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Sita Sonty on edge computing in space as competitive market strategy.

S. Sita Sonty, Partner, Associate Director and Global Space Lead for Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Sita joins us to discuss edge computing in space.





Our Deep Space Episode with guest S. Sita Sonty, Partner, Associate Director and Global Space Lead for Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Sita joins us to discuss edge computing in space. You can read her latest two-part series on the subject published by Via Satellite, “Size of the Prize: How Will Edge Computing in Space Drive Value Creation?” and "Size of the Prize: Assessing the Market for Edge Computing in Spaces."

You can follow Sita on LinkedIn and at Boston Consulting Group’s website.

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Selected Reading

Size of the Prize: How Will Edge Computing in Space Drive Value Creation?- Via Satellite

Size of the Prize: Assessing the Market for Edge Computing in Spaces - Via Satellite

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[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Deep Space. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the T-Minus Space Daily podcast. "Deep Space" includes extended interviews and bonus content that takes a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program. We hope you enjoy. Our guest today is Sita Sonty, Partner, Associate Director, and Global Space Lead for Boston Consulting Group. Sita joins us to discuss edge computing in space. And if you don't know much about it, you definitely will after hearing this interview. We get into what it is, how it works, why it matters, and its capacity to transform how we work and live. And you'll hear Sita mention a paper that she and her team just worked on, all about edge computing. And you can read it over at "Via Satellite." The title of it is "Size of the Prize: How Will Edge Computing in Space Drive Value Creation?" And now for our conversation in full.

>> Sita Sonty: This is Sita Sonty, Partner and Associate Director and Global Commercial Space Lead for Boston Consulting Group. I work out of the D.C. office. And we're really proud to be growing our practice in serving our clients in the civil, commercial, and national security space domain, as well as our clients outside the space domain who want to get in and want to know how to do it right.

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate it. And Sita, you have a lot of expertise across the space domain, and there's -- there's a lot of things I could ask you about. So I'm just going to pick one topic, and we'll start there. One of the things that we've covered a bit in the show that comes up a lot, and I'm really personally curious about, is edge computing. So let's just start very high-level. Please explain to us the concept of edge computing in the context of the space domain.

>> Sita Sonty: It's funny that that's going to be the first topic that we talk about because I have --

>> Maria Varmazis: It's super-easy.

>> Sita Sonty: It's -- yeah. It's super-easy. Right? I explain it to my kids all the time. [laughter] You know, also, we're actually going to be publishing a two-piece series online -- so watch this space -- where I'm going to dive really, really deeply into this topic. And I'll give a teaser for the two-piece because I feel like this is really setting me up nicely and maybe unintentionally on your part, Maria. The nature of the research that we had done, due to a number of clients sort of asking us this question, is is this -- is this really a meaningful technology that is going to be adopted by certain user groups? Who are those user groups? Why? And oh, by the way, what kind of technology is required? What is edge computing in space? And so we actually conducted, I'd say, about almost three months of research into this, aggregating data, really establishing a footprint with industry experts in this regard to try to identify what are some of the standards in the technology that's being developed. And what are some of the missing pieces or the missing blocks in the tech stack, as we like to call it. But finally, and I think the piece that -- the element of our analysis that's going to be the most groundbreaking is we actually size the prize. We say, this is what we expect the value of the edge computing in space market to be. This is how much value we believe it will create by 2030. And we do it with the -- on the basis of some pretty intense analytical methodology that I won't bore your listeners with here.

>> Maria Varmazis: You never know. They might like it. [laughter]

>> Sita Sonty: It depends upon how many of them are nerdy finance geeks like me. [laughter] At the end of the day, what we came up with is there's going to be some real reasons that any user would adopt that capability. And by any user, we mean beyond your traditional users of space-based technology. So I sort of tease that. Watch the space. It's a great two-piece article. It's the result of tremendous research by my co-authors, whom I'm going to name here because I love them so much, and they were so extraordinary.

