Companies such as Iridium and Viasat handle highly specialized public and private sector workloads. Space X’s Starlink is perhaps the most recognizable player in the space-based comms race. Starlink’s aim is to provide affordable internet access to everyone, anywhere in the world, and its service has grown rapidly over the past four years, with more than 3,000 satellites in orbit and over 500,000 customers since 2019. It has clearly demonstrated its influence, reach, and resiliency as the communications network helping Ukraine to resist the Russian invasion.
Low-orbit earth satellites and SD-WAN combine
The pros of satellite services are clear: with blanket coverage across our planet, it’s conceivable that one day every square inch will be covered. From an environmental perspective, they’re almost completely fueled by solar power, and can be more cost-effective for communication over long distances.
As a WAN access technology though, satellite communication does experience its fair share of obstacles. For example, because signals must travel into space and back down to earth, there is the inescapable physics of latency eroding performance.
Additionally, some providers tend to rely on packet manipulation, such as queuing, to deliver a higher quality service. However, when this is combined with business–focused overlay technology – such as SD-WAN – the packet manipulation can damage network performance.
Fortunately, several providers have developed ways around this. Starlink’s technology specifically uses low-earth orbit systems that operate physically closer to earth, which greatly reduces latency and the associated heavy processing demands of traditional satellites. This is making it possible to easily integrate space-based access paths into existing terrestrial SD-WAN networks.
The result: low latency and high bandwidth communications capable of reaching the most remote locations on the planet, where the internet was previously inaccessible. The idea is, anywhere you can see the sky, you can access the internet.