Monday, May 25, 2020

Public and private infrastructure investment alternatives

The strategic goal of infrastructure is not to derive economic benefit from the asset itself, but to generate economic benefit by maximizing the use of the asset. Steve Song.
Electrifying rural South Dakota
Eric Yuan, CEO of the Zoom teleconferencing service, stated that the average number of daily meeting recipients increased from 10 million in December 2019 to 200 million in March 2020 in a webinar last month. I've been teaching 21 students using Zoom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the audio and video are smooth and switching between speakers is seamless. Offhand, I cannot think of any technology that has scaled so well so fast. 

When I teach, I use transport offered by Charter, Amazon, and others to reach Zoom’s application on a server in an Amazon data center in Virginia. (Zoom has servers in 16 data centers around the world). Zoom's rapid expansion would not have been possible without the transport and application-service infrastructure provided by private investment. 
It is a remarkable success story, but imperfect.
Two of my students have been unable to participate in our Zoom meetings because they cannot afford fixed Internet access at home, the campus labs are closed and data caps limit their participation with mobile phones.  I can afford home connectivity, but Charter is the only broadband provider on my block, so I must pay whatever they decide to charge me. That is the situation in Los Angeles and there are rural areas in the US and many locations in other nations where broadband connectivity is not available at any price. Amazon has competition but their dominant infrastructure position provides them with opportunities to be "be evil" if they are not monitored). 
The Federal government funded the research, development, and procurement that led to the Internet then turned to private companies like Amazon and Charter to create the infrastructure Zoom and others use. The COVID-19 pandemic with its attendant substitution of communication for transportation highlights the fact that Internet access is as much a necessity today as access to sidewalks, roads, and highways. 
Can publically-owned infrastructure fill the Internet infrastructure gap? 
Singapore ISP equity, June 2000
We have some municipal broadband in the US, but it is roadblocked or outlawed in 22 states, and the states with restrictions have higher Internet prices on the average than the others. Public Internet infrastructure planning and investment are found in other nations as well. For example, Stockholm has provided municipal fiber as a service for over 25 years and around the same time,  the Singapore government decided Internet infrastructure was strategic and therefore took equity positions in the nascent Internet service providers. (Internet service in Sweden and Singapore costs less than half of what I pay in Los Angeles today.) 
China seems to follow a semi-public strategy of funding private companies and allowing them to compete against each other while retaining political control rather than equity. They followed this strategy in developing terrestrial Internet infrastructure and applications and are doing the same with satellite broadband. Community networks, where the users own and operate the network, are another form of quasi-government ownership.
I don't mean to imply that public ownership is inherently superior to private ownership. Public ownership may lead to cronyism and bureaucracy.  For example, Cuba has a bureaucratic government-monopoly Internet service provider and Cuban infrastructure and access lag behind other Latin American and Caribbean nations, content is controlled and they recently confiscated SNET, a large and successful community network (that was not connected to the Internet).
There is no simple, optimal public/private policy and whatever we do needs to be continuously monitored and adjusted as people learn to game the system, but the proposal for the creation of a National Investment Authority (NIA) by Cornell University law professors Saule Omarova and Robert C. Hockett is a good place to begin the discussion. 
The NIA would bail out citizens and critical organizations during a crisis like COVID-19 and invest in socially valuable collective goods like rural broadband, renewable energy, affordable housing, and clean water during stable times. An independent NIA governing board would set development goals and strategy, but would not make investment decisions. Those would be made by a National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) and a National Capital Management Corporation (NCMC). 
The NIB would buy and securitize bonds that municipalities and other public and private actors issue and the NCMC would seek investors in a collection of socially valuable investment funds the way a privately owned asset management/venture capital firm like Blackrock does.
But, why would a private investor invest in an NCMC fund that was focused on long-term social return instead of a fund of a private asset management firm that seeks to maximize financial return? The government would guarantee an attractive, relatively short term return on investments in NCMC funds. It would convert the expected long-term return to society into a reasonable short-term return to private investors.
The public foots the bill for bailouts today and the NIA would give us a seat at the investment-decision table. It would face political hurdles, but so did the New Deal at the time of an earlier crisis. If the NIA sounds interesting, check out this short article, podcast interview (with transcript), or this detailed paper.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Amazon will thrive after COVID-19

Amazon has already received a retail
windfall, but their infrastructure
will be more important in the long run.
My final exam this term will include a take-home question: How will COVID-19 affect the fortunes one of the major Internet companies -- Apple, Google, Facebook, or Microsoft?

