The military-run telco is considering launching its own low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation to help provide coverage to remote regions

Vietnam is a country with some of the most diverse landscapes in the world, with towering mountains to the north and thousands of islands along its coast. But, when it comes to internet deployment, these difficult-to-reach regions pose a significant challenge for operators, leaving almost a quarter of the country still without internet coverage despite impressive progress in recent years.

To solve this problem, Le Ba Tan, deputy general director of Viettel, is suggesting that Vietnam could explore LEO satellites for connectivity.

The LEO satellite constellation would orbit the planet from 800–1,600km in the air, delivering internet connectivity to areas where deploying traditional infrastructure is simply infeasible. If realised to its fullest extent, the coverage of this constellation could even surpass that of the country’s mobile networks, according to Tan. 

But of course, developing and deploying these constellations is not cheap. The technology and the process of launching it is expensive, with these costs typically being passed to customers. Services could cost almost ten times that of traditional internet connectivity in Vietnam, almost certainly making them prohibitive for customers in remote locations.

One alternative here is to make use of the satellite networks operated from outside of Vietnam, such as Space X’s burgeoning Starlink satellite. Starlink itself has said it wants to target Vietnam for coverage by 2022, though the Vietnamese government has yet to fully approve the service for use in the country.

"Internet service providers would need to depend on existing satellite networks operated by foreign companies," said Tan, noting that this solution comes with its own issues surrounding sovereignty and national security.

For many years, commercial satellite internet connectivity has been seen as something of a novelty, with few profitable real-world applications due to its highly expensive nature. More recently, however, with the progress made with Starlink and Amazon announcing plans for its own constellation, the concept has been re-examined more seriously. While Viettel may seem to be one of the first operators in Southeast Asia to consider launching their own constellation, it seems unlikely that they will be the last.


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