StatLink Update 06-14-19

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Speaking at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting, CEO Elon Musk – also CEO of SpaceX – briefly segued to his spaceflight company’s ambitious Starlink program and discussed how he believes the satellite constellation can support no more than 3-5% of the global population.

On May 23rd, SpaceX successfully launched 60 “v0.9” Starlink satellites – weighing as much as 18.5 tons (~41,000 lb) – into LEO, a first step unmatched in ambition in the history of commercial satellites. Delivered to an orbit of ~450 km (280 mi), all but four of the 60 spacecraft have managed to successfully power up their electric ion thrusters and 55 have already raised their orbits to ~500 km (310 mi). For what is effectively a technology/partial-prototype demonstration mission, the record of Starlink v0.9 performance is extremely impressive and bodes well for a quick and relatively easy design optimization (to “v1.0”) before true mass production can begin.

In general, Musk was more than willing to acknowledge some of the potential limitations of a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellite constellation at Tesla’s 2019 shareholder meeting. Most notably, he bluntly noted that Starlink is not designed to service densely populated areas and will predominately be focused on low to medium-density populaces. Triggered by an investor’s question about the possibility of integrating Starlink into future Tesla cars, Musk reiterated that SpaceX’s first-generation Starlink user terminals (i.e. ground antennas) will be roughly the size of a “medium pizza”.

Although pizza sizing is not exactly ISO-certified, Starlink’s user antennas will presumably be around 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) wide and come in a square form factor. Thanks to the use of what Musk believes are the most advanced phased array antennas in the world, neither the antennas on Starlink satellites or user terminals will need to physically move to maintain a strong signal. Still, as Musk notes, an antenna the size of medium pizza box would still stick out like a sore thumb on the typically all-glass roof of an of Tesla’s consumer cars, although built-in Starlink antennas might actually make sense on Tesla Semis.

Elon Musk’s specific comment indicated that Starlink – at least in its current iteration – was never meant to serve more than “3-5%” of Earth (population: ~7.8 billion), with most or all of its users nominally located in areas with low to medium population densities. This generally confirms technical suspicions that Starlink (and other constellations like OneWeb and Telesat) is not really capable of providing internet to everyone per se.

Continue reading at TESLArati

 In general, CEO Elon Musk’s comments serve as an excellent temper to the hype surrounding Starlink. SpaceX isn’t going to initially be breaking the backs of Comcast or Time Warner but there’s no reason to believe that that day will never come.

 

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Jeff Bezos Explains Amazon’s Bet on Project Kuiper Satellites

Geek Wire has the details

For the first time in public, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos explained the rationale for his risky Project Kuiper satellite broadband venture, during a fireside chat that was interrupted when an animal rights activist jumped on stage.

[. . .]

When Freshwater asked Bezos to name a “big bet” that Amazon has taken recently, he focused on Project Kuiper, the plan to put more than 3,200 satellites in low Earth orbit for global broadband coverage. The project came to light in April, and seems likely to be based in Bellevue, Wash. Here’s how Bezos explained his bet:

“The goal here is broadband everywhere, but the very nature of [having] thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit is very different from geostationary satellites. … You have equal broadband all over the surface of Earth. Not exactly equal, it tends to be a lot more concentrated toward the poles, unfortunately.

“But you end up servicing the whole world. So it’s really good. By definition you end up accessing people who are ‘under-bandwidthed.’ Very rural areas, remote areas. And I think you can see going forward that internet, access to broadband is going to be very close to being a fundamental human need as we move forward.

“So Project Kuiper has that. It’s also a very good business for Amazon because it’s a very high-capex [capital expenditure] undertaking. It’s multiple billions of dollars of capex. … Amazon is a large enough company now that we need to do things that, if they work, can actually move the needle.”

Amazon has already turned on its global satellite control networks, mostly located at it’s Global Data Centers strategically placed around the globe. As a significant provider of cloud services, LEO satellite delivery systems makes good business sense. It is the last link to providing cloud services to every business on the planet, at a highly competitive rate, compared to competitors like Microsoft Asure, IBM Cloud and lesser-known cloud companies relying on existing fiber network infrastructure. Amazon will be able to reach more global customers faster with competitive cloud service rates. More HERE.

The top ten cloud service companies are:

Kamatera.
phoenixNAP.
Amazon Web Services.
Microsoft Azure.
Google Cloud Platform.
Adobe.
VMware.
IBM Cloud.

After Amazon, only Google has made a move toward having an LEO satellite distribution system, partnering with Telesat and adapting Project Loon to LEO applications

Loon adapting connection routing ‘network brain’ from balloons to low Earth orbit satellites

While I admire and root for SpaceX, who is building a top-down system, Amazon is taking a bottom-up approach, building on existing reliable infrastructure and capping it with a fleet of LEO satellites has a higher probability of succeeding.  The open question is can Amazon catch SpaceX and OneWeb who have birds in space.

Competition, Competition, Competition

by Russ Steele

One thing that activates the telco and cable providers is competition. How are they going to deal with the competition from SpaceX, OneWeb, Amazon, and other LEO high-speed internet providers? These innovators are circling the legacy communications provider like a hunger coyote looking for a rabbit lunch.