I didn't include Amazon because they are an obvious winner. On December 30, 2019 Amazon stock was selling for $1,847.84 per share and on May 1, 2020 it was $2,286.04, a 23.7 percent increase. The government gave trillions of dollars to consumers and at the same time, told most brick and mortar retailers they had to close, creating a double windfall for Amazon and other online retailers.

Since its inception, the Internet has enabled us to substitute communication for transportation. (See, for example, my 1998 pilot study at Hyundai USA). The rate of that substitution is a function of technological improvement and experience with the technology by users and organizations. COVID-19 has led to the invention of new use cases for communication in lieu of transportation and forced organizations and individuals to learn to use the technology. That will cause an increase in the rate of substitution of communication for transportation which will increase demand for Amazon’s infrastructure and services. While Amazon is known for retail, they are a major infrastructure company, which will be more important in the long run.

Amazon & Jeff Bezos' infrastructure
and services
More companies will establish affiliate retailer stores at Amazon.com and those that are already there will see increased sales. (In 2018, third-parties accounted for 58% of Amazon retail sales). There will be increased demand for Amazon fulfillment and delivery services as well as Amazon credit cards.

Organizations that need to tighten their belts to survive after COVID-19 will want to cut costs and staff, making Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Cloud Storage more attractive than on-premises information technology. Organizations that fail as a result of the pandemic will free up IT people and potential entrepreneurs to create startups to exploit novel Internet use cases that were made apparent by COVID-19. Many of those startups will be run out of Amazon datacenters.

Space is a long-term growth sector and Amazon will benefit from that as a space infrastructure company. They are investing heavily in the launch business and recently (along with two others) received funding as part of NASA’s ambitious lunar program. Amazon's ground station service will be attractive for space startups with little cash to spend on building out their own ground infrastructure.

Amazon’s forthcoming broadband Internet service satellite constellation got a boost with the recent bankruptcy of OneWeb, which was shaping up to be a major competitor. OneWeb says COVID-19 precipitated their bankruptcy and Amazon may purchase the company or a portion of its assets.

Amazon’s Echo voice platform is also the leader in the growing voice-application sector.

In addition to being strong in retail and infrastructure, Amazon is rich. They had $55 billion cash in the quarter ending March 31, a 33.8% year-over-year increase. A lot of people will be looking for jobs after COVID-19, and Amazon will be able to afford to hire them. They will also have the funds to buy companies. How about Zoom? (If they can't afford something, they can probably get a loan from founder and CEO Jeff Bezos who has a net worth of $138.5% billion).

Finally, in addition to generating revenue, Amazon’s infrastructure will yield increased amounts of information in the post-COVID era. That information will enable them to better allocate resources and investments and make dynamic pricing decisions.

One caveat -- all of this is good news for Amazon post-COVID, but if it is too good, they may face anti-trust action.





Friday, April 24, 2020

SpaceX applies for a constellation re-design and announces beta test dates.

This week SpaceX petitioned the FCC to reconfigure their Starlink constellation and Elon Musk outlined their beta testing plan. As shown below, the most significant configuration change is reducing the altitude of four of the five groups of orbital planes by around 50%.


The total number of satellites and the number orbiting at a 53-degree inclination, which gives good coverage over relatively affluent regions, are not changed very much. In their application, SpaceX points out that the other inclination revisions would favor coverage in the more northern and southern regions and the lower altitudes will reduce satellite-ground latency and facilitate the de-orbiting of defective and obsolete satellites, reducing the risk of collision.

When and why did they decide to request this change? I've seen a lot of speculation online. Was OneWeb's bankruptcy which opened the Alaskan market, they had planned to cover this year, a factor? How about difficulty with developing inter-satellite laser links, making satellite-ground latency a priority? Negative feedback from some potential market segments or nations? Antenna design difficulty? Capacity constraints? Launch cost? Difficulty dealing with the risk of debris? Capital constraints? Etc. Etc. Were they pursuing multiple designs in parallel from the start? No one outside of SpaceX knows why and when they made the decision to change, but regardless of the reason and timing, a major change this late does not inspire confidence and this is their second major revision.

