Despite popular belief, most of today’s smartphones don’t connect directly with satellites orbiting our planet. The vast majority connect to nearby cell towers rooted in the earth. For the everyday consumer, space-based communications are largely limited to phone packages for use during localized emergencies when network coverage is down, or on remote camping trips via specialized “sat” phones.  

But in our hyper-connected and increasingly hybrid world, the need for more sophisticated communication is now required. Indeed, from an individual perspective, one of the biggest demands we place on our mobile phones and computers is better connectivity and access to the internet, anytime and anyplace. 

Apply the potential of unrestricted internet access through a government and business lens, and the results are even more transformative – from helping intelligence and security services and offices operate in isolated regions, to environmental agencies conducting research in remote parts of the planet. 

As investment and use cases in space-based comms continue to increase, it leaves the world asking, is space the great connectivity enabler? Could the answer to the future of communications really lie in the stars? 

Who’s winning the space-based comms race? 

Space-based communications is enjoying a period of sustained investment, and the tech is becoming significantly advanced. Private sector funding in space-related companies eclipsed $10 billion in 2021, while the EU announced ambitious plans to invest €6 billion in space communications at the beginning of 2022 as we move more operations into space. 

Although household names such as DIRECTV (television broadcasting) and Sirius XM (satellite radio service) represent concrete examples of satellite comms in the mainstream, continued investment is giving rise to more innovative and forward-looking space-based comms. 

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.  

The next evolution in space commercialization 

MetTel’s successful deployment of SD-WAN on SpaceX’s Starlink service signals a continuing shift as space-based comms transitions to a cloud-based, software-centric approach. 

And more widely, Starlink’s investment reflects the increasing commercialization of space, as it becomes a major provider of global communications.  

According to Harvard Business Review, “95% of the estimated $366 billion in revenue earned in the space sector was from the space-for-earth economy” – goods or services produced in space for use on earth, such as telecommunications and internet infrastructure, earth observation capabilities, and national security, among others. 

Next we’ll see much greater emphasis on the space-for-space economy as humanity moves out to the moon, Mars, and other destinations in our solar system. These new habitats will require the same types of IT infrastructure as we have on earth, as well as connectivity back to earth. 

Ultimately, as mass production and competition continue to drive down costs, space-based comms will bring business-grade connectivity and network management to anywhere on earth – and beyond  – without the need for the costly extension of terrestrial networks to remote locations. 

SD-WAN, Telecommunications

The demand for ongoing transformation and innovation is going to continue to drive IT budgets into 2023. As a solution to the challenges of inflation, recession, geopolitical instability, and the broader economy, IT is seen as the way forward.

Research shows that more than half – 52 per cent – of organisations are expecting to increase spending in IT. Among those that have already commenced the transformation journey, that number rises to 67 per cent.

Transformation is broad, however, and what IT leaders will see as a priority for investment will be technologies that bring human-centricity to the experience of interacting with technology. What this comes down to is two priorities – helping staff work at maximum productivity and efficiency, and ensuring that they’re happy in their jobs.

As Forrester put it: recession fears and talent constraints make paying attention to existing employees more important than ever – deep within the “Great Resignation” and facing an unemployment rate of just 3.4 per cent, every member of the executive team is being tasked with grappling with the challenge of talent.

By deploying IT spending correctly, the CIO is in the best position to solve this issue. Lenovo research shows that 75 per cent of employees seek purpose-driven work, and that transformation spend can be most effectively deployed in delivering solutions that engage workers, free up focus time, and improve business outcomes by helping everyone to do their best work.

Priorities for human centricity

The first priority for CIOs is to understand that remote work is here to stay, and the focus needs to be on turning that into a strategic opportunity. The Forrester research suggests that four in ten hybrid-working companies will try and roll back that policy and doing so will backfire on them.

In contrast, Lenovo’s research reveals that investing in remote work offers advantages. Employees are more productive, and 78 per cent of employees report that having better collaboration technology has unlocked the opportunity to recruit a more diverse workforce. This has unlocked the opportunity to access broader skillsets. In this context, it’s no small wonder that 44 per cent of IT leaders plan on making investments in hybrid collaboration tools to improve remote communication.

Elsewhere, employees also want to believe in the work they’re doing, and this means being a good corporate citizen and investing in sustainable solutions. This needs to be a multi-faceted approach, including the use of renewable energy, leveraging technology that is energy efficient, and reducing waste by ensuring that technology is reparable and has a long life. Hybrid work has a role to play here, too, by helping to eliminate the energy-inefficient commute to work.

However, human centricity also means understanding how people work. This is because, in a hybrid work environment, there will be times where employees want to come into the office. There, they need both a seamless and superior experience. This means they need to be able to continue working as they had been at home, while also enjoying a superior working experience in the office. Communication between onsite and offsite employees also needs to be seamless, and for CIOs, this need to modernise the in-office experience will result in some IT projects. For example, Lenovo research shows that 32 per cent of companies have subscriptions to workplace collaboration tools that help manage IT-related tasks. CIOs might need to invest in further solutions to continue to strengthen the “work anywhere” experience.

Delivering human centricity needs holistic solutions

As the popular saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth. The more individual pieces of technology and services that a company uses, the more likely it is to compromise the employee experience, as solutions don’t work seamlessly together. Vendor consolidation is expected to be a key theme for CIOs going into 2023.

For Lenovo, being able to provide an end-to-end solution to CIOs has been a key priority. By choosing a trusted partner to help streamline solutions, Lenovo promotes a superior human-centric experience in three ways:

Lead with a purpose-driven vision – Lenovo solutions equip employees with durable, repairable, energy-efficient technology, from individual devices right up to the datacentre solutions in the office.Super-charge collaboration – Lenovo solutions leverage AR devices, as well as smart platforms to allow for complex, rich real-time collaboration, screen, and device sharing.Support a trusted end-to-end technology partner – Lenovo solutions make Device-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service and custom cloud solutions from a single partner possible, allowing the organisation to consolidate their touchpoints and vendors.

A full 82 per cent of IT leaders want to work with technology that delivers on the value of the transformed workforce. This means technology that allows for human centricity, and, in 2023, it will mean the difference in hybrid work being a point of competitive advantage for the organisation.

Remote Work