LEO technology to be a key component of UAE smart cities
Low Earth Orbit (LEO) technology can play an enabling role in the development of smart cities in the UAE, providing enhanced connectivity and by acting as a backup for always-on connectivity to ensure business continuity in the case of terrestrial infrastructure failure.
Experts at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said that the technology can position itself as an alternative that minimizes investment in-ground infrastructure. By 2030, BCG estimates that the Middle East LEO satellite market will be valued at approximately $110 million, however, the overall economic value that this technology can unlock is far greater.
“High speed, low latency, and ubiquitous connectivity provided by LEO technology can bring additional citizens online, enable multiple innovative use-cases and promote efficiencies and sustainable living – key characteristics of smart cities,” said Thibault Werle, MD and partner at Boston Consulting Group.
He explained that the UAE has made harnessing the power of technology and implementing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a core part of its National Agenda. Smart cities will play a key role in achieving these goals and emerging smart city development projects, including the Zayed Smart City in Abu Dhabi and The Sustainable City in Dubai, will benefit significantly through the adoption of LEO technology. “Applications of connectivity such as autonomous vehicles, smart metering and efficient energy distribution, and many others will help transform these smart city projects into logistics hubs, raising standards of living and quality of life and encouraging tourism, among other benefits,” he said.
Udit Pandey, project leader at Boston Consulting Group, noted that LEO satellite technology will help drive the UAE’s Global Innovation Index ranking in due course through increased research and development opportunities for national entrepreneurs and innovators. “This will help position the UAE among the world’s best in ease of doing business, innovation, entrepreneurship, and R&D indicators. Moreover, the LEO satellite industry can also lead to an increase in ‘Knowledge Workers’ in the labor force and development of local IP, which will help to utilize LEO technology to develop new B2B and B2G uses cases that boost the UAE’s economy.”
Historically dominated by geosynchronous (GEO) satellite technology, the satellite communication market is now expected to shift towards LEO satellite technology. LEO satellites are located approximately 50 times closer to Earth, and typically offer low latency, and coverage with relatively high throughput levels in comparison to GEO satellites.
Werle explained that the telecommunications industry has always prioritised higher speeds and lower latency levels for customers, businesses, and the government. These priorities however come at a cost of building terrestrial infrastructure which is resource-consuming. Satellite communications technologies avoid the hassle of building out this terrestrial infrastructure while also improving the business case of connecting remote locations.
“Crucially, 5G offers similar benefits of speed and throughout,” he said. “As the UAE’s 5G rollout continues, LEO satellites can play a vital role in complementing the 5G rollout by connecting remote areas where deploying terrestrial infrastructure is not cost-effective as well as providing passive connectivity for low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) applications that boost IoT use-cases and adoption across multiple sectors. As such, LEO satellite technology adoption can accelerate the 5G rollout and ensure business sectors and the local community benefit from improved connectivity and higher speeds, even in remote areas and those previously considered as non-cost effective to provide coverage for.”
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