Well, enough speculation. No one outside of SpaceX knows what went into the decision, so let's turn to Elon Musks tweet announcing beta test plans:


The first beta will probably be restricted to SpaceX insiders and carefully controlled and monitored, but what about the second, public tests? I have a house in a small mountain community with no landline Internet service and would love to be included, but Musk's tweet says they will "starting at high latitudes," and my house is at around 34 degrees. At the current launch rate of 60 per month, around 720 53-degree inclination satellites will have been launched by the start of the public beta tests. My house will have coverage at that point so if Elon wants some beta testers in the southern portion of the coverage sweet spot, I'll volunteer.

Oh, by the way, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites today and landed the used booster on a barge at sea. Cool, but getting to be routine -- not particularly newsworthy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

OneWeb is bankrupt -- who will buy their assets?

One could argue that a global ISP should not be owned by a single nation or a corporation.

OneWeb has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel stated that they were "close to obtaining financing" but failed as a "consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis." That is plausible, but they were also far behind SpaceX Starlink in launch cost and capacity. (SpaceX, remains open as an essential industry working on defense contracts, but two employees have tested positive for COVID-19) and financial analyst Tim Farrar said SpaceX faced a "near-term cash problem" even before the pandemic).

OneWeb has valuable assets -- satellites in orbit, ground stations, flat panel antenna, progressive pitch, debris mitigation and other technologies, engineering and manufacturing experience, patents, a satellite factory, supply chains, memoranda of understanding with nations, spectrum, marketing deals, and other partnerships, etc. Who will acquire those assets?

Amazon comes immediately to mind as a potential buyer. Amazon is a relatively recent entry in the LEO constellation broadband race, which leaves it far behind SpaceX, and it is first and foremost an an infrastructure company. CEO Jeff Bezos has a lifelong interest in space and owns satellite-launch and ground-station service companies. He could also fund the purchase himself.

While Amazon is perhaps most likely to acquire the OneWeb's assets, there are others. China is home to three LEO broadband startups that are also late to the LEO broadband race and have a ready funding source. Facebook might also be interested if they are seriously considering satellite broadband, .

Twitter user @megaconstellati has suggested that a government -- the US, UK or France -- might take over OneWeb. With its new Space Force and interest in lEO constellations, the US could consider taking over OneWeb, but that would not seem likely to appeal to a relatively anti-government administration. The same goes for the UK.

Not that it's likely to happen, but one could argue that a global ISP should not be owned by a single nation or corporation -- it should be a global asset -- just as coronavirus and climate change are global liabilities. Those liabilities remind us that we live on a "pale blue dot.





Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Geely's LEO constellation for mobile vehicle connectivity

It will be interesting to watch the mobile vehicle solutions of and competition between Geely and Tesla/Starlink.

The Geely Holding Group (GHG) is a private Chinese conglomerate that is highly diversified, but best known as an auto manufacturer that envisions itself as a "global mobile technology group." GHG announced this week that it has begun construction of an intelligent satellite production and testing facility that will include modular satellite manufacturing, satellite testing, satellite R&D, and cloud computing centers.

They will be capable of producing a variety of different satellite models, but the immediate goal is to produce satellites for a constellation of LEO satellites capable of offering low-latency internet connectivity plus cloud and edge computing to support in-vehicle entertainment, navigation, over-the-air software updates and level 4 and later level 5 (full automation) autonomous vehicles. (For a summary of the definitions of SAE's six levels (0-5) of vehicle autonomy, click here and for a detailed definition click here). Note that in addition to car companies, GHG has interests in trucking, high-speed trains, and even passenger drones.

Reuters reported that GHG is investing $326 million in the project, aims to make 500 satellites a year by 2025, and will begin launching satellites this year. Geely, sold 2.18 million cars last year and will be adding satellite functionality to their cars as well as those of other GHC companies, including Volvo and Daimler.

The illustration on the GHG press release shows a CubeSat, so they are evidently not interested in competing with SpaceX and other would-be broadband ISPs, at least for now. (Three other Chinese companies are working on LEO broadband constellations). Regardless, they will compete with broadband LEO satellite providers for mobile vehicle applications and it will be interesting to watch the mobile vehicle solutions of and competition between Geely and Tesla/Starlink.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Mass-produced propaganda -- a Cuban example

An "author" named Admin posted over 1,000
articles in seven languages in two weeks.


Earlier this month, Google sent me several notifications for an article entitled "The Internet Is Widely Accessible in Cuba. Why Is the US Insisting It Isn’t?" I checked it out and found that Reese Erlich had posted it on Truthout.org, a left-leaning Web site, on February 12. On the 13th, Cabasi.com published a shortened version of the article and Salon.com published the original version on the 17th. These were all in English and both Salon and Cubasi credited Truthout.

