Space internet service closer to becoming reality

OneWeb and SpaceX advance with their low-latency, satellite service offerings. Test results show promise, and service is expected by 2020.

Space internet service closer to becoming reality
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Test results from recent Low Earth Orbit internet satellite launches are starting to come in—and they're impressive. 

OneWeb, which launched six Airbus satellites in February, says tests show throughput speeds of over 400 megabits per second and latency of 40 milliseconds. 

Partnering with Intellian, developer of OneWeb user terminals, OneWeb streamed full high-definition video at 1080p resolution. The company tested for latency, speed, jitter, handover between satellites, and power control.

OneWeb said it achieved the following during its tests:

  • Low latency, with an average of 32 milliseconds
  • Seamless beam and satellite handovers
  • Accurate antenna pointing and tracking
  • Test speed rates of more than 400 Mbps

Internet service for the Arctic

Arctic internet blackspots above the 60th parallel, such as Alaska, will be the first to benefit from OneWeb’s partial constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellites, OneWeb says.

“Substantial services will start towards the end of 2020,” the future ISP says on its website. “Full 24-hour coverage being provided by early 2021.”

Currently 48% of the Arctic is without broadband coverage, according to figures OneWeb has published.

The Arctic-footprint service will provide “enough capacity to give fiber-like connectivity to hundreds of thousands of homes, planes, and boats, connecting millions across the Arctic,” it says.

SpaceX also in the space internet race

SpaceX, too, is in the race to provide a new generation of internet-delivering satellites. That constellation, like OneWeb’s, is positioned in Low Earth Orbit, which has less latency than traditional satellite internet service because it’s closer to Earth.

SpaceX says through its offering, Starlink, it will be able provide service in the northern United States and Canada after six launches. And it is trying to make two to six launches by the end of 2019. The company expects to provide worldwide coverage after 24 launches. In May, it successfully placed in orbit the first batch of 60 satellites.

SpaceX's plan to provide service sooner

Interestingly, though, a SpaceX filing made with the U. S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) at the end of August, (discovered by and subsequently published (pdf) on Ars Technica’s website), seeks to modify its original FCC application because of results it discovered in its initial satellite deployment. SpaceX is now asking for permission to “re-space” previously authorized, yet unlaunched satellites. The company says it can optimize its constellation better by spreading the satellites out more.

“This adjustment will accelerate coverage to southern states and U.S. territories, potentially expediting coverage to the southern continental United States by the end of the next hurricane season and reaching other U.S. territories by the following hurricane season,” the document says.

Satellite internet is used extensively in disaster recovery. Should SpaceX's request be approved, it will speed up service deployment for continental U.S. because fewer satellites will be needed.

Because we are currently in a hurricane season (Atlantic basin hurricane seasons last from June 1 to Nov. 30 each year), one can assume they are talking about services at the end of 2020 and end of 2021, respectively.

Interestingly, too, the document reinforces the likelihood of SpaceX’s intent to launch more internet-delivering satellites this year. “SpaceX currently expects to conduct several more Starlink launches before the end of 2019,” the document says.

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