? The options are almost limitless.
Students can soon conduct distance learning classes or do state-mandated testing online. Schools can offer students new educational opportunities by bringing in specialized teachers via video. Students will even get to see and experience amazing things through virtual field trips.
On the healthcare side, the capabilities are equally impressive. Specialists will be able to service underserved communities. Large healthcare files and information can be shared quickly and seamlessly. Video consults and telemedicine will also be enabled.
In 2023, operating in an educational or healthcare environment is difficult without reliable connectivity. That’s what we’re delivering.
GSR: When will this be available? And what will organizations have to do to gain access to these services?
Michael Martinez: It will become available to our Alaskan customers almost immediately. In fact, in the last year, we’ve deployed LEO satellite services to support a health consortium and three school districts in rural Alaska.
Candidly, there is really nothing that these organizations have to do to get connectivity. Connectivity is offered as a managed service, with capacity and all necessary hardware included. This means they simply need to reach out to SES Space & Defense, and we’ll arrange everything necessary to make high-speed, low-latency connectivity a reality for them.