What are the differences between LEO and GEO satellites?

Over the years there has been a continuous debate across different users of satellite communications about whether Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) or Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO) satellites are more effective at providing communications. With AST’s 30 years of experience in the sector we can outline how each constellation architecture works, their key differences and how their key strengths support different uses.

What are GEO satellites?

GEO satellites work in a geostationary orbit. It is a circular geosynchronous orbit 36,000 kms above the Earth’s equator (or alternatively 42,000 kms radius from the Earth’s centre) following the direction of the Earth’s rotation and takes 24 hours.

Communications satellites in this orbit are fixed above a single point which means that an antenna on Earth does not have to track or rotate but can be pointed permanently at the known position in the sky, despite the satellite actually travelling at 11,300 kms per hour. Satellites require some station keeping in order to maintain position.

The first satellite placed in geostationary orbit was Syncom 3 launched in 1964 and was used to transmit live coverage of the summer Olympics from Japan to the USA. Uses include weather observations, navigation and a huge variety of communications. Intelsat and Inmarsat are two of the better known satellite operators with GEO constellations. 

What are LEO satellites?

LEO satellites work in a low earth orbit. It is an earth-centered orbit close to the planet often specified as an orbital period of 128 minutes making 12 orbits per day. The LEO region is generally accepted to be below 2,000 kms altitude.  Amazingly the mean orbital velocity needed to maintain a stable low earth orbit is about 28,000 kms per hour but reduces with increased orbital altitude.

Unlike GEOs a LEO satellite has a small field of view and so can communicate with only a fraction of the Earth at a time which means that a network is required to provide continuous coverage.

Although the first LEO satellite was launched in the 1950s, it wasn’t until the 1980s that engineers began to challenge the effectiveness of GEO satellites and their architecture (that many LEO satellites had adopted too). That’s when the idea for a LEO satellite constellation first occurred.

What are GEO satellites used for?

Due to GEO’s first mover advantage, the vast majority of communications by satellite are undertaken by GEOs. Each large satellite covers up to one third of the earth’s surface. GEOs do not suffer from intersatellite handoff and are ideal for broadcasting, weather forecasting and satellite radio. GEO satellites provide the backbone of global space communications and continue to be built.

With global communication evolving and demands increasing for uninterrupted low latency communication anywhere in the world, the fixed nature of GEO satellites limits its ability to provide that type of service.  For example if reception is required in an east/west canyon a single GEO satellite may be blocked by a mountain.

What are LEO satellites used for?

LEO satellites provide true global coverage with low latency typically more than five times faster than GEOs, making the user experience more akin to terrestrial fibre connected devices. For this reason, many critical communications are handled over LEO satellite networks, which allow for faster connectivity without wires or cables.

The look angles from an overhead satellite avoids directional obstruction problems since LEO satellites are always moving. The chances of a long or persistent signal blockage are greatly reduced.

The growing LEO satellite communication industry

LEO terminals have inherently been more complicated and expensive to produce when compared to GEO terminals, as they must be able to passively or actively track fast moving satellites.

That cost is starting to be driven down as demand grows for true global internet connectivity  and the potential benefits and uses of low latency/high speed connectivity begins to be realised.

How many LEO satellites cover the earth?

In total there 11,102 LEO satellites covering the earth all providing different connectivity uses for a variety of global industries.

A visualization of the number and complexity of LEO satellites provided by LeoLabs.

leo satellites

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As OneWeb’s constellation and coverage availability continues to grow, service demos are the great opportunity to experience what OneWeb have to offer in terms of connectivity.

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Reducing shipping emissions – how can satellite technology help?

shipping co2 emissions

We often hear in maritime circles the well versed but still startling fact: if ocean shipping were a country, it would be the sixth-largest carbon emitter, releasing more CO2 annually than Germany. In fact, if we carry on unchecked, global shipping carbon emissions could rise from 3% to 17% of the world’s total carbon emissions by 2050.   

The pressure is on to reduce shipping carbon emissions

The industry already knows it has to address shipping carbon emissions. The pressure is not just the political desire to meet the Net Zero 2050 target – it is coming from all angles.

  • Nine big companies including Amazon, Ikea and Unilever have signed up to a pledge to only move cargo on ships using zero-carbon fuel by 2040. 
  • The impact of ESG (Environmental, social and governance) and major bank lending standards
  • Even employees are beginning to demand credible, standardized information to support long-term assessments of decarbonization. 

Unlike the motor industry where decisions around power technology, future fuels and supply chains has made notable progress over the past 10 years, the global shipping industry infrastructure is still in its infancy due to its complexity and differences of opinion from influential shipping nations.  

Reducing shipping emissions today

Whilst bigger infrastructure changes are being actively pushed for the longer term, connectivity will play a further role in reducing shipping CO2 emissions and our transition to Net Zero.  