>> Maria Varmazis: Sure.

>> Sita Sonty: John Wenstrup, Cameron Scott, Hillary Child, Avril Prakash, Sarvani Yellayi, Ansh Prasad, and John Kim. See, we really -- we're -- we built an A-team to do this analysis, so I want to give them a shout out.

>> Maria Varmazis: Absolutely. Yeah. [laughter]

>> Sita Sonty: And I actually want to answer your question. [laughter]

>> Maria Varmazis: I knew you were getting there. It's okay.

>> Sita Sonty: So it's a great question. When we ask about what does edge computing mean? How is it different from the other forms of computing? And what does the application in space actually mean? What kind of different results can that yield?

>> Maria Varmazis: Yes.

>> Sita Sonty: So simply put, it's when networks or devices that enable connectivity are located near or at the user. So I'll give you an example. If you're riding in a taxi, and you tap your iPhone to that little Square device -- that Square fintech device that we've all come so -- become so accustomed to using. That is an edge computing device because it sends and receives data, and it processes that data. It analyzes -- all right, is this a valid method of payment? And can I send and receive this payment in real time for live operations quickly, so that the user who is at the edge, in that moment, can send, receive, transaction complete, I go. That is, of course, an example of edge computing on earth or potentially in a mobile vehicle. However, I want you to imagine trying to perform that kind of transaction, let's say, in the Galapagos Islands. Not likely. Right?

>> Maria Varmazis: A little challenging. Yeah.

>> Sita Sonty: A little challenging performing that kind of transaction. And let's consider, then, simple edge financial transactions in remote terrestrial locations. It's actually exceptionally challenging. The reason being, the device that you're using in your hand -- maybe it's your phone -- and the device that you're connecting to or that's conducting that edge processing -- the Square device, if you will -- those are actually sending and receiving signals through a cellular network, terrestrial fiber network, and/or sometimes Wi-Fi. But all of that depends on your local area having some or all of those methodologies of connectivity available. If you are in the middle of nowhere, you're not going to be able to send or receive any data, much less actually process transactions at that edge. And so what edge computing in space unlocks, at a very high level, is that it actually is going to enable processing at greater speeds and volumes in remote locations, which is going to lead to greater action-led results or greater operations in real time. But in order to do that, it's going to leverage satellite connectivity because only satellite connectivity can reach certain geographies.

>> Maria Varmazis: I come from a cybersecurity background. So for me, I hear this, and it sounds a lot like IoT. But we don't use those terms necessarily interchangeably. Is there -- is there a material difference between what we sometimes call IoT and edge? Or are they kind of the same idea?

>> Sita Sonty: Great question. And we actually -- we actually really wanted to refine our definitions around this too. It can sometimes be challenging to discern from IoT or Internet of Things, because IoT can be employed as edge computing devices. Those -- those actual devices can perform the function of edge computing.

>> Maria Varmazis: Ah. Okay. [multiple speakers]

>> Sita Sonty: But the biggest difference in performance -- and this is key -- between IoT and non-IoT device edge computing is the efficacy of the processing of the data in real time, while syncing that data to a centralized server at a time when it is more technically executable and cybersecure. So you're right. There is definitely a lot of synergies, if you will, between the two capabilities, but they're not one and the same. And it's that efficacy piece that really differentiates.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back after this quick break.

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>> Maria Varmazis: There are a lot of -- to me, a lot of obvious benefits to edge computing, but I'm sure that you've -- you've -- your report went through a whole bunch of them. Why don't we go through some of the maybe business application benefits for edge computing?