I also received notification of an article entitled "Internet es ampliamente accesible en Cuba. ¿Por qué Estados Unidos insiste en que no lo es?" that was published February 13 at DiarioDeLatinos.com.

It turns out that DiarioDeLatinos also published English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Russian versions of the same article on the 13th. The seven versions of the article were all written by the same author, Admin, with a little help from Google Translate, which rendered "New York Times" as "New York Instances" in the first paragraph. Admin is prolific -- he or she had posted 1,072 articles on DiarioDeLatinos.com as of the morning of February 18th and DiarioDeLatinos.com was registered on February 4th. The registrant organization is Domains By Proxy, LLC, which is located at the GoDaddy Headquarters building in Scottsdale, Arizona:
Registry Registrant ID: Not Available From Registry
Registrant Name: Registration Private
Registrant Organization: Domains By Proxy, LLC
Registrant Street: DomainsByProxy.com
Registrant Street: 14455 N. Hayden Road
Registrant City: Scottsdale
Registrant State/Province: Arizona
Registrant Postal Code: 85260
Registrant Country: US
Registrant Phone: +1.4806242599
Registrant Phone Ext:
Registrant Fax: +1.4806242598
Registrant Fax Ext:
Registrant Email: diariodelatinos.com@domainsbyproxy.com
Registry Admin ID: Not Available From Registry
Admin Name: Registration Private
Private domain registration is reminiscent of banks facilitating money laundering. I wonder what else Domains By Proxy is hiding.

Finally, I took a look at what the censors at Cubasi deleted when they edited the original article. They cut mention of tools like the Signal encrypted messaging app and VPNs, the fact that Cubans can download El Nuevo Herald, and Cuba’s blocking of Web sites. They also deleted references to dissidents like Yoani Sanchez or Ladies in White and admissions that only 38 percent of Cubans are connected to the web compared to 70 percent for all of Latin America, 3G wireless is being installed in Cuba while much of the world is switching over to 5G, Cuba lacks convertible currency, Cubans don’t have the bandwidth to stream video and El Paquete is “by far” the most popular technology for Cubans.

This was not Cuba's first foray into online propaganda. In 2013, Eliécer Ávila described Operation Truth in which 1,000 university students were writing social media posts favoring the government and working as "trolls," disrupting discussion and attacking those who question the government and last month Granma posted a propaganda/conspiracy article about US subversion.

I wonder how much Internet propaganda the Cuban government sponsored between 2013 and 2020 and I worry about the fact that any government could do the same.

Update 2/26/2020

A reader sent me a link to a claim of sock-puppet trolls working for the Cuban government and another pointed out that the term of art is "Ciberclaria" and if you Google that term, you will find more examples like this or this.


(This post is mirrored on my blog on the Cuban Internet).

Thursday, February 13, 2020

LEO Broadband Will Create Millions of Jobs

If the satellite broadband ISP business model pans out, SpaceX and its competitors and their partners, suppliers, and users will create millions of jobs.

Earlier this month Elon Musk tweeted an invitation to a job fair at the new SpaceX production and launch facility near Boca Chica Texas. As shown here, the tweet says they want hard-working, trustworthy people with common sense. They are not looking for specific skills or education, but certain character traits -- "the rest we can train."

That tweet reminded me of hiring practices when I graduated from college. My first professional job was with IBM, but I had no experience with computers or unit-record (punch-card) data processing machines. They interviewed me, gave me an aptitude test and hired me then sent me to school to pick up the skills they needed. At the time, new hires at IBM were enrolled in a two-year, three-phase training program that alternated between classes and field experience. I don't recall the details, but phase one was 8 weeks of full-time training on IBM policy and culture and the programming of unit-record machines. We learned to program computers in phase two. IBM was not unusual -- that sort of training was common in those days.

Postgraduate training programs were particularly necessary for industries that anticipated rapid growth -- like electronic computers then and space launch and Internet service now. For example, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, IBM built the SAGE early-warning network. The Department of Defence spent approximately $8 billion on SAGE, which required IBM to hire and train 3,000 computer programmers, not to mention the people who designed, manufactured, installed, operated and maintained the system and the workers hired by IBM's supply-chain companies. This was just one example of the demand for programmers, salespeople, support technicians, etc. hired and trained by IBM at that time.

