As Long Term Evolution has transformed the mobile backhaul business for fixed network suppliers, so now third generation and fourth generation mobile backhaul is starting to generate new revenues for satellite backhaul providers as well.
Where a typical cell tower might require less than 10 Mbps of capacity, LTE cells now routinely might require 150 Mbps to 200 Mbps of backhaul capacity.
The same process now is starting to be seen in the satellite backhaul business, if driven more by 3G than 4G, at the moment. For Thaicom, in fact, “3G backhaul is our major business,” said Patompob Suwansiri, Thaicom chief marketing officer.
Ericsson has sold “five or six new 3G networks over the last year,” said Richard Swardh, Ericsson director. O3b has deployed about 2 Gbps worth of mobile backhaul, with LTE backhaul growing the fastest, said David Burr, O3b Networks VP.
To be sure, traditional backhaul for cell towers in remote areas likely will remain the mainstay of the satellite backhaul business.
But satellite providers and their suppliers are thinking about potential new backhaul businesses that might address video backhaul demands mobile operators are experiencing.
Thaicom, for example, is looking at ways to deliver TV content to the edge of the network, essentially offloading demand from the terrestrial mobile networks.
The issue right now is whether there is a business model for such use of satellites to deliver video to cell towers, said Swardh. The logical use case is multicasting of highly popular video, the traditional strength of any satellite or other point-to-multipoint network.
Before that can become a business reality, content providers and packagers would have to be convinced there is a compelling business model. Only then would it be logical for backhaul providers and mobile operators to evaluate whether that makes business sense as well.