Digital transformation and the adoption of smart technology with low-latency, fibre-like satellite connectivity such as OneWeb can have a significant impact on reducing shipping CO2 emissions and meeting national and global regulations. It can allow operators to source essential data at sea by accessing terrestrial-quality speed and a tenfold increase in bandwidth at sea. This digital transformation allows them to analyse data wherever they are in the world, in real-time, in order to inform their environmental strategies. 

Pairing OneWeb’s connectivity with AST’s iRAMS Telematics solutions, provide all maritime vessel operators the opportunity to operate their vessels at peak performance and in turn reduce shipping carbon emissions.  

  • Fuel efficiency – The iRAMS platform can help reduce fuel usage and subsequent costs by 25%. Data highlights any inefficiencies caused by the skipper or vessels behaviour.
  • Environmental monitoring – Dependent on a vessel owners needs,  iRAMS can help monitor such metrics as CO2 emissions, fuel burn rate, engine performance parameters, electrical monitoring, vessel motion etc. With the consistent connectivity provided by OneWeb, all these elements can help identify performance deficiencies on a vessel and reduce energy usage and reduce potential harmful emissions.
  • Remote asset control – iRAMS doesn’t just offer monitoring as a versatile IoT (Internet of Things) application for telematics – it can provide remote asset control, allowing you to potentially address performance deficiencies and adjust controls remotely from anywhere in the world. 

Together we can achieve Net Zero

The scope of what can be measured and managed remotely through AST’s iRAMS platform is greatly accelerated by the fibre-like, low latency connectivity provided by OneWeb.  

As OneWeb’s first and most experienced maritime partner AST are already looking at how our partnership can help the shipping industry make concerted efforts in reducing carbon emissions and help support the wider decarbonization agenda.  

OneWeb White Paper

An economical means of bridging the digital divide – OneWeb White Paper

Some of the most compelling reasons for the satellite and broader aerial connectivity push are clear: the size and persistence of the digital divide, and connectivity barriers for businesses operating in rural or remote areas. It can be easy to forget that on a global scale, mobile internet penetration is only 50%. This means around 3.7 billion people (or 3 billion adults) remain offline, most of whom reside in India, China, Africa and a handful of populous lower-income Asian countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia. OneWeb estimate 25% of this unconnected population – approximately 780 million people – live outside of range of a 3G or 4G signal.

The OneWeb White Paper lays out the case for how the digital divide can be bridged.

Connecting from the sky – Reinventing the final frontier

Powering the digitalisation of the oceans – AST and OneWeb at Europort2021

At Europort 2021 we proudly showcased our wide-ranging remote connectivity services for the maritime industry. For the first time, this included OneWeb that provides high-speed connectivity everywhere – on land and sea. This important milestone in fibre-like connectivity from space demonstrates that AST, their official partner, has the know-how and experience to be at the forefront of worldwide communications.

During the event we heard from Carole Plessy, Head of OneWeb Maritime; Richard Beecham, Director of Global Partnerships & Strategic and Stuart Castell, Director at AST Group. They described how OneWeb’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation will transform maritime operations.

OneWeb’s pledge to the ​Maritime Industry

OneWeb’s pledge is  to ‘Fully connect  and empower the bridge and ​the crew in remote locations to feel at home.’ This means, low latency and low barrier to entry with reliable, very low-cost hardware and speeds reaching 100Mbps+​ , globally, pole to pole.

OneWeb have set out to transform maritime connectivity to meet the requirements of seafarers expecting the same level of online access as those on shore – with abundant high-speed online access​ at a very low cost. By providing high-speed and low-latency connections, operational restraints​ will be reduced improving operational efficiencies and meeting increasingly stringent compliance requirements.

Setting new standards for crew

During the pandemic up to 400,000 seafarers were stranded on vessels across the world, with an average connection speed at 1-5Mbps (vs. 60Mbps+ on shore https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-52646811) video calls were not an option. Crew welfare has become essential and connectivity can improve both crew retention and morale by connecting families and friends whilst away from home​, 1 GB per day with speed reaching 100Mbps+, provides an hour of video call home, an hour of rich media content.

External forces are also driving a digital transformation for operations

  • Push for lower carbon fuel efficiencies
  • ​Vessel optimisation solutions​
  • Arrival at berth in a timely manner
  • ​Financial predictability

Typically, 90% of data usage is driven by crew and ship owners are not always focussing on operational efficiencies which causes operational restraints. What if 1TB of data per vessel per month became the standard?  It would truly open up IoT opportunities, rich data set -100s of data point per minutes could be sent back to shore, driving operational efficiency, opening up opportunities for shore assisted vessel operations, real-time regulatory compliance and connecting the bridge to shore ‘face to face’.

What does the future look like with OneWeb?

Connectivity will be abundant and affordable, enabling vessel operators to

  • Improve operational efficiency
  • Use AI assisted operations​
  • Enhance crew welfare and happiness onboard

How OneWeb will transform​ Maritime connectivity​?

OneWeb is confident that they are bringing a transformational change to connectivity which will revolutionise the industry over the course of the next four years.