SpaceX and its would-be competitors hope to bring broadband connectivity to the roughly 3 billion people who lack Internet access today, rural schools, clinics, markets and businesses, ships at sea, planes in the air, mobile-phone towers, high-speed arbitrage traders on Wall Street, cars, trains, buses, Internet of things sensors and appliances, governments, enterprises, space forces, etc. How long would that take and how many direct, supporting and supply chain jobs -- technical and non-technical -- would have to be created and filled? How many secondary jobs would be needed to serve a couple billion new Internet users?

SpaceX can not do all of that alone. If the satellite broadband ISP business model pans out, SpaceX and the other ISPs, their suppliers, partners and organizations that serve three billion new users will create millions of jobs. Space and renewable energy may keep us employed for years.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

China will be a formidable satellite Internet service competitor

In a study of the Internet in China in the late 1990s, my colleagues and I observed that "China has been able to execute plans effectively by allocating resources to competing, government-owned enterprises," and Kai-Fu Lee shows that they have pursued a similar strategy with respect to AI. Now they are doing the same with low-Earth orbit (LEO) broadband satellite constellations.

Characteristics of the Hongyun and Hongyan satellites
Last December, state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) launched their first experimental Hongyun (rainbow cloud) Project satellite and a week later China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) launched their first experimental Hongyan (wild goose) Project satellite. (Both CASIC and CASC have Wikipeida pages and their Fortune Global 500 ranks are 322 and 323).

As shown here, Hongyun launched a test satellite in December 2018 and said they planned four more during 2019, but there is no record of those having been launched as of today. They have, however, completed tests of Web browsing, video chat, and high-resolution streaming and said users across China would be able to access the demonstration system. (I assume that refers to test users).

They initially planned to begin operating with 156 satellites by the middle of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25), emphasizing service in China's remote regions. Late last year, they expanded the constellation plan from 156 to 864 satellites orbiting at 1,175 km with an 8 Terabytes per second capacity. They hope to serve 2 million 5G users through direct connections to base stations, 200,000 broadband users and 10 million Internet of things (IoT) users. The focus will be on China and Belt and Road nations.

CASIC has also established two satellite factories in Hubei and Hunan provinces. This may have been necessitated by the increase in the number of planned Hongyun satellites or it may be another application of the strategy of creating competing state-owned enterprises.

Hongyan applications (source)
CASC's Hongyan project plans a constellation of around 320 LEO satellites. They have launched one test satellite so far and had hoped to launch 8 more by 2020, but did not make that deadline. They expect to have 60 operating satellites "around" 2023 and to be able to provide global coverage with the full constellation by 2025.

As shown in this illustration, they plan to connect buildings, ships, trains, and planes and to provide mobile backhaul and, most interestingly, direct service to mobile phones. He Mu, Hongyan Application Director, promised the development of a "chip [that] can be integrated into the mobile phone so that everyone holding an ordinary mobile phone will have access to seamless satellite telecommunication with global coverage." That does not sound like a mobile connection to a base station with satellite backhaul, but neither does it sound possible.

Earlier this month a third competitor, GalaxySpace, launched Yinhe-1, which is expected to test Q/V and Ka-band communications at up to 10 Gbps. They refer to Yinhe-1 as a "5G satellite." I'm not sure what a "5G" satellite is, but note again that the above diagram shows a satellite communicating directly with a mobile phone, as opposed to a mobile tower. Check out this short video on the satellite and launch:


CASIC has four other "five clouds" projects underway in addition to Hongyun: Feiyun, using solar-powered drones, Kuaiyun, using near-space airships (dirigibles?), Tengyun, a project to develop a reusable space plane, and Xingyun, an 80-LEO narrowband IoT constellation using cubsats, the first of which is to be launched soon.

As noted above, Chinese state-owned enterprises often compete with each other, but they also cooperate. For example, CASIC's Hongun-1 was launched on a CASC rocket. (I wonder how they arrived at the launch price). Will Hongyun and Hongan exchange traffic at shared ground stations? Will their satellites one day intercommunicate in order to optimize a joint constellation with different orbits? Will they intercommunicate with China's geostationary satellites and other space assets?

It is often argued that government ownership and subsidy are unfair to competitors and lead to a suboptimal allocation of resources. I assume this sort of government-brokered "coordinated competition" is more common in China than in the US, but even here, the lines between government-sponsored research and development, government procurement and industrial subsidy are a bit vague as are the criteria for anti-trust enforcement. People and organizations will learn to game either system, so both must be dynamic.

