One More Proposed Low Earth Orbit Satellite Constellation Ultimately Featuring 2,956 Satellites

Boeing Co. has applied for a license from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to launch and operate a network of thousands of satellites in low earth orbit, enabling  high speed Internet access and communication services that likely will reach every inch of the earth’s surface.

That, of course, would help maritime applications, but also could bring high speed access to isolated areas at new, and lower, price points.

Mariah Shuman, O3B Networks
Of course, Boeing is not alone. SpaceX and OneWeb also plan to launch LEO constellations, and O3b (using a medium earth orbit constellation) already is in commercial service.

Boeing said it planned to initially deploy 1,396 satellites into low-earth orbit within six years of the license approval.

Eventually, the aerospace giant said its system would total 2,956 satellites designed to provide Internet and communications services for commercial and government users around the globe.

There still is some possibility Boeing--if successful--might take a wholesale approach, launching the constellation but then leasing capacity to third parties.

And, as was the case in the 1990s, the business models might not work, for some or even most of the potential contestants. How extensive demand will be is the issue. With mobile operators expected to step up their Internet access efforts, and with new backhaul methods, using balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles, and with new options based on use of either 5G mobile or fixed wireless, there will be many options for supplying high speed Internet access to isolated places.

So the LEO constellations are racing all the other would-be providers. The biggest areas of natural advantage for the LEO providers are the traditional maritime, government and commercial users, as well as isolated areas such as South Pacific islands and island archipelagos including Indonesia and the Philippines.

As always, we are likely to overshoot on investment, meaning there will not be commercially viable niches for all of the would-be suppliers. It might also be reasonable to suggest that, eventually, all of the surviving LEO constellations will be sold to incumbent satellite services companies, who themselves are looking to move beyond legacy video backhaul services that are threatened by the rise of over the top video consumption ill suited to satellite delivery.

Still, some idea of the value of the advances are clear enough. O3b, for example, is the backhaul for mobile operator Digicel’s service in Samoa, providing significantly higher retail end user speeds than possible in the past using geostationary satellites, and better latency performance for applications such as voice.

Mariah Shuman, O3b Networks maritime and international regulatory affairs director, will speak about such constellations, and their value, at the Spectrum Futures conference. Here’s a  fact sheet and Spectrum Futures schedule.

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