Questions and Answers: Secure Connectivity

(Source: European Commission)

Why is the Commission proposing a Secure Connectivity initiative?

The functioning of our economy and our security is increasingly dependent on secure and resilient connectivity. Digital hyper-connectivity and technological transformation prompt an unprecedented increase of demand for services dependent on edge technologies. There is also an unprecedented demand for satellite communication services, whereas the new technological advancements set new requirements for the security of our communication systems and have led to the emergence of low latency solutions. Spurred by this technological progress, we see the emergence of various public-supported or subsidised non-EU mega-constellations in the US, China and Russia, among others. At the same time, the geopolitical context, cyber and hybrid threats further prompt security and resilience concerns.

There is thus mismatch between these rapidly evolving governmental needs and the available EU solutions, both at national and European level, in secure, reliable and diverse satellite communication services, notably enabled by the technological advances derived from Medium and Low Earth orbits.

These security-related solutions should be European to ensure guaranteed access in an unrestricted manner, by avoiding dependencies on third-counties and reinforcing the resilience of our value chains.

At the same time, there is shortage of available frequency filings and orbital slots due to the dramatic increase of mega-constellations. Absence of timely action at EU level would also endanger the competitiveness of EU industry in key technologies and markets.

The initiative will benefit from the expertise of the European industrial space industry, both from the well-established industrial players as well the New Space ecosystem. Global satellite connectivity has thus now become a strategic asset for security, safety and resilience of the EU and its Member States.

What is this initiative expected to achieve?

This proposal aims to develop a secure and autonomous space-based connectivity system for the provision of guaranteed and resilient satellite communications, in particular to:

Ensure the long-term availability to governmental users of worldwide reliable, secure and cost-effective satellite communications services that support protection of critical infrastructures, surveillance, external actions and crisis management, thereby increasing the resilience of Member States;

Allow commercial high-speed broadband availability throughout Europe, removing dead zones and ensuring cohesion across Member State territories, and provide connectivity over geographical areas of strategic interest, such as Africa and the Arctic region.

In particular, the objectives of the initiative are to:

develop, build and operate a multi-orbital space-based state-of-the-art connectivity system, continuously adapted to governmental satellite communications demand evolution, taking into account the existing and future assets of the Member States;

complement the Union pool of satellite communication capacities and services and integrate the GOVSATCOM ground segment infrastructure referred to in Article 67 of Regulation (EU) 2021/696;

contribute to cyber resilience against cyber and electromagnetic threats  and operational cybersecurity, and integrate the European quantum communication space infrastructure (EuroQCI) to enable secure transmission of cryptographic keys;

improve the resilience of the Union’s telecommunication infrastructures;

improve and expand the capabilities and services of other components of the Union Space Programme;

incentivise the development of innovative and disruptive technologies, and use the New Space ecosystem; and

create an environment favourable to the further development of high-speed broadband and seamless connectivity throughout Europe.

An important aspect is the complementarity of the initiative with the existing terrestrial connectivity infrastructures, adding the ‘last mile’ and offering a high degree of redundancy.

What are the practical applications of the system?

This initiative will offer mobile and fixed broadband satellite access, satellite trunking for B2B services, Satellite access for transportation, reinforced networks by satellite and satellite broadband and cloud-based services. It can support edge computing, Internet of Things, autonomous driving, e-health, smart working and education, in-flight and maritime connectivity, and smart agriculture.

Uses expand beyond these, in three main pillars: (i) surveillance, (ii) crisis management; (iii) connection and protection of key infrastructures. Here are some examples:

(i) border, maritime and remote areas surveillance; Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems; Arctic region coverage; space surveillance, and complement to military missions;

(ii) civil protection; CFSP/CSDP and national missions; humanitarian aid; telemedicine; and maritime emergencies of search and rescue;

(iii) institutional secure comm. like Embassies, EUROPOL et al; management of air, road and rail infrastructures; command and control of smart grids in energy, finance, health et al; Galileo enhancement and Copernicus data relay.

What is the novelty compared to existing systems?

Governments, citizens and EU institutions are becoming increasingly dependent on connectivity. Their increasing and evolving needs require higher security solutions, low latency and higher bandwidth hence the need to have guaranteed access to resilient solutions through innovative technology, including from the New Space ecosystem. The envisaged system will thus be a technology-setter.

Security will be one of the main difference, relying on quantum cryptography through the EuroQCI, and enhanced cybersecurity through a secure-by-design approach for the infrastructure.