>> Sita Sonty: Yeah. Absolutely. So edge computing in space, again, the way we see it is it's going to improve operations for, let's say, commercial terrestrial use cases. Now, those commercial -- well, excuse me. I say commercial, but it's also going to and is expected to unlock value and perform operations for national security work or government terrestrial use cases as well. The reason I like to anchor around the commercial side is -- let's be honest and take a huge step back. There's been such a significant attention both in the media and, let's be honest, in financial markets placed towards the space industry. And that's driven up the valuation of key technologies and key companies and key offerings. But part of that increase in valuation is grounded on the premise that the customer base or the general customer bases for space-based technology, whether it's satellite connectivity, Earth observation, precision navigation and timing, or in this case, edge computing in space, are going to be commercial. There was this assumption. Okay. It's the commercial use cases that are going to drive and unlock this huge growth in value because until now, space tech really serviced government customers predominantly. So part of what we tried to do with our analysis, and what I'm really passionate about in our practice overall, is we try to pick those apart. We set aside government and do sort of a government analysis of customers, of need, of capability, and of value. And then we look at the commercial side because that's where you see, to your point, what are the real business impact going to be. So for -- to answer the question, we'll focus on the business side in the commercial space, but I don't want to suggest that there isn't a huge government value creator as well. They're so --

>> Maria Varmazis: Sure. Yeah. And that's a great point. That's a good point. Yeah.

>> Sita Sonty: But among the use cases, you know, you could imagine improved -- speaking of IoT -- improved IoT performance that can help, like, a smart remote city actually take shape. Because we've heard so much about the development of smart cities worldwide. Right? And there's an increased adoption of IoT -- IoT services that still require edge computing devices. But what's interesting is that some of these smart cities are emerging in places where, again, you don't have fiber laid down, or maybe not yet. You don't have enough effective cellular coverage. You don't have 5G. And maybe the emergence of these is at a slow enough pace that an edge computing in space capability can leverage satellite connectivity to deliver that solution. And I'm -- I'm thinking about Saudi Arabia, I'm thinking about Ecuador, I'm thinking about Brazil. I'm thinking about places that are outside of the major, major metropolitan areas but where there's been an investment and talk about creating smart cities. And so that remote infrastructure -- that's sort of how I think about it -- in that remote infrastructure, hospitals, schools, etc., they can actually leverage connectivity on a satellite bus. And they can perform da -- they can perform those transactions, processing data from devices in those locations, leveraging satellite connectivity, and then send the data back to remote devices with improved latency. So that's sort of an example of an aggregate set of solutions from an infrastructure standpoint that I think is really powerful.

>> Maria Varmazis: Oh, yeah. I could absolutely see the application there. And actually, to your point, you mentioned that there are a lot of benefit for government use. And I think you sort of just touched on that. But were there any other use cases for -- for government use that you'd like to mention?

>> Sita Sonty: Oh, for sure. I mean, gosh, I've got -- I actually -- you'll think I'm really geeky. But I have a list of, like, 20-odd use cases on the government side, 20-odd use cases on the commercial side. Because I keep trying to assess, like, what can you really do with this technology? And then commensurately, you then have to assess, well, how much investment is required to get there. But setting that aside, on the government -- in fact, the remote infrastructure play, interestingly, is kind of an example of a local or civil government application because quite often it's a -- an investment that's made not only by those who are manufacturing the devices who are looking for that edge compute in space capability, leveraging SATCOM, but it's also the local governments who are investing in the establishment of that remote infrastructure as well. Right?

>> Maria Varmazis: And the question that comes to mind when I hear all this is, I know that edge computing has gone out from theoretical to actually happening. But where are we in terms of how much current infrastructure can support this kind of -- I mean, this is a lot of data we're talking -- I mean, yes, a lot of it's being processed locally. But the throughput up and back to the satellites -- are we -- are we able to support what's needed? Or are we still trying to get there?

