Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet service developments for 2018

At the end of 2017, I posted a review of important LEO-satellite Internet service developments. I've been updating those posts during the year and have also added the following new posts this year:

OneWeb's offer to sell a share of their satellite Internet service to Russia. (December 2018).

OneWeb has a Russian contract to launch Internet-service satellites and a marketing partnership with a Russian company. When the Russian government expressed concern about security and US sanctions, OneWeb made concessions. It was reported that OneWeb had offered to sell 12.5% of the company to Russia, giving them a board seat and access to technical information, but OneWeb denied the report. Given Russia's accelerated investment in their global satellite navigation system, history of hacking the US Global Positioning System and using the Internet to foment social unrest and influence election results in Europe and the United States, I would be reluctant to share technical information with them.

A cool simulation of SpaceX's revised satellite broadband plan. (November 2018)

On November 15, the FCC approved a revision to the plan for Starlink, SpaceX's forthcoming broadband satellite service. The new plan reduces the number of satellites from 4,525 to 4,409 and lowers the altitude of the phase-1 satellites from 1,100 to 550 km. Mark Handley, a professor at University College London, has created videos based on simulations he ran of both the original and revised phase 1 plans. The videos and his narration provide insight into the assumptions he made in building his models and constellation design decisions and tradeoffs.

An in-depth interview of OneWeb Executive Chairman Greg Wyler. (November 2018)

In this "definitive" 2018 interview of OneWeb founder and Executive Chairman Greg Wyler, he said their initial customers will include emergency services, mobility (aviation), health centers and schools. He did not mention individual homes or the problems he has been having negotiating with the Russians or dropping inter-satellite laser links. There is a lot more -- check the interview out.

Obstacles in OneWeb's negotiations with Russia. (October 2018)

OneWeb has a contract to launch satellites on Russian-made Soyuz rockets and has formed a joint venture with Gonets, a Russian satellite operator, as a marketing partner. Recently, Russia has expressed concerns about security, drug their feet on spectrum allocation and complained about US sanctions. Subsequently, OneWeb reduced its interest in the Gonets partnership from 60 to 49 percent, giving Gonets control. This case illustrates the fact that political, security and financial negotiations may be as difficult as designing satellites and rockets for a would-be global Internet service provider.

Might CubeSats provide broadband Internet connectivity one day? (September 2018)

Cubesats are small, standardized satellites. Since they are small, they are relatively cheap to launch and standards and standard components make them relatively cheap. This post looks at the efforts of two startups working on narrowband communication applications using CubeSats. Today's CubeSats are smaller and less powerful than those planned for Internet constellations from companies like OneWeb, Telesat or SpaceX and it's hard to believe that the capability of broadband Internet-service satellites might one day fit in a CubeSat -- but think about the phone in your pocket.

SpaceX Starlink test -- good news but unanswered questions. (June 2018)

Elon Musk tweeted that the two SpaceX test satellites, TinTin A and B, are connecting at "high bandwidth" with 25 ms latency. That's good news but it leaves a lot unanswered. For example, he did not mention the speed and reliability of the phased-array handoffs between the satellites and ground terminals and he said nothing about tests of the inter-satellite laser links, which OneWeb has abandoned.

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell on synergy among Musk companies and Starlink profit. (May 2018)

In a recent interview, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said that SpaceX is profitable, but she predicts that Internet service revenue will soon be much greater than that of their launch business and the Wall Street Journal agrees. She also pointed out synergies between Elon Musk's companies and said they remain on schedule to take people to Mars in 2024.


Telesat begins testing low-Earth orbit satellite Internet service
. (May 2018)

Telesat's demonstration satellite is now ready for testing with maritime connectivity provider OmniAccess, Australian ISP Optus and in-flight entertainment company Global Eagle Entertainment. They are moving quickly and their initial focus is on these specialized markets.

Elon Musk tells what to expect from the Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket. (May 2018)

On the occasion of it's first production flight, Elon Musk said this will be the last major version of the Block 9 Falcon 9 before their next rocket, the BFR. The Block 5 is designed for rapid-turnaround reusability and he expects there to be 300 or more Block 5 flights before it is retired. The rockets are designed to do 10 or more flights without refurbishment and expected to be capable of at least 100 flights before being retired.

FCC approves SpaceX Starlink's Internet-service constellation -- now there are four. (March 2018)

SpaceX, OneWeb, Telesat and Space Norway (focused on the far north) now have FCC approval to provide fixed-satellite service using constellations of LEO satellites.

O3b satellite Internet -- today and tomorrow. (March 2018)

SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat are planning to offer Internet-service from LEO, but O3b is already providing connectivity to relatively large customers like mobile phone companies, government organizations, and cruise ship lines using a constellation of medium-Earth orbit (MEO) satellites. For example, they serve mobile phone company Digicell in Papua New Guinea and Cuban ISP ETECSA. O3b plans to add four more satellites early next year and will begin deploying their next-generation constellation, mPower, in 2021. While today's O3b satellites have 10 steerable edge-terminal beams, the mPOWER satellites will have over 4,000 steerable beams that can be switched under program control giving the initial seven-satellite constellation over 30,000 dynamically reconfigurable beams and over 10 Tbps capacity.

The current and future role of satellite Internet service in Cuba. (12 posts)

Today Cuba makes limited use of geostationary and MEO satellite connectivity, but LEO and MEO satellite constellations could play a major role in future Internet connectivity there and in other developing nations.

OneWeb's offer to sell a share of their satellite Internet service to Russia

Update: OneWeb has denied that they have offered to sell any stake in the company to the Russian Government and Reuters has now reported that Russia’s communications minister said that "the government has not discussed such a deal with OneWeb."

OneWeb confirmed that they are restructuring their existing commercial joint venture with Russian partner Gonets, to comply with certain Russian regulatory requirements. They reiterated that "the joint venture is solely for the commercialization of OneWeb’s satellite broadband services to customers in Russia" and stated that the joint venture would "not have access to OneWeb's satellite technology or related know-how."
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Given the context, I am not keen on OneWeb sharing technology with Russia before or after a deal is closed.

Number of global satellites (source)
OneWeb has a contract to launch Internet-service satellites on Russian-made Soyuz rockets and has a joint venture with Gonets, a Russian satellite operator, as a marketing partner in Russia. However, the Russian government has expressed concerns about security, drug their feet on spectrum allocation and complained about US sanctions. This led OneWeb to make two concessions -- they dropped inter-satellite laser links from their constellation design and they cut their interest in the Gonets joint venture from 60 to 49 percent.

Apparently, that did not satisfy the Russians. Reuters reports that according to three sources, OneWeb has offered the Russian government the option of buying a 12.5-percent stake in the company in exchange for approving its request for a frequency band.

If Russia buys a minority stake in OneWeb, it would be represented on the company’s board of directors and have access to the project’s technical documentation. One of the sources -- a Russian government official -- said the government was not satisfied with the conditions attached to the purchase -- it wanted access to the technical documentation before committing to the deal.

This offer needs to be put in context:
    Active disruption by Russia (source)
  • There are four competing global satellite navigation systems: GPS (US), Galileo (Europe), GLONASS (Russia) and Beidou (China).
  • University of New Brunswick professor Richard Langley, who has worked extensively with the Global Positioning System since the early 1980s says that "while the GLONASS service level has dropped below acceptable levels, it is now a dependable system and, with announced improvements, will be a contender in the future world of multi-GNS.
  • Russia has been accused of jamming and spoofing the GPS.
  • Russia has used the Internet to foment social unrest and influence election results in Europe and the United States.
Given this context, I am not keen on OneWeb sharing technology with Russia before or after a deal is closed.