Thursday, March 12, 2015

Leosat -- a third satellite Internet company

I've been tracking Greg Wyler and Elon Musk's plans to launch low-earth orbit satellites to provide Internet connectivity. Musk's SpaceX and Wyler's OneWeb have now been joined by a third would-be low-earth connectivity provider, Leosat.

I've not heard about this effort until now, but former Schlumberger executives Cliff Anders and Phil Marlar have been developing the network architecture, spectrum plan and satellite payload since 2013, and they just hired satellite industry veteran Vern Fotheringham as CEO.

Leosat will not be marketing to individual end users, but will target government and business -- maritime applications, oil and gas exploration and productions, telecom back-haul and trunking, enterprise VSAT, etc. Their market seems closer to Wyler's former company O3b, but Leosat plans to cover the entire Earth, while O3b is restricted to locations near the equator.

They plan to offer encrypted connectivity at up to 1.2 gbps with latency under 50 ms using a constellation of 80 to 120 small satellites, with launches beginning in 2019 or 2020.

While SpaceX and OneWeb have focused their publicity on end users and developing nations, they will also have the ability to deliver low latency service over long distances. As shown below, a terrestrial link from my home in Los Angeles to La Universidad de Magallanes in Punta Arenas, Chile required 14 hops whereas a satellite route could be achieved with five hops. (The following illustration is drawn to approximate scale assuming a satellite altitude of 700 miles).


The Ping time for the terrestrial link averages around 224 ms, considerably slower than the sub 50 ms latency Leosat hopes to achieve.

Like many Americans, I am served by a monopoly Internet service provider. Might these folks actually be able to provide competition -- at least in the developing world -- some day?