Free internet – anywhere in the world. A dream now shared by both SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Amazon rival Jeff Bezos; which is better and who is going to win the internet space race?
We are right now on the dawn of a new type of internet: Space Internet. These concepts are different from normal satellite internet, as they use laser beams to connect the ground devices to the satellites, using the speed of light to provide broadband-like speeds across the gulf of space. At any one point, you will be connected to at least six satellites like a GPS, giving you great connectivity and low latency.
Powered by thousands of satellites in orbit, the concept operates in a way that your device will be able to access an ever presence Wi-Fi, even if you are in a deep urban area or in the darkest jungle.
To achieve this technological marvel, you will need 420 satellites in the constellation to achieve minor broadband coverage of Earth, 780 to provide moderate coverage, and 1600 to offer high-speed services. So far, beta testing has proven the network can reach 610 mbps download speeds, six times more powerful than the best 4G or a superior 5G connection.
There are three major players:
- Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink
- Richard Branson’s OneWeb
- Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Kuiper
SpaceX intends to provide satellite internet connectivity to underserved areas of the planet, as well as provide competitively priced services to urban areas. The company has stated that the positive cash flow from selling satellite internet services would be necessary to fund their Mars plans.
Many criticized Musk, stating that it was looking more than impossible that SpaceX would derive any revenue from this space venture. Nevertheless, internal documents leaked in February 2017; these documents indicated that SpaceX expected more than US$30 billion in revenue by 2025 from its satellite constellation, while revenues from its launch business were expected to reach US$5 billion in the same year.
They recently got approval to operate their network in an extreme low-earth orbit in 2020 to provide low-latency broadband to unserved and underserved Americans that is on par with service previously only available in urban areas. This will also mean that Starlink will be the primary satellite connection for US services in the polar regions of Antarctica and the Artic.
As of June 13, 2020, SpaceX has launched 540 Starlink satellites, with coverage extending across USA and Canada, so one third of the network planned from the beginning. However, make no mistake, SpaceX wants to expand that number from 1600 to 12,000 and then to 42,000. An insane number of satellites.
The satellites will orbit the earth in three shells, with 1,584 in a 550 kilometers (340 mi), 7,500 V-band satellites at 340 kilometers (210 mi) and 2,825 satellites at 1,110 kilometers (690 mi). Each shell will operate at different bands to ensure the signal is most reliable, no matter your location.
We also have Jeff Bezos Amazon’s offering to the market, called the Amazon Kuiper – after the space objects outside the ring of Pluto.
Amazon announced in April 2019 that they would fund and deploy a large broadband satellite internet constellation called “Project Kuiper“. It is expected to take up to a decade to fully deploy all 3,236 satellites planned for the full constellation in order to provide internet to “tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet”. On July 30th, 2020, Amazon announced that it would be investing more than $10 billion in Project Kuiper with the FCC giving the company the green light.
As of July 2019, the Kuiper System is planned to consist of 3,236 satellites operating in 98 orbital planes in three orbital shells, one each at 590 kilometers (370 mi), 610 km (380 mi), and 630 km (390 mi) orbital altitude. The project is being led by the previous vice president of Starlink, Rajeev Badyal.
Amazon doesn’t plan to offer the same delivery method as SpaceX. Rather than delivering it right to you, they will offer it through local firms and internet providers – which may equal higher prices.
OneWeb, the underdog in this list is more of a threat that many realize.
Originally founded back in 2015, OneWeb jumped to the stage securing funding from Richard Branson, with plans to launch and deploy approximately 650 low-orbit satellites at 1,200 kilometers (750 mi) altitude. Since then, they have launched 74 satellites with Russian launch systems – they are the only provider on this list that doesn’t have their own launch platform like SpaceX and Amazon.
At the end of May 2020, OneWeb filed an application to FCC for increasing the number of satellites to 48,000 despite the bankruptcy process. On 3 July 2020, a consortium led by the UK government and Bharti Global won the auction to purchase the bankrupt company, with each of the two parties expected to invest US$500 million for a combined investment of US$1 billion.
The road is long and hard for these companies, with many technical challenges ahead. However, if all goes to plan, one of these networks will rise to dominate, ushering in a fast and bright future that can be found in low-earth orbit.
Which is your favorite? Are you watching this from low-earth orbit? Let me know in the comments.
Also, if you enjoyed today’s content, you should consider subscribing to the channel for more videos every week.
Interestingly, you can take a quiz on this topic and find out how many questions you can answer correctly. It’s right here. Good luck!