Hongyun, Hongyan and GalaxySpace are late to the game. OneWeb, SpaceX, and Telesat are beginning to sign up customers and will launch a lot of satellites this year. Amazon is also a late-comer, but they have a lot of money and complementary infrastructure. Like Amazon, China has funds for the long run, domestic infrastructure which can be shared by the three LEO projects and they are working on reusability. Furthermore, they have a political advantage in the "Digital Silk Road" nations of our increasingly divided world and divided Internet. China will be a formidable satellite Internet service competitor.

Update 4/26/2020

The US military has tracked the Galaxy satellite launched in January in a 637 by 621-kilometer altitude orbit inclined at 86 degrees. On April 23, Galaxy engineers conducted a three-minute video call via a WiFi hotspot that used the satellite for backhaul.

As noted above, Galaxy has referred to this as a "5G" satellite constellation and we speculated that they may have been implying direct connections from cell phones to orbiting 5G base stations, but these test results confirm and @Megaconstelai points out, they are using the satellite for backhaul from terrestrial 5G cells.

Update 5/26/2020

A few Hongyun test results are in. The brief note speaks of spectral thermometer tests and image data. There was no mention of broadband Internet tests.


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet service developments for 2019

SpaceX lands two boosters (video)
I posted reviews of important LEO-satellite Internet service developments during 2017 and 2018. I've been updating those posts during the years and have 16 new posts for 2019. In 2019 we saw four inciteful simulations, Leosat suspending operations and Amazon announcing the availability of a new ground station service and plans for a LEO constellation, progress in phased-array antennas but a lowering of expectations for inter-satellite laser links (ISLLs), new competition from China, worries about space debris and SpaceX racing ahead of the pack. The following are brief summaries of and links to those 2019 posts:

Simulation of OneWeb, SpaceX and Telesat's proposed global broadband constellations (January 2019)

Inigo del Portillo and his colleagues at MIT have run a simulation comparing OneWeb, SpaceX and Telesat's proposed LEO Internet service constellations. They estimated the average data rate per satellite and total system throughput (sellable capacity) for each constellation then computed the number of ground stations needed to achieve full capacity. The simulations were run with and without ISLLs. The configurations of SpaceX and OneWeb's constellations have changed somewhat since they ran the simulations, but del Portillo does not think the numbers for total throughput and number of ground stations would vary a lot for SpaceX and he expected the total system throughput would decrease slightly for OneWeb because of the reduction of the number of satellites from the initial 720 to 600.

Fifteen-dollar, electronically-steerable antennas for satellite and terrestrial connectivity (February 2019)

OneWeb founder Greg Wyler announced that his self-funded side project, Wafer LLC, has developed a flat, low-power phased-array antenna that could be mass-produced for $15. If that is the case, we can look forward to end-user terminals in the $2-300 dollar range. At this cost, one can envision deploying large numbers of two-antenna user terminals to act as ground stations when they are otherwise idle. A recent simulation shows that doing so would result in lower latency and jitter than today's terrestrial networks. Owners of these relay terminals could be subsidized.

Google balloons and Telesat satellites (February 2019)

Telesat will use Google's network operating system. In return, Google, which is also a SpaceX investor, may get access to some Telesat data in addition to compensation for their software. Another intriguing possibility is that Google might be planning to integrate Project Loon, their stratospheric balloon Internet service with Telesat's LEO satellite Internet service -- to use Telesat's network as a global backbone. That integration would be facilitated by their both running the same SDN software -- the same network operating system. (In the long run, I expect that all network layers will be integrated -- from the ground to airplanes to geostationary orbit).

SpaceX's Starlink Internet service will target end-users on day one (March 2019)

Starting with Teledesic in 1990, would-be LEO satellite constellations have pitched their projects to the FCC, other regulators, and the public as a means of closing the digital divide, but they also have their eyes on lucrative aviation, maritime, high-speed trading, mobile backhaul, enterprise, and governments markets. (LEOSat, which had planned to focus exclusively on the enterprise and government markets recently suspended operations). SpaceX has filed an FCC application for one million ground stations, indicating that they will be focused on end-users and small organizations in addition to high-end customers from the start.

Are inter-satellite laser links a bug or a feature of ISP constellations? (April 2019)

OneWeb has decided not to include ISLLs in the first phase of their constellation and SpaceX will not introduce them until near the end of 2020, at which time they may start with test satellites. OneWeb's decision was motivated by political issues in Russia as well as technical considerations. They will need more ground stations to offer global service without ISLLs and a team of MIT researchers has run a simulation of a 720-satellite OnWeb constellation. They estimate that 71 ground stations would be required to reach maximum throughput.

