Satellite Internet: Star Wars Began

Cruel disappointment for Europe in space. The in-flight destruction of its new Vega-C rocket on Tuesday, December 20, temporarily removes it from competition with the Americans and Chinese. For more than a year, before the commissioning of Ariane 6, the Old Continent was without a launcher. This raises the question of European sovereignty in the field of satellite internet.

Unable to use the Soyuz promised before the war in Ukraine to Arianespace, former British operator OneWeb, now flying the French flag since its recent merger with Eutelsat, turned to US SpaceX and India’s New Space India to deploy its satellite constellation. .

10,000 Starlink subscribers in France

This bad news comes as major maneuvers began on the satellite internet chessboard between commercial satellite operators and newcomers, SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Kuiper.

In this area, Europe was one step ahead. A French company created in 1977, Eutelsat has launched a fleet of 37 satellites covering Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and large areas of the American continent. The British Inmarsat was born two years later, in 1979. Like Eutelsat, it chose to launch geostationary satellites (36,000 km in altitude) to bring the Internet to white areas.

The new entrants made another choice. Multibillionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink is based on a network of about 3,000 satellites in low orbit (550 km) and 12,000 in long-term. By thus reducing the round trip distance between Earth and space, the service gains in performance. Starlink shows an average download speed between 50 and 200 Mbit/s. Latency would be reduced to around 20ms versus more than 600ms for traditional satellites, he explains on his website. That would pave the way for streaming, online gaming and video calling.

Starlink claims over 700,000 subscribers in forty countries, including 10,000 in France. In France, the subscription price has halved this summer to €50 a month. According to Le Monde, the price of his parable here sold at a loss. It is currently set at 450 euros against more than 1,000 dollars (940 euros) at cost.

Startlink, like its competitors, is targeting around 670,000 French households that still won’t have fiber by 2025, according to the annual Very High Speed ​​Observatory, published last June by the industry federation Infranum, the Banque des Territoires and the Avica. Unlike a NordNet operator that uses Eutelsat, the American does not, however, benefit from financial aid from the State to equip individuals.

Kuiper and SES in the starting blocks

Starlink is not, however, alone in this low orbit satellite market. With the acquisition of OneWeb, Eutelsat is also present in this segment. Luxembourg’s SES (European Satellite Company) launched the first two O3b mPOWER satellites aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on December 16. Commissioned in 2023, the connectivity system will be operated by Orange and its Senegalese subsidiary Sonatel, announces the APS agency.

2023 should also be the year of Kuiper’s beginning. Amazon plans to launch two satellites early next year not with Blue Origin, another company owned by Jeff Bezos, founder of the e-commerce giant, but with the United Launch Alliance (ULA). By 2029, the Kuiper constellation is expected to comprise 3,236 satellites.

Finally, one last unexpected actor must invite himself into space. In mid-November, the European Union decided to acquire its own constellation of telecommunications satellites, with a dual purpose, civil and military. A project valued at 6 billion euros. Named IRIS², for Infrastructure for Resilience and Secure Interconnection by Satellite, this sovereign constellation will provide, according to Les Echos, internet services in white areas and will serve regions that are “friendly” to the EU, namely in Africa.

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