Will LEO Constellation Window Close? How Fast?

It probably is not too unreasonable for observers to speculate about the level of aggregate demand for Internet access supplied by new low earth orbit satellite constellations.

At a high level, the issue is simply the expected speed with which Internet access provided by mobile service providers is expected to proceed. At the moment, 2G access reaches perhaps 87 percent of potential subscribers in rural parts of Asia and 79 percent of rural Africa for example.  

Basic 2G population coverage stands at over 90 percent worldwide. According to ITU estimates, global 3G population coverage stood at around 50 percent in 2012.

In many areas, 3G and 4G infrastructure must be added, of course. So it is a race to gain share.

Mobile broadband registered continuous double-digit growth rates in 2014 and an estimated global penetration of 32 percent. And mobile broadband is growing fastest in developing countries, where growth rates in 2014 were twice as high as in developed countries (26 percent growth in developing countries, compared to 11.5 percent growth in developed markets).

All regions continue to show double-digit growth rates, but Africa stands out with a growth rate of over 40 percent, twice as high as the global average growth rate.

By the end of 2014, mobile broadband penetration in Africa had reached 20 percent, up from less than two percent in 2010.

If mobile service providers are rational, and they are, they will expedite their efforts to lock down customers before the LEO constellations can be made fully operational.

The corollary is that the market opportunity targeted by the LEO constellations might be considerably smaller in several years than it appears today.

If so, there might not be room for multiple large LEO constellations, in which case mergers will make sense.

In much of Asia, as in some other regions, the smartphone is the gateway to use of the Internet. In India, for example, about 57 percent of the time, the smartphone is the access device of choice.

Even in China, where access using smartphones and PCs or tablets is fairly closely divided, about 45 percent of the time the smartphone is the device of choice, where about 39 percent of the time people use a smartphone or a PC or tablet about the same amount.

In the Philippines, about 39 percent of the time, the smartphone is the preferred or more-used access device. In about 22 percent of instances, smartphones are used about as much as PCs and tablets. In about 21 percent of instances, PCs or tablets are the more-used access device.
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