Amazon's orbiting infrastructure (April 2019)

In his first annual stockholder letter, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stressed that Amazon was focused on investing in infrastructure. Initially, they invested in retail distribution centers but have added an Internet backbone, trucks and planes, third party retail support, cloud computing and storage, and satellite launch and ground station service and are now working on a constellation of LEO satellites for broadband service. They use this infrastructure themselves and market it to competitors like online retailers and they have contracts to launch satellites for OneWeb and Telesat. This infrastructure yields both revenue and access to market data and there have been calls for antitrust action against Amazon.

Satellite Internet Service Progress by SpaceX and Telesat (May 2019)

Telesat has signed their first LEO customer, Omniaccess a provider of connectivity to the superyacht market, received a subsidy from the Canadian budget for providing service in rural Canada, is working with two teams that are competing to be the prime contractor for their constellation, and signed a launch contract with Amazon's Blue Origen. They also announced that they had demonstrated 5G mobile backhaul in tests with Vodaphone and the University of Surrey. SpaceX also announced ambitious plans for future launches, which have subsequently been surpassed.

SpaceX reports significant broadband satellite progress (May 2019)

SpaceX announced a significant reduction in the size and weight of their satellites and the addition of krypton-powered thrusters that would enable them to autonomously avoid collisions with on-orbit debris that was large enough to track. The thrusters would also be used to de-orbit obsolete satellites. Might the collective constellation "learn" to avoid smaller debris one day?

Might satellite constellations learn to avoid debris with sensors on satellites? (May 2019)

According to the European Space Agency, there are about 5,000 orbiting satellites, about 40% of which are still functioning. They estimate that there have been over 500 break-ups, explosions, collisions, or anomalous events resulting in fragmentation and they estimate that there are 34,000 debris objects >10 cm, 900,000 from 1 to 10 cm and 128 million from 1 mm to 1 cm. NASA says there are more than 20,000 pieces of debris larger than a softball, 500,000 the size of a marble or larger and many millions so small they can’t be tracked. Space debris is a "tragedy of the commons." SpaceX plans to launch thousands of satellites. Could sensors on satellites detect and catalog small pieces of debris and, if so, could that lead to meaningful evasive action?

Hongyun Project -- China's low-earth orbit broadband Internet project (June 2019)

China has announced two LEO broadband satellite projects and a LEO narrowband Internet of things constellation. While far behind SpaceX in technology, the Chinese companies have a large domestic market, access to government capital and political and economic ties to many nations through their Belt and Road and Digital Silk Road infrastructure projects.

Amazon's AWS Ground Station service is now available (June 2019)

Amazon is offering satellite ground station access as a service. They list a number of advantages to their service, several of which are based on complementary Amazon offerings like access to their data centers and global network backbone and cloud computing and storage services. We can assume that Amazon's satellite constellation will use these ground stations at cost and, like their launch service, they will be made available to competitors. Amazon has been accused of predatory pricing in retail and competing ground-segment companies may fear the same.

Latecomer Amazon will be a formidable satellite ISP competitor (July 2019)

In spite of being a latecomer to the race to deploy a constellation of LEO broadband Internet satellites, Amazon's Project Kuiper will be a formidable competitor. While far behind SpaceX, Amazon has in-house launch capability and they have extensive complementary infrastructure including data centers, Web services, and a ground-station service. They also have the funds to finance the constellation as well as to develop or acquire critical technology like ISLLs and cost-effective phased-array antennas. They have also hired ex-SpaceX executives and engineers and in Jeff Bezos they have a leader who is comparable to Elon Musk.

An optimistic update from Telesat (August 2019)

Telesat received 685 million Canadian dollars from the government to subsidize rural connectivity. They plan to start service at the end of 2022 with 200 satellites in polar orbit, to add 100 more in inclined orbit in 2023 and perhaps eventually reach 500 satellites. Combining polar and inclined orbits and utilizing the far-north ground stations they already have for their profitable, established geosynchronous satellite service will help them gain a foothold in rural Canada and polar regions.

