The latest space race seeks to deliver real-time latency satellite internet for data-intensive industrial and commercial communication applications. LEO (low earth orbit) satellites closer to the Earth have the advantage of increasing data transmission since a shorter journey equals faster travel.
LEOs are safe because communication occurs in space, protected from natural calamities and man-made disasters. As terrestrial broadband access becomes more limited, LEOs may raise the standard by offering lightning-fast connection and omnipresent satellite internet to various enterprises.
To give access to high-speed and low-latency broadband internet services, Amazon and SpaceX intend to deploy a constellation of more than 7,500 satellites for Project Kuiper and over 4,400 satellites for Starlink.
While Blue Origin plans to build the LEO space station Orbital Reef for use in business, research, and leisure, Raytheon Technologies seeks to provide high-value LEO satellite missions.
Chinese Edge Over Satellite Communication
The United States may lose its competitive edge if China continues to advance its plans for its own LEO broadband network, which may lie between commercial and governmental.
China is developing LEO systems for its use, but it also intends to offer services throughout Asia, South America, and Africa, where there is currently a lack of extensive internet infrastructure, and US corporations are also vying for business.
China is utilizing its much coveted Belt and Road Initiative to get more market share for its LEO constellations.
Considering China’s successful strategy of exporting terrestrial infrastructure through the Digital Silk Road, and the fact that Huawei built up to 70% of the 4G network infrastructure across Africa, these agreements and engagements may significantly aid the nation in realizing its goal of hosting a widely used LEO broadband service.
Due to its significant economic influence in many BRI nations, China is well-positioned to secure regulatory concessions for its national LEO system while discouraging the use of US commercial services.
It will probably be challenging to compete with Chinese enterprises for market dominance in BRI nations due to various diplomatic strategies, the bundling of hard infrastructure and digital services, and attractive price.
China Harnessing Its ICT Presence
Dominance in foreign markets comes with benefits beyond economic gains. China’s heavy information and communication technology (ICT) presence in BRI countries creates path dependencies, spreads techno-authoritarian norms and standards, grows China’s voice in international governance and standards bodies, and strengthens China’s power over global networks.
The successful proliferation of Chinese LEO broadband service could boost China’s presence in foreign terrestrial networks, providing Beijing with greater control over international data flows and granting it extensive intelligence and coercive powers.
China’s open push for civil-military integration suggests built-in dual-use capabilities in overseas BRI infrastructure. A planning document published by the State Council in 2016 reiterated China’s ambitions to establish satellite communications systems, linking them to the “development of military-civil fusion to obtain global service capabilities as fast as possible.”
China asked the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for permission to run a fleet of 12,992 satellites in low-earth orbit. The state-funded SatNet program wants to create a satellite and reusable launch vehicle manufacturing facility in space.
Over 90,000 satellites could potentially be added to Earth’s orbit through the constellations of OneWeb, Amazon, Telesat, and China SatNet combined.
China Expanding Its Technological Advantage In BRI
Countries that allow Chinese ground stations and grant the nation landing rights may find it less expensive to continue implementing Chinese ICT technology because of the potential role that LEO constellations will play in communications networks.
The default adoption of Chinese-designed norms, standards, and data governance practices may result from high reliance on Chinese-built and -operated digital infrastructure.
Tanzania, a close BRI partner nation, has modeled a portion of its data and cyber security laws after Beijing’s model, putting additional restrictions on the social media environment and information flows in the country.
The cost of regulatory compliance for purchasing other Chinese-origin ICT technology is consequently decreased by such adoption and regulatory alignment.
The decision to incorporate Chinese LEO broadband into current network stacks will be relatively simple for nations like Pakistan and Egypt, whose entire digital infrastructure heavily features Chinese assets, from submarine cables and terrestrial fiber optic lines to 5G networks and satellite ground stations.
The Chinese space program’s dual-use nature and China’s national strategy of civil-military integration suggest that Guowang could either be routinely used for military purposes or mobilized to support PLA operations at a time of need.
A viable LEO satellite internet capability could improve the speed and coverage of Chinese military communications in distant or sparsely populated theaters, particularly in support of aircraft or ships operating outside the First Island Chain.
Beijing’s ambitious space plans coincide with the creation of the Belt and Road Space Information Corridor, which amplifies the significance of space in Chinese thinking about national security and economic development as well as the importance Xi Jinping attaches to the Belt and Road Initiative as a tool for furthering Chinese interests and strengthening its way in the diplomatic, economic, and security spheres.
Chinese statements and publications suggest that the corridor is vital regarding its role in BRI and its strategic importance.
- Group Captain Arvind Pandey(Retd) is a geospatial intelligence professional. He is trained in the full spectrum of imagery analysis in aerial and space-borne sensors and has vast experience creating geospatial infrastructure.
- Reach out to the author at arvind.pandey65 (at) outlook.com
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