It is estimated that only 45% of the population across Asia and the Pacific is using the Internet and over three billion live farther than 10 kilometers away from high-capacity fiber-optic networks that provide access to fast broadband connectivity. Rapid technology advances in broadband satellites that can be arranged in a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) constellation are expected to dramatically expand the coverage area, improve the quality and lower the cost of high-speed internet. For rural and remote populations, landlocked countries, and small island developing states that face particularly acute challenges of accessing low-cost high-capacity internet, LEO satellite constellations may prove to be transformational, much like the expansion of basic mobile phones in the 2000s across developing Asia, and undersea fiber cable expansion in the 2010s.

While commercial broadband LEOs constellations have been tried before, tens of billions of dollars of new investment are now pouring into the next generation of LEO constellations, such as Starlink by SpaceX, Project Kuiper by Amazon, OneWeb, and Lightspeed by Telesat. Each one is launching hundreds, if not thousands, of satellites into orbit and additional players have announced their intention to follow suit. This increase in bandwidth could be leveraged to increase economic and social development opportunities for individuals, organizations, businesses, and governments located in these areas. Since business models and go-to-market strategies are still evolving, a proactive engagement by Government and other development actors would be critical in shaping the impact this technology can have on development.

During the launch event, the key findings of ADB’s new working paper were presented and discussed by eminent experts who shared their perspectives on how to prepare for and engage with LEO satellite constellations.