With a telecoms space race seemingly underway, the EU may be days away from agreeing to create its own satellite communications system
This week, a report from Reuters suggests that various EU governments and lawmakers are set to plans to create a €6 billion European satellite internet constellation as early as next week.
Sources suggest that the European constellation could require the launch of up to 170 low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites between 2025 and 2027, allowing for satellite internet access throughout Europe, but also across Africa.
Exactly which companies will be involved in the project remains to be revealed. Eutelsat, Europe’s largest satellite player, would seem a natural choice, having agreed earlier this year to purchase the UK government-backed LEO satellite operator OneWeb.
It should be noted, however, that the UK government will retain its ‘special stake’ in any newly merged entity, giving the government a number of national security prerogatives and first-preference rights over domestic industrial opportunities. Whether these special measures would create a potential headache for the newly merged operator’s roll in a pan-European network remains to be seen.
The OneWeb-Eutelsat merger is currently awaiting regulatory approval, with the duo hopeful that the transaction will close by the end of H1 2023.
But it is not the potential choice of partners for this project that seem to be the largest point of discussion for the EU stakeholders right now, but rather the source of the project’s funding. The current plan is for €2.4 billion to be provided by various member states and siphoned from EU existing projects, with the remaining €3.6 billion to be supplied by the private sector.
According to sources, this funding plan is still contentious and will be the primary topic of discussion over the coming week.
Thierry Breton and the European Commission has been calling for the creation of an EU-specific LEO constellation for some time, positioning it as a key factor in the region’s digital self-reliance and sovereignty.
The emergence of large-scale low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations like SpaceX’s Starlink and OneWeb in the last couple of years have shown satellite networks to be increasingly viable connectivity avenues, helping to connect those in hard-to-reach areas and providing a resilient back-up to terrestrial networks. Starlink’s integral role in supporting Ukraine during its invasion by Russia has garnered the technology considerable legitimacy, demonstrating that
Naturally, there is also a significant geopolitical element to this discussion too. Starlink and Amazon’s nascent Project Kuiper constellation are both US companies, meanwhile China is working on what has been described as a national satellite ‘megaconstellation’.
Without a satellite communication system of their own, the EU is concerned that they will be left behind in the telecoms space race, perhaps becoming overly reliant on these international rivals for their non-terrestrial communication needs.
As such, the EU formalised a roadmap for creating their own constellation back in February, saying that their space-based communication system would ultimately provide worldwide uninterrupted access to secure and cost-effective satellite communication services.
The Commission claims that developing the infrastructure would provide a gross value added of €17–24 billion, as well as thousands of new jobs.
How is the emergence of LEO satellite internet impacting the European telecoms market. Join the German telecoms industry around this and other key topics live in Mainz at next month’s live Connected Germany event
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