Inter-satellite laser link update (November 2019)

SpaceX initially planned to have five ISLLs per satellite but cut that back to four due to the technical difficulty of linking to a fast-moving satellite in a crossing plane and the short duration of such links. OneWeb has decided against using ISLLs for the time being due to cost and political considerations and Telesat remains committed to them. SpaceX is engineering its own ISLL hardware, but OneWeb and Telesat may be working with third parties. The situation with Hongyun is unknown and LEOsat has abandoned their effort.

What to expect from SpaceX Starlink broadband service next year and beyond (November 2019)

By the end of 2020, SpaceX will have coverage in the heavily populated parts of the world between around 50 degrees north and south latitude. They expect to be launching 120 satellites a month and, by the end of 2020, the satellites will be equipped with ISLLs. However, by that time they will have many legacy satellites in space and those early ISLLs may just be for testing. They expect the next-generation Starship to be able to place at least 400 Starlink satellites in orbit, reducing the per-satellite cost to 20% of today's 60-satellite launches. They hope to compete with the "crappy" $80/month service in the US and, since the cost of the constellation is fixed, they will strive for affordable prices worldwide.

Starlink simulation shows low latency without inter-satellite laser links (ISSLa) (December 2019)

Mark Handley, a professor at University College London, has made two terrific videos based on runs of his simulation of the first -- 1,584 satellite -- phase of SpaceX Starlink. I discussed the first video, which assumes that the satellites have ISLLs, in a recent post. This one shows that, while not as fast as an equivalent ISLL path, long bent-pipe paths would typically have lower latency than terrestrial fiber routes between the same two points. It also considers the possibility of using end-user terminals as ground stations when they are idle, which would further reduce latency and jitter.




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Friday, January 10, 2020

Cuban fake news about some fake news

Four CITF winners (source)
When the CITF was established, it was touted as being formed for the benefit of the Cuban people, but that was fake news.

Granma recently posted a Trump-worthy article charging that the U. S. finances mercenary groups and gives scholarships to train young Cubans as fake leaders in a dirty Internet war on Cuba. The article also alleges that activists who live in Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Georgia have tried to manipulate Cuban opinion on the constitutional referendum using the hashtag #YoVotoNo on Twitter and it claims we do similar things in Iran and Bolivia.

I am not sufficiently naive to think that the US has never meddled with the Internet in Cuba and have blogged extensively about the Alan Gross case, Zunzuneo and the attempted smuggling of satellite receivers disguised as surfing equipment, but the claims made in this article are bogus. It is telling that there there are no links in the story -- nothing to substantiate any of the claims -- and I have first-hand knowledge of the central claim that:
In February of 2018, the so-called Cuba Internet Task Force was created, following instructions outlined in a Presidential memorandum on national security, released June 16, 2017. The website Razones de Cuba has documented that the CIA’s Political Action Group and institutions on the task force have highly qualified specialists who, based on models previously developed through Big Data, sent sector-specific messages to Cubans.
The CITF established two subcommittees, one to explore and develop recommendations on the role of the media and the free, unregulated flow of information through independent media in Cuba and the other to explore and develop recommendations for expanding Internet access in Cuba. I attended the first meeting of the Internet-access subcommittee, participated in the online discussions of both and reviewed and commented on their draft recommendations.

The Task Force Final Report is short -- only 1,904 words on 6 double-spaced pages. (This post is 631 words). It consists of a summary of the state of the Cuban Internet and regulatory policy followed by nine fairly obvious, tersely stated recommendations. I am unaware of any impact it has had on U. S. or Cuban action or policy.

The CIA and its Political Action Group (PAG) are not mentioned in the report and were never mentioned during the discussion leading up to it. No form of cyberattack or propaganda was discussed by the Task Force or called for in the final report. In short, this was a bland report and the Task Force was a show for Florida voters.

The quote regarding the CIA and PAG are taken from the English language version of the story. It is noteworthy that it has been edited out of the Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese versions. Each version credits the same author and I reached out to him asking about this but did not receive a reply. Furthermore, the article credits the Razones de Cuba Web site with having documented this CIA PAG meddling. I searched their Web site for terms like Grupo de trabajo, grupo de tarea and and 1984, but got no hits.

You get the picture -- the CITF did not work with the CIA and this Granma article does not document any of the charges it makes. In fact, it includes no links or quotes -- just assertions. When the CITF was established, it was touted as being formed for the benefit of the Cuban people, but that was fake news. It was a political move, intended to give Trump a boost in Florida. It also provided Cuba with propaganda fodder for articles like this one and strengthened the economic and political ties between Cuba and Russia and China.