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BT Group adapts space strategy to evolving satellite industry

We recently welcomed a number of guests from both the public and private sector to the Herefordshire countryside where, nestled in a natural bowl between the Malvern Hills and the Black Mountains, our Madley Communications Centre plays a pivotal role in BT Group’s evolving space strategy.

A vast 63-acre site, Madley serves as our main satellite earth station and, with satellite and wider non-terrestrial solutions playing an increasingly important role as part of a heterogeneous network, its strategic importance to BT Group is arguably greater now than at any point in the site’s 46-year history.

As the above comment from one of our guests highlights, satellite connectivity plays a vital part in everyday network resilience, with one of its key use-cases being to serve as back-up to our terrestrial networks. Madley itself is a crucial cog in delivering this resilience, with more than 60 satellite dishes on site, ranging from 32 metres in diameter to just 75cm. The ability of satellites to deliver ubiquitous and high-speed coverage across the globe, while not being subject to the same extent to certain risks which threaten terrestrial solutions – for example extreme weather or man-made disasters – makes them an ideal solution for network resilience.

It’s for this reason that we use satellite backhaul within our own connectivity portfolio to support the delivery of our own fixed and mobile connectivity services to customers. This is further supported by our specialist Emergency Response Team (ERT) who – as experts in civil resilience – are headquartered at Madley, and on hand for the provision of on-demand connectivity in the wake of any threats to our network.

The ERT also has access to an extensive fleet of rapid response vehicles and cells-on-wheels, which contain mobile network base station capabilities, satellite modem, VSAT backhaul and a satellite alignment system – all of which can be rapidly deployed and fully operational in as little as one hour, depending on the solution.

Connecting remote and hard-to-reach locations
As the satellite industry continues to evolve, so too does BT Group’s wider space strategy. In recent years we’ve seen a boom in the space sector, not least in the realm of LEO satellites which offer different performance metrics to their GEO counterparts, being closer in orbit to Earth for lower latency. GEO, meanwhile, remains a well-established option for near-global communications from a much small number of satellites, sitting in a special orbit which means they appear to be in a fixed location above earth.

It’s in this respect that we see satellite connectivity as an increasingly important component of a heterogenous network, and pivotal to our ambition to deliver connectivity to the entirety of the UK by 2028. We’ve always said that at least 90 per cent of this will be provided by permanent solutions, grounded in our industry-leading terrestrial networks – 4G, 5G, and full fibre. But connecting some parts will remain incredibly costly and logistically challenging, but for satellite and high-altitude solutions.

Take the ultra-remote Lundy Island, for example, sitting as it does 19km off the coast of Devon. Thanks to a partnership between OneWeb, the UK government and BT Group, the island’s 28 residents last year received fast and reliable internet for the very first time via LEO satellite connected to BT’s core network. A designated Marine Conservation Zone and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), this connectivity doesn’t just provide the islanders with everyday home comforts that most of us take for granted, like streaming our favourite shows, it’s also supporting crucial conservation and research efforts – as well as being a lifeline to the mainland in case of an emergency.

Ultimately, it’s clear that the integration of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks will result in truly global heterogeneous networks, delivering high-availability for mission critical traffic and use-cases no matter their location – including off-shore, maritime and aviation. Madley has been integral to the UK’s satellite communications since 1978 and remains just as critical today as space-based connectivity and resilience play an ever more critical role in UK infrastructure.

CT Bureau

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