Speed ​​race to take a position on the space internet – Sciences et Avenir

Satellite internet, already a commercial reality, will see competition intensify with the planned deployment of thousands of low-Earth orbiting craft, meant to bring broadband around the world without the cumbersome infrastructure on the ground.

Amazon took a decisive step on Tuesday in the deployment of its Kuiper constellation, with a budget of more than 10 billion dollars, by entrusting launches to three companies, including Arianespace.

The American online retail giant wants to strengthen its lucrative diversification into IT services and “provide low-latency broadband to a wide range of customers”, including those “working in places without reliable internet connection”.

“Satellite solutions are an essential complement to fibre,” remarks Arianespace’s Executive Chairman, Stéphane Israël. “There are situations in which fiber costs far too much compared to satellite connections, especially to reach the last inhabitant of a remote territory”.

In addition to the satellites themselves, Amazon is planning “small affordable client terminals”, in line with Echo smart speakers and Kindle e-readers.

The group promises to “provide a service at an affordable and accessible price for customers”, without further pricing details immediately.

Will Amazon’s strike force be able to make a difference in a sector where competition is fierce, and has sometimes taken a step ahead?

Internet by satellite already exists, as with HughesNet and ViaSat in the United States, while in Europe, among others, the subsidiary of Orange Nordnet uses the power of the Eutelsat Konnect satellite to offer broadband to its customers.

Consumer prices start at under 60 euros or 70 dollars per month, excluding terminal and antenna, and increase according to the bandwidth required.

Thales Alenia’s Eutelsat Konnect satellite in November 2019 in Cannes (AFP/Archives – YANN COATSALIOU)

These services pass through devices in geostationary orbit, at an altitude of more than 35,000 km, and even if they promise speeds three to five times higher than those of ADSL, this distance means that they cannot reach the fiber performance, and are handicapped by the delay between command and query execution. For this reason, HughesNet does not recommend its products to “gamers”.

Amazon’s future satellites, like those already in place by Starlink, a subsidiary of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, on the other hand, operate in low Earth orbit (OTB, LEO in English), or some 600 km.

– More vulnerable lower orbit –

“The advantage of LEO is that you reduce the latