Partnerships seen as key for LEO operators to enter Asia

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SEOUL, South Korea — While Starlink is ramping up efforts to expand its foothold in Asia, satellite operators there remain undeterred as they expect the U.S. broadband service would end up seeking their help for business. 

Senior executives of Asian satellite operators at the APSCC 2022 Satellite Conference and Exhibition said Oct. 18 that Starlink, and other low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband operators, would find various reasons to seek partnerships with regional players. 

These reasons range from regulatory issues to business cultures that differ from country to country, and the cost of building and maintaining ground infrastructure to operate terminals — particularly in remote areas with limited power supply.

“Bringing the satellite is just one part of it,” said 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.”

He said LEO operators would find it more challenging to provide connectivity to rural areas of Asia’s developing countries because many still have limited power supply, meaning even if ground terminals are installed there, their operation would be unstable.

“So, when you go to this region, you have to think of how to provide power to all these terminals,” Lim said, adding regional operators already have cost-effective solutions such as solar power systems. 

Patompob Suwansiri, CEO of Thaicom, cited the regulatory landscape as a reason for LEO satellite operators to seek collaboration with Asian operators.

He said Thailand handles regulatory issues in a way that is different from Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries Starlink looks to enter.

“So, therefore, we think that regional operators have a role to play something on the table that will add value to LEO satellite operators.” Knowing this, he said, U.S. satellite operator Globalstar formed a partnership with Thaicom early this year.

Adi Adiwoso, president of Indonesia’s satellite operator Pasifik Satelit Nusantara (PSN), agreed that building partnerships would be a cost-effective way for LEO operators to enter Asian countries. However, there is still an issue that needs to be addressed to make the deal sustainable: How much margin would they give to the Asian partner?

“That’s the real complication,” he said. “[It is] because the cost of installing terminals in remote areas can be quite high. We have to take a flight. We have to take a car. We have to take a boat. We have to take a motorcycle.” 

He assumed while installing a terminal for a geostationary satellite in developed areas would cost less than $500, doing so in a remote area would cost more than $1000.