Space Internet – “We can never launch enough satellites”

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Many operators are betting on web access via satellite constellations, including Amazon or Starlink, a subsidiary of billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket containing satellites from the Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral on January 29, 2020.

AFP PHOTO/NASA TV/DISTRIBUTION

Satellite internet, already a commercial reality, will see competition intensify with the planned deployment of thousands of spacecraft into low Earth orbit, designed to take broadband around the world without the cumbersome infrastructure on the ground. Amazon thus took a decisive step on Tuesday in the deployment of its Kuiper constellation, with a budget of more than 10 billion dollars, by entrusting the launches to three companies, including Arianespace.

The US online retail giant wants to bolster its profitable diversification into IT services and “provide low-latency broadband to a wide range of customers”, including those “working in locations without reliable internet connections”.

“Satellite solutions are an essential complement to fiber”, comments Arianespace CEO Stéphane Israël. “There are situations in which fiber is very expensive compared to satellite connections, especially to reach the last inhabitant of a remote territory.”

accessible terminals

In addition to the satellites themselves, Amazon is planning “small affordable customer terminals” in line with Echo smart speakers and Kindle e-readers. The group promises to “provide a service at an affordable and affordable price to customers”, without further pricing details immediately. Will Amazon’s strike force be able to make a difference in an industry where competition is fierce and has sometimes taken a step forward?

competitive market

Satellite Internet already exists, such as HughesNet and ViaSat in the United States, while in Europe, among others, the Orange Nordnet subsidiary uses the power of the Eutelsat Konnect satellite to offer broadband to its customers. Consumer prices start at less than 60 euros or 70 dollars per month, excluding terminal and antenna, and increase according to the required bandwidth.

not for players

These services pass through devices in geostationary orbit, at more than 35,000 km altitude, and although they promise speeds three to five times faster than ADSL, this distance means they cannot achieve fiber performance, and are hampered by the delay between the execution of the command and the query. For this reason, HughesNet does not recommend its products to “gamers”.

thousands of satellites

Future Amazon satellites, such as those already installed by Starlink, a subsidiary of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, on the other hand, operate in Low Earth Orbit (OTB), or about 600 km. “The advantage of LEO is that you reduce latency. By reducing the latency period, you maximize usage”, comments Stéphane Israël. On the other hand, being closer to Earth makes it necessary to put many machines into orbit: more than 3,200 for Amazon and thousands for Starlink, of which about 1,500 are already active.

various projects

In turn, the British company OneWeb launched 428 of the 648 satellites in its constellation, also in low orbit. He envisions an operational global Internet by the end of 2022. China plans to deploy no less than 13,000 “Guowang” satellites, while Europe got into the game with a deal in February to develop its own constellation of communications satellites.

growing needs

In addition to sovereignty issues, this effervescence responds to a recent explosion of needs. “Once considered a luxury, internet connectivity has become crucial for many people during the Covid-19 pandemic as people have been told to stay home and many practices have moved online,” he noted in late March. . United Nations agency.

the demand goes up

“Bandwidth needs have increased around the world and we will never launch enough satellites to meet the demand,” predicted a business executive met by AFP this week in Colorado Springs (USA).

But this bandwidth marketing expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, also comments that machines in low orbit are far more vulnerable than geostationary ones, as shown by the recent loss of dozens of Starlinks following a magnetic storm. As a result, “it will be necessary to constantly replace them”. Which isn’t bad news for launchers.

(AFP)

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