In the past, the telcos use their political muscle to keep the competition under control at every opportunity. They spend millions on lawyers and lobbyist to shape legislation to stifle competition rather than spend their profits on providing superiors service.

For example, in the early days of WiFi, a Texas University was wiring up the campus. Next door to the University was some low-income housing, and the University wanted to share their WiFi with the low-income neighbors. According to the story I heard, AT&T sent 25 lawyers down to the State Legislature to stop this sharing of free WiFi. AT&T abhors competition!

We are going to see a significant upheaval in the internet market when the LEO satellites networks are established and fully functional. Today the phone and cable companies are providing marginal broadband services at a high cost to the consumer. Why, because they can, they are the only provider, with no competition.

There are millions of DSL customers poised to jump once a competitive broadband service is offered. Some communities have pinned their hope on 5G for more reliable service at higher speeds, but that technology rollout is controlled by the telco providers who are not going to provide competing service. On the other hand, they will have little control over the satellite internet service providers, unless they cut backhaul deals that incorporate some competition restrictions.

I can hear the conversation now, “If you sign this 5G backhaul contract, you cannot sell your broadband to our 4G/5G customers.”

The cable companies are losing customers to the cord cutters and streamers. While cutting the video cord, streams still need a broadband connection. In many cases, the cable internet service is the only connection, and it comes at a high price. Why, because the cable companies have no competitive incentive to reduce rates.

In many communities with only telco DSL or an aging cable plant available providing broadband access, LEO broadband will be the first time there will be some competitive service. The question is, how will the telco and cable companies deal with that competition?

They can lower the price for their marginal services, but the customer still has unreliable slow speed internet access, whereas the LEO satellites are offering much higher speeds, and hopefully more reliable service. All the LEO satellite service challenge are still unknowns.

In the end, the superior service will win if the cost is reasonable. Amazon is a significant disruptor in the retail sector, and space-based internet is going to be a substantial disruptor in the telecommunications sector.

How will the telcos respond?  Your thoughts?

SpaceX World-Wide Internet Plan Could Launch Private Vs Public Space Race

The Hill has the story:

Elon Musk’s SpaceX recently launched the first 60 satellites to test the concept of what will eventually be a constellation of thousands of satellites that are designed to bring high-speed internet to every corner of the Earth. When the constellation is complete, sometime in the mid-2020s, SpaceX thinks it can provide wi-fi services that are competitive with fiber optic cable in urban areas as well as to currently underserved rural parts of the planet.

Each satellite is small, equipped with a single solar panel, a krypton-fueled ion drive, a collision avoidance system, and the wherewithal to receive and send high-speed Wi-Fi transmissions. With SpaceX’s family of reusable rockets, Elon Musk can deploy Starlink relatively cheaply, for about $10 billion, according to one estimate.

At the end of their useful lives, the satellites will use their ion thrusters to crash back into the Earth’s atmosphere, burning up, and thus preventing them from becoming space debris.
The system would be a game changer for telecommunications and would provide SpaceX with an astonishing amount of revenue. How much revenue? A recent article in Next Big Future suggests that SpaceX could take in $40 billion a year, about twice the amount of NASA’s current annual budget. That number is comparable to what AT&T makes with Direct TV. What that extra shot of money will allow SpaceX to do is mind-boggling.

Continue reading HERE.

Let’s hope this is a factual article by a writer who understands the technology. However, I am troubled by the use of the term WiFi in this article. Some readers could think they can get connected to Starlink satellites by WiFi, which is not true. SpaceX is building a million ground terminals to communicate with the satellites. Their ground terminals may communicate with cell phones, laptops, and pads over WiFi, but there is another critical component in the communications chain, a $500.00 ground terminal.

 

Amazon’s Broadband Network from the Ground Up

Amazon has not launched any LEO Broadband Satellites like SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat but they already have a ground station network for controlling satellites, uploading and downloading data. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services, announces its availability in the video below:

The AWS Ground Station Network is a fully managed, ready-to-go ground station service, featuring:

  • No upfront cost.
  • Scaleability — you only pay for antenna time.
  • No long-term contract.
  • Self-service scheduling on a per-minute basis, that can be changed dynamically using their ground station console.
  • Secure transmission.
  • Low latency due to proximity to Amazon data centers.
  • Integration with EC2, S3 and other Amazon services and Amazon’s global network backbone.
  • Simultaneous up/download.
  • Support of most common communication frequencies.

 

The open question is will SpaceX, OneWeb and Telesat use this service?

How to See SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite ‘Train’ in the Night Sky

SpaceX’s new array of Starlink communication satellites has even the most jaded of satellite observers agog with excitement as they move across the sky.

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On Thursday evening (May 23), SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellites are in good health and are the first of a planned 12,000-satellite megaconstellation to provide internet access to people on Earth.

The satellites, which are now orbiting at approximately 273 miles (440 km) above the Earth, are putting on a spectacular show for ground observers as they move across the night sky.

Continue Reading HERE.