This round table discussion on 16 May 2018 was mainly focused on current and emerging network technologies, and challenges associated with network deployment in the Arctic. Industry representatives described their latest and future technological projects, most of which involved investments in new emerging satellite technology including nanosatellites, low and medium earth orbit satellites, and so on. For example, Iridium Satellite Communications’ Next generation satellites are a $3 billion dollar investment consisting of 66 satellites converging at the poles that are expected to support more bandwidth and higher speeds for new products. KNL Networks (Kynnel Ltd.) is deploying satellites that will use the non-traditional S-band to leverage new hybrid capabilities. The Russian Satellite Communications Company (RSCC) are launching geostationary satellites with elliptical orbits that offer an extended view of polar regions up to 80° latitude. Both OneWeb and SpaceX are expected to provide global high-speed broadband internet by exploiting the Ku-/Ka-band spectrum. OneWeb expects to begin pilot services by 2019 in Alaska, while expecting to provide broadband coverage across the Arctic and the globe by 2020. Their user terminal is designed to be the size of a backpack for portability and ease-of-use.

Apart from satellite systems, there was some discussion on the scope of fibre optics and fixed wireless technologies as well. Motorola, in Norway, is designing portable broadband service to meet the requirements of search-and-rescue teams as well as Arctic researchers. The user terminal is a “toaster sized” box that can provide broadband LTE network for roughly 100 people across several kilometers. They are also designing a bigger unit with longer range, expected to provide community-wide wireless internet services (for around 1000 people). However, there are regulatory and environmental challenges in the deployment of ground-based infrastructure, as pointed out by Patricia Cooper of SpaceX technologies. For example, fibre optics installation in Alaska is investment prohibitive, as it is too costly and coupled with too much uncertainty in terms of regulations. Kristin, from OneWeb, added that because Oil and Gas is the major industry in Alaska, the same environmental regulations are applied to other industries, which becomes too restrictive for investment.

Most of the participants agreed that the Arctic is a unique environment from an operational, climate, and regulatory perspective, and therefore a “one-size fits all” approach will not work. The industry representatives unanimously requested the regulators present at the meeting, to reduce uncertainty and expenses in order to aid long-term investments in network deployment in the Arctic. In short, there was broad consensus for improving public-private partnerships.

From an environmental perspective, it was pointed out that the Arctic is unique due to weather related challenges in remote locations (lack of power, infrastructure, internet services). Some pilot business projects have failed due to these reasons. In addition, there are barriers for installing mobile terminals and other ground-based infrastructure due to frozen ground. The role of Arctic Economic Council in addressing some of these challenges was discussed.

There was also a brief discussion on user needs from the Government sector (education, medicine, justice) and the private sector (oil and gas industry, anchored ships). It was pointed out that there is a growing need for providing residential internet/cellular services for the local Inuit population whose average age is roughly 24 years.  

The full meeting report is available here.

This meeting report was contributed by IASC Fellow Manisha Ganeshan. If you are interested in representing IASC at an upcoming Arctic meeting, please contact the IASC Secretariat.