Companies Look to the Sky for the Future of the Internet
Within 12 years, from 2005 to 2017, more than one-third of the world’s population or around 3.5 billion people have access to the Internet. That is an increase from just over 1 billion people previously. The number is expected to increase to 5 billion or 70% of the world’s population within the next decade.
With the various options made available to consumers, service providers are looking towards space to increase global Internet connectivity. In 2018, eight constellations of satellites are set to be deployed in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and Medium-Earth Orbit (MEO) to provide more users with Internet access,indicating a growing demand for Internet.
Many businesses from various fields are quick to become part of this fast growing industry. SpaceX plans to launch a prototype Internet satellite, the first one amongst the anticipated 4,425 satellites that will form its Starlink Service at the altitudes of 1,110 to 1,325 km. The project is aimed to be completed by 2024.
On the other hand, Samsung and Boeing are also preparing for their own launches. This year Samsung, will launch the first of its planned 4,600 satellites to LEO. Once completed, the satellite constellation will provide up to 5 million users with a monthly V-band service of 200GB. Similarly, Boeing is targeting to expand broadband service in the V-band range with a constellation that, once completed, will consist of 2,956 satellites. Its initial step would be to deploy 1,396 satellites to LEO within six years.
Additionally, the Internet industry is seeing joint efforts by companies to provide Internet access to consumers. SES O3B, Iridium and LeoSat have formed a partnership with Thales Alenia Space, Europe’s largest satellite manufacturer and designer of orbital infrastructure and communication satellites. Moreover, each company plans to launch a few dozen to a few hundred satellites of their own to LEO by this year to further improve overall data transmission.
Using satellites from its previous partnership with Thales and its current partnership with Boeing (27 satellites in total), SES O3B plans to increase global access to broadband services. Previously a provider of wireless broadband access for cruise ships, O3B aims to expand its services after its merge with SES back in 2016. The expansion includes a plan to launch geosynchronous orbit or GSO (an orbit that is designed to match the Earth’s rotation speed) satellites, as well as MEOs. The goal is to have all satellites in service by 2021.
While other companies focus on increasing Internet access and bandwidth around the globe, Iridium has partnered with Orbital ATK to provide cockpit Wi-Fi connections, ensuring low-cost air to ground communications for safety purposes. Operating in the L and Ka bands, the Wi-Fi service is currently restricted to non-passenger flights. However, Iridium does provide narrowband data, voice call and data safety services onboard commercial flights in partnership with Gogo Business Aviation.
Another interesting development is LeoSat. The company plans to deploy 108 satellites to LEO, where they are to provide Internet that is 1.5 times faster than fiber optics. The first of the small Ka-band satellites are scheduled for a launch in 2019.
Additionally, Telesat LEO aims to provide services equivalent to fiber-optic Internet via a satellite network. The company aims to focus on airports, military operations, shipping ports, remote communities and areas where there is a high demand. The plan is to deploy two prototype satellites, a combined development with Airbus’s SSTL and Space Systems Loral, to LEO within this year.
With this rapid development, the age of global Internet may soon become a reality. Within the coming decades, the world will probably seem like a different place where the Internet will no longer be a commodity, but a necessary part of everyone’s daily lives.