SpaceX successfully blasts broadband into space

SpaceX successfully blasts broadband into space

SpaceX, the company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has successfully deployed test satellites for its planned broadband network in space. A pair of experimental satellites – dubbed Tintin A and B – were launched on one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets yesterday.

A test signal – reported to be “Hello world” – will begin broadcasting from the satellites today (23 February).

To boldly go where no WAN has gone before

The planned network will consist of the Starlink constellation of 12,000 low-Earth-orbit satellites and ground receivers. It aims to provide gigabit ethernet connectivity to regions of no or low broadband connectivity.

In the US, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai wants SpaceX to become the first US organisation to provide satellite broadband services.

He said the network would solve one of the biggest headaches in technology today: poor internet connectivity in rural areas. “Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places, where fibre-optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” Pai said in a statement to Reuters.

Others have backed the move. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel claimed that a satellite internet service would “create extraordinary new opportunities”. She urged the FCC to move quickly to approve the entire scheme.

In space, no one can hear you stream

Musk said that the SpaceX project is about “rebuilding the internet in space”, creating a global communications system that’s much faster than existing connections.

He has previously said that the satellite business would help fund a future city on Mars. After the test satellites were deployed yesterday, Musk joked on Twitter that the internet password would be “martians”.

Yet while SpaceX may be the only company to blast a Tesla roadster into space, it isn’t the only one aiming to deploy satellites for broadband services. The FCC has also approved bids by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat, and is processing requests from other businesses.

In January, Telesat launched a satellite operated by the (state) Indian Space Research Organization. Its aim is to deliver “high-performing, cost-effective, fibre-like broadband anywhere in the world”, with tests to be conducted later this year.

Internet of Business says

These technologies could be a game changer for the broadband market and the IoT, which has long been hampered by lack of progress in rural connectivity. In the US alone, it is estimated that at least 14 million people lack mobile broadband.

With Musk’s network in space, similar ventures following it worldwide, and plans to make superfast broadband a right for all EU citizens, post-Brexit UK could be left with one of the worst broadband services in the world.

In the UK – where BT’s claim that 10Mbps is “superfast” has probably done more to set back the digital economy than any other factor – the government is investigating which technologies could provide cost-effective internet access to rural communities.

Many have been frustrated by the British government’s lack of progress, with some launching a range of independent projects that have a more earthbound perspective than Musk’s.

B4RN – a fibre-optic broadband network registered as a non-profit, community-benefit society – is one such project. It is run by a dedicated local team with the support of landowners and volunteers. It offers a 1,000Mbps FTTH (fibre to the home) connection, costing households £30 a month.

• This is an update on a previous story by Sooraj Shah, published on 16 February.

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