Boeing may deploy its own constellation of satellites to bring the Internet from space, much to SpaceX’s chagrin, which will have to deal with yet another rival.
It is decidedly to believe that everyone wants to have their own constellation of telecommunications satellites to bring the Internet from space. While the number of candidates in this segment is already substantial, another challenger is entering the arena: Boeing. The aeronautical giant also intends to have its own service.
This is not entirely a surprise: as early as 2017, we were aware of the desire of the American industrialist to enter this market. The company had filed a request with the FCC in this regard, following the movement of other companies such as SpaceX, which, in 2014, confirmed a similar project with Starlink. Since then, this network has been partially active in several regions of the world, including France.
What changes today is the decision of US federal authorities to authorize Boeing to carry out its project. The US telecoms regulator gave the green light on November 3 to the construction, deployment and use of its satellite network. Clearly, the company will become an Internet Service Provider in the next few years.
SpaceX has filed a complaint, to no avail
It could have been very different: Nearly a year after Boeing’s request, SpaceX and Elon Musk went to protest with the telecommunications police officer, officially because the plaintiffs believed that Boeing’s plan would interfere with theirs. In fact, the waves that Boeing should use are close to those requested by SpaceX with Starlink.
These complaints came to nothing. The arguments put forward by SpaceX – in addition to the wave issue, there was also the congestion of Earth’s orbit and the increased risk of collision, due to the relative proximity of these future constellations – were discarded by the FCC. Some also considered that SpaceX’s maneuver was above all an attempt to prevent the emergence of a competitor.
Boeing, unlike other carriers, intends to operate a modest network, at least initially. It is in fact “only” 147 satellites, where a Starlink intends to have tens of thousands in orbit around the Earth. Almost all of these machines (132) will be positioned in low Earth orbit, at an altitude of 156 kilometers, while the rest (15) will be between 27,355 and 44,221 kilometers.
By way of comparison, Starlink satellites essentially evolve around 550 to 570 km in height, which in principle reduces the risk of collision, by staggering the different constellations well to prevent them from crossing. Proximity to the ground is a major challenge for operators that provide Internet via space: the shorter the distance, the better the latency and, therefore, the service provided to individuals.
Due to the very modest size of Boeing’s network, at least in the short to medium term, service coverage should be limited to the United States. In the longer term, however, the group may want to expand its availability to other countries, whether in America or elsewhere. It will then be necessary to greatly expand and densify your orbital mesh to provide a constant and efficient bond.
With Boeing, it is therefore a new challenger that fits into an already crowded market – at least on paper. In addition to Starlink, several other projects are underway or planned: the most significant of these is Amazon’s Kuiper, which is expected to have several thousand satellites, much to astronomers’ dismay. The first launches are scheduled for the end of 2022.
There are other players in this niche, such as OneWeb, whose network is expected to include around 650 satellites – a few hundred have already been deployed in orbit. Companies like Orbcomm, Iridium, Inmarsat or even SES are also in the running, but their claims are much smaller, with constellations made up of just a few dozen devices.