10 x Maritime Capacity​

10 x High Speed​

10 x Improved Latency​

99% Shipping routes including throughout the Arctic​

100% Designed with security built-in

To know more about our latest solutions get in touch with one of our experts here

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Press release

Key step towards the future of remote connectivity for the AST Group and OneWeb

This week, OneWeb’s Maritime team had a long-awaited in-person meeting with colleagues at The AST Group.

This week, OneWeb’s Maritime team – Carole Plessy, Dave Bell and Alexandra Kenworthy got to have that long-awaited in-person meeting. They met our colleagues at The AST Group – Gregory Darling, Stuart Castell and Barney Gray. The main business of the day was to plan the smooth onboarding of The AST Group as we move closer to undertaking customer beta trials and delivering fixed services to support remote connectivity in Northern Europe before the end of the year.

Together, we will be offering fixed-land and maritime customers access to OneWeb’s fast, flexible and affordable connectivity solutions seamlessly in even the most remote locations on land and at sea. Once the full commercial service is available in 2022, OneWeb will be providing AST’s customers, primarily in the commercial shipping, fishing, leisure and high-end offshore sectors with OneWeb’s fibre-like alternative to current solutions.

Gregory Darling, Founder and Chairman of the AST Group said:

We know that companies in the maritime and offshore industries are embracing digitalisation as they seek to decarbonise, sustainability and governance standards being high on the agenda together with continuous business performance and remote personnel welfare – all of which are underpinned by the need for more technology and data. We are well placed to lead the way and are delighted to be part of the future of remote connectivity on sea and land.

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Press release

OneWeb and The AST Group partner to broaden access to fast, seamless connectivity at sea

This agreement marks the next step in accelerating LEO connectivity for the global shipping and offshore industries.

LONDON, UK – 07 April 2021: As part of its mission to deliver low latency, ‘fibre-like’ connectivity to the maritime and offshore industries, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellite communications company OneWeb, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with The AST Group (AST), a global leader in satellite communications systems.

By working together, AST and OneWeb will offer fixed-land and maritime customers access to OneWeb’s fast, flexible and affordable connectivity solutions seamlessly in even the most remote locations on land and at sea. Customer beta trials will be undertaken with AST before the end of the year and will be focused on delivering fixed services to support remote connectivity in Northern Europe.

Once full commercial service is available in 2022, OneWeb seeks to provide AST’s customers, primarily in the commercial shipping, fishing and high-end offshore sectors, with access to viable, high speed, low latency connectivity as an alternative to the current VSAT internet solutions to truly enable digitalisation and deliver the long-awaited leap in operational efficiencies.

This comes at a time when regulatory and commercial influences are driving demand for companies in maritime and offshore industries to decarbonise, improve broader sustainability and governance standards as well as improving business performance – all of which are underpinned by the need for more technology and data.

Commenting on the partnership, Gregory Darling, AST’s founder and Chairman said:

We’re delighted to strengthen our relationship with OneWeb by becoming its distribution partner so that we can offer customers a fibre-like alternative to current solutions. AST’s focus is solution-based to ensure that customers improve their overall operational efficiency. OneWeb’s new satellite constellation and next-generation connectivity aligned with AST’s  INTEGRA network services will enable faster and better communications for the maritime industry. This new agreement marks further progress towards this transition

Carole Plessy, Head of Maritime at OneWeb, said:

OneWeb believes that connectivity at sea should be as seamless and simple as it is onshore to improve the overall efficiency, sustainability and profitaility of the maritime and offshore industries. We’re proud to work with The AST Group, not just because of the strength of its market insight, reach and capabilities, but because of our shared belief that remote, faultless connectivity is essential to delivering operational excellence. By partnering with AST, we are another step closer to making LEO connectivity available to more marine and offshore customers, ending the legacy of complex, slow and costly VSAT systems.

About The AST Group

The AST Group is a leading global innovator in satellite communication solutions, offering a suite of unique award-winning software designed to empower users to optimise their operations, make informed decisions quicker and reduce their costs. It has a global presence with offices serving both end-users and channel partners in the UK, Europe, Americas, Asia and Australia and has a proven track record in delivering high profile projects in a variety of markets sectors.

Find out more by visiting: www.theastgroup.com

About OneWeb

OneWeb will enable connectivity for governments, businesses, and communities. It is implementing a constellation of Low Earth Orbit satellites with a network of global gateway stations and a range of user terminals to provide an affordable, fast, high-bandwidth and low-latency communications service, connected to the IoT future and a pathway to 5G for everyone, everywhere. Together with its solution partners, OneWeb is supporting the digital transformation of the maritime and offshore industries with fibre-like connectivity at sea. This includes unlocking the potential of deep-sea container vessels and other merchant ships, offshore energy exploration and production operations, cruise and ferry lines, yachts and superyachts, sustainable fisheries and leisure.

Learn more about OneWeb at https://oneweb.theastgroup.com/about-oneweb/

Wherever you are, whatever your remote connectivity requirements, AST has a solution. To discuss how we can take you further with one of the friendly team call +44 (0)1493 440 011 or email info@theastgroup.com

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