>> Sita Sonty: So this is such a great question because this is one of the key takeaways. I'll just answer it briefly. But one of the key takeaways is supply is not going to be able to meet the demand, meaning we don't have the infrastructure established in enough sca -- at enough scale, in enough depth, with enough flight heritage and supply-chain heritage and customer heritage yet to be able to say, yes, we can actually meet these use cases, and we can create and unlock so much value. We can unlock value for the mining industry by, you know, enabling a mining drill that's loaded with sensors because you have sensors that are on, you know -- there's so many ground-based sensors that are used for business insights. Well, if that sensor wants to detect, like, a sulfide-oxide level in a mineral ore, but that requires real-time detection, that real-time detection and analytics that can actually help maximize the efficiency of the treatment of that ore absolutely depends on connectivity that is not available through 5G, through cellular, or through fiber in a lot of these remote mines. Think of the value creation for the mining industry. But what's interesting is, we do not have enough suppliers who are able to create and field that capability just yet. You know, some of the implications, which we get into in the piece but which I often think about as how we frame value creation for the space economy and for the terrestrial economy through some of these use cases is, what can governments do -- government agencies as they look to procure these capabilities? What can investors do? Investors should be paying very close attention to the edge computing in space supply market. And when they do, and if they read our piece, they may deduce that there aren't enough providers who have enough capability at scale yet, and they won't by 2030 unless those who have spoken about creating edge computing capability at various chains along the tech stack receive more investment of that influx in order to unlock that value. And number three, what can customers do? Because we think of investors traditionally as the financial institutions. Right? The capital, the VCs, the private equity, the institutional banks. But customers can also drive some of that adoption curve by making their own strategic investments and actually integrate it into their own tech roadmap through services procurements. And so I'm envisioning a world where a Glencore or another mining company says, you know what? You're right. That has the potential to unlock tremendous value and improve our efficiency of operations in real time. Let's see what it would require for us to invest in that capability. We don't need to build our own processor onboard a commercial space station, but maybe we can actually rent it. Maybe we can use a piece of it -- some of that capacity. And in order to do so, we would need to invest our own CapEx in that regard.

>> Maria Varmazis: This entire field of what's happening in edge computing is so fascinating to me. It's totally cool to geek out because I'm a geek too. So -- [laughter] [inaudible] I'm all about it. So yeah. I'm super-fascinated. I -- I look forward to seeing your report because this is something that just comes up on our show again and again. And I think there's still a lot of questions. Hopefully, we've eliminated some of them now about the application and the benefit. But I -- this has been such a helpful conversation, Sita. So thank you so much for walking me through it. I appreciate it.

>> Sita Sonty: Yeah, absolutely. And as you can tell, I mean, I'm geeky passionate about this but I'm not alone. That huge team of my colleagues -- I mean, we've been -- we've been geeking out for months. And we [laughter] actually want to -- we're doing it with intent. Right? It's not just what can this possibly unlock for terrestrial market segments, but what problems can it solve? And I'll just -- you know, at least offer this parting shot on edge computing in space. And I'll put it, again, in a broader context, which is every time I'm at a conference, or I read an article, there's all this talk about democratizing space or democratizing access to space-based technology. And it's not happening yet. And so for me, there's actually almost an ethical imperative to unlock access to these kinds of capabilities to more and more and more remote locations for more and more remote functions. Because if that's actually going to increase the likelihood that the quality of education that students in remote locations around the world receive, or the quality of medical care that hospitals are able to deliver because they're serving that real-time data transmission, the better quality of disaster relief, especially in light of the increase and uptick in weather-related events. That kind of ethical imperative is just really meaningful to us. So that's certainly what motivates us to continue to try to unlock this value and to try to posit it in quantitative terms.

>> Maria Varmazis: That's so well said. I think that's a perfect place to leave our conversation on edge computing. Thank you so much for walking me through it, Sita. I really appreciate it.

>> Sita Sonty: Yeah. Absolutely.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Need more on edge computing in space? Sita's research paper all about the topic is called "Size of the Prize: How Will Edge Computing in Space Drive Value Creation?" And you can read it over on "Via Satellite" today. And our sincere thanks to Sita Sonty for joining us.

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