Orange has reached a deal with Eutelsat to deliver satellite broadband across Europe, in the latest sign that traditional telecoms carriers are looking to the space sector to expand their reach.
The French telecoms group will be a partner on the Paris-based satellite operator’s new Konnect VHTS satellite, which will offer “fibre-like” speeds and is expected to be operational by 2021.
Orange will use the satellite to provide high-speed internet to residential customers beyond the reach of terrestrial networks. French defence group Thales, Eutelsat’s other anchor partner on the project, will use it to serve government customers, including the EU.
Eutelsat also plans to use the new satellite to compete in the in-flight connectivity market as it looks to take the fight to Inmarsat and Viasat for contracts to supply high-speed broadband to aircraft.
Rodolphe Belmer, chief executive of Eutelsat, said the deal with Orange reflected the growing convergence of satellite and traditional telecommunications.
“Increasingly telecom companies will perceive satellite as a necessary complement to extend beyond their terrestrial networks,” Mr Belmer said. “As connectivity demand spreads across the world, the move to this hybrid technology approach will increase.”
Inmarsat, the British satellite company, has formed alliances with Vodafone for its roaming services and with Deutsche Telekom to build a dedicated in-flight network for Europe.
Eutelsat signed a deal with China Unicom in January to provide in-flight connectivity in Asia. US mobile operator Sprint has signed up to an alliance led by OneWeb, the satellite company backed by Sprint’s Japanese owner SoftBank, to develop in-flight superfast 5G services.
Orange has operations in markets including Moldova, Romania and Poland that could use the new satellite to offer high-speed broadband without the need to lay fibre cables or build mobile masts. Mr Belmer said there was also demand in mature markets such as Spain, the UK and France for high-capacity broadband delivered from space to hard-to-reach areas.
“In Europe by 2030 there will be 2 per cent of the population that will demand high-speed internet but will not be able to access it,” he said. “That’s more than 5m homes.”
Satellite internet has long been available to users in the countryside or mountainous regions that are difficult to reach with terrestrial networks. However, Mr Belmer said the existing services were too expensive or too slow, and that a new generation of satellites was needed to provide better speeds at a more affordable price.
“They don’t do what you want to with them which is video,” he said of the older services.