Another important difference with, for instance GOVSATCOM, lies in the exploitation of multi-orbital derived capabilities, notably from new LEO satellites that can address both (i) the qualitative needs of low-latency and (ii) global coverage.

What is the timeline of the initiative?

The establishment of the Programme will follow a gradual approach striving for quality. Initial development and deployment could start as of 2023; provision of initial services and in-orbit test of quantum cryptography by 2025; and full deployment with the integrated quantum cryptography allowing full services by 2028.

Which are the budgetary implications?

Total cost is estimated at €6 billion. The Union’s contribution to the Programme from 2022 until 2027 is €2,4 billion at current prices.

The funding will come from different sources of the public sector (EU budget, Member States and ESA contributions) and private sector investments.

Regarding the EU funding, it will be engineered in a fashion that it does not undermine the implementation of existing space components of the EU Space Regulation, notably Galileo and Copernicus.

How? What are the options for implementation?

A public-private partnership (PPP) is the preferred option since the direct involvement of the private sector provides, on the one hand, the secure, resilient and innovative governmental services required, and on the other hand, creates an environment favourable to the further development of high-speed broadband and seamless connectivity throughout Europe, removing communication dead zones and ensuring cohesion across Member State territories as well as providing connectivity over geographical areas of strategic interest, i.e. Africa and the Arctic region .

Through a competitive procurement process, the Commission may conclude a concession contract to deliver the solution required and protect the Union and Member States interests. The involvement of industry through a PPP allows the private partner to complement the Programme infrastructure with additional capabilities through additional own investments.

It is important to pay attention to the fact that the satellite communication market for commercial services is already well established. The Commission will therefore be paying particular attention within the PPP to not crowd out commercial investments and the contractual terms would reflect the degree of risk taken by the private sector. The role of the public sector will be adequately reflected in the future governance, with special attention to the security of the infrastructure and strong control of cost, schedule and performance.

The Commission will be the Programme Manager for the establishment, and the supervision of the concession. The EU agency of the Space Programme will be entrusted with the provision of the governmental services, and the European Space Agency will be entrusted with the supervision of the development and validation activities.

What are the benefits of a public-private partnership (PPP)?

Main benefits comprise:

optimisation of cost, i.e. the acquisition of a system at a lower cost, the Union sharing the design, development and deployment risks with the private operator;

the competition’s enabling  innovative solutions during the concession process, notably through the involvement of the New Space industrial ecosystem, and enhancing the competitiveness of the EU industry. In order to ensure the security and availability of the governmental services, the Union will own the part of the system infrastructure related to security.

the concessionaire(s) exploiting the system for commercial services too, thereby creating additional benefits for the downstream sector; sharing development and deployment costs on components common to both governmental and commercial infrastructures, as well as operational costs, creates a high capacity mutualisation.

European citizens would also benefit from the enhanced operational performance of the type, variety and quality of services offered.

How will businesses, SMEs and micro-enterprises be involved?

The space industry, including New Space, will be fostering innovation on upstream space technologies, launchers, and downstream applications that will allow them to increase their global competitiveness.

New Space industry will be able to participate through technology innovation during the development and deployment of the programme, service provision possible during exploitation through the concession contract.

The procurement should also ensure effective and transparent competition, reinforce the autonomy of the EU in technological terms, and ensure compliance with requirements related to security, service continuity and reliability.

The involvement of the digital industry is also very important. The exploitation of such a system will allow telecommunication operators to benefit from the increased capacity and reliable and secure services. In addition, the commercial dimension will allow retail services to reach more private users across the entire EU.

All other businesses will benefit from secure and reliable connectivity, enabling them to provide new services, less vulnerable to cyber threats and service disruptions.

Can non-EU parties participate in the initiative?

In line with the objective to provide secure governmental satellite communication services, the envisaged EU space-based secure connectivity system will be a strategic asset with geopolitical implications. It aims at reducing European dependency on non-European solutions.

The governmental user needs require, a guaranteed access in an unrestricted manner to secure connectivity services. Therefore, any critical dependence on non-EU satellite communication infrastructure would be detrimental to the integrity, resilience and sustainability of the Union’s operations.

Participation in the Programme can be open to third countries or an international organisation on the basis of concluding an international agreement (Article 218 TFEU). There are detailed provisions governing such participation depending on the link these third countries have established with the Union.

In principle, third countries and international organisations may have access to the Union secure connectivity services if they conclude an international agreement (Article 218 TFEU) and they comply with protection of classified information enshrined in the Union’s Space Regulation (Article 43).

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