Space-Based Internet Could Slash Carbon Emissions


Report claims that broadband delivered from space could cut carbon emissions and plug holes in rural Internet provision

Using satellites to deliver broadband is a greener alternative than terrestrial provision and should be explored thoroughly by the government and industry, a newly-created space body has claimed.

The Space Innovation and Growth Team (Space IGT), backed by the government, released a report this week which maps out its vision for the next 20 years of space development in the UK. The organisation, which is also supported by academia and industry, believes that the space industry could be worth £40 billion per year by 2030 and could generate 100,000 new jobs.

One of the key recommendations of the Space Innovation and Growth Strategy report is the concept of delivering broadband Internet services from space to help plug holes in the UK’s internet provision, such as rural areas. The IGT also states that satellite broadband services could be significantly more energy and carbon efficient than terrestrial fibre or mobile coverage.

“The UK should use the low-carbon characteristics of delivering broadcast and broadband services from space to help meet our national emissions reduction targets,” the report states. “Low-carbon services will be critical if we are to meet national carbon emission reduction targets, and we therefore propose to use the potential of space as a way of reducing the ICT sector’s carbon footprint.”

Although the report is unequivocal in recommending the benefits of broadband services and “data centres” in space – which it estimates could help cut carbon emissions from UK’s ICT sector – the IGT admits that more work needs to be done around comparisons with terrestrial broadband provision.

“Depending on the architecture adopted for the Next Generation Broadband infrastructure, Space can deliver as much as 40 million tonnes of CO2 savings per annum for the UK compared to terrestrial infrastructure,” the report states. “This is a complex argument and needs to be developed fully in the light of independent studies being produced for ESA.”

As well as touting the carbon savings from more satellite-based broadband services, the report also pushes the general benefits of providing broadband from space. “It will not be affordable to provide fast broadband services to all of the UK’s communities as part of the Next Generation Access using just fibre optic or mobile networks,” the report states. “However, a mixture of fixed and mobile space services can deliver more efficient High Definition TV broadcast for everybody and ‘Next Generation Broadband’ to rural communities in the UK.”

The report goes on to admit that it will take time to develop the space-based broadband capacity. “The issue to resolve, therefore, is exactly how much of the country must be covered by broadband from space because it will take time for industry to provide this capacity,” the report stated. “Over the 20-year period covered by this report, satellite manufacturers will need to increase satellite capabilities to deliver at least 100-fold improvements in bandwidth and develop satellites that can deliver a true 50 Mbps broadband and a large broadcast capacity at the same time. This will offer consumers a true ‘one dish’ solution for a space infrastructure.”

Andy Green chief executive of IT services company Logica and chairman of the Space IGT, said the report was purposefully ambitious in its scope to push thinking around the potential of space forward. “I have not taken the safe route with this report. I could have focused on simply exploiting the niche markets where the UK excels. Instead, I have encouraged the team to look at the bigger picture and identify specific opportunities where we can go further, faster,” he said.

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