Low-latency satellite broadband gets approval to serve US residents
Low-latency satellite broadband gets approval to serve US residents published by nherting
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Posted on 2017-06-23
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A company seeking to offer low-latency broadband from satellites yesterday received a key approval from the Federal Communications Commission.
"Over a year ago, OneWeb was the first company to seek approval to enter the US market with a system of high-capacity satellites that orbit closer to Earth than any satellite has ever before," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said before yesterday's vote. "The goal of this non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) technology is to provide global, high-speed broadband service—and its use case is particularly compelling in remote and hard-to-serve areas."
Today's satellite ISPs have average latencies of 600ms or more, according to FCC measurements, with satellites orbiting the Earth at about 35,400km. By contrast, OneWeb satellites would orbit at altitudes of about 1,200km. The company says its Internet access would have latencies of around 30ms, just a bit higher than typical cable systems. Speeds would be around 50Mbps.
OneWeb is planning global satellite Internet access and gave Airbus a contract to build the satellites two years ago. OneWeb says it will start launching production satellites in early 2018 and potentially begin offering Internet service the next year.
The proposed network would have "720 low-Earth orbit satellites using the Ka (20/30 GHz) and Ku (11/14 GHz) frequency bands," the FCC said. It would be able to "provide ubiquitous low-latency broadband connectivity across the United States, including some of the most remote areas in places like Alaska where broadband access has not been possible before."
Service in Alaska as early as 2019
OneWeb called yesterday's FCC vote an important milestone and said it "will begin services in Alaska as early as 2019." OneWeb was founded by Greg Wyler in 2012, and its board of directors includes Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, who also invested in the company.
OneWeb isn't the only company seeking to build a low-Earth satellite broadband network. SpaceX has similar plans, for example.
The FCC received comments from other satellite operators questioning some aspects of the OneWeb application. While approving OneWeb's application, the FCC said it imposed conditions "to ensure the satellite constellation does not cause interference to other users of the same spectrum and will operate in a way that manages the risk of collisions." The FCC's satellite engineering experts are reviewing similar applications from other companies.
"We hope to approve many more constellations because we know that the more companies compete, the more consumers win," Pai said. "Additionally, the commission also has an ongoing rulemaking proceeding proposing to update the current NGSO Fixed Satellite Service rules to better accommodate this next generation of systems."
OneWeb's application was approved unanimously by the commission's two Republicans and one Democrat. Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that low-latency satellite services could be a key technology for closing the "digital divide" that leaves many people without fast and reliable Internet access.
Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly pointed out that the FCC still has a lot more work to do to help low-Earth satellite systems launch to US consumers:
There are… multiple conditions on OneWeb’s approval. For example, access to some frequencies could be restricted by future Multichannel Video Distribution and Data Service (MVDDS) proceedings and our action today is conditioned on the outcome of the larger NGSO rulemaking. This item highlights what needs to be addressed and, with any luck, we will resolve these proceedings as quickly as possible. Hopefully, our action today will provide NGSO applicants some level of certainty, permitting them to obtain investment and make future plans, but this item is more like a first step rather than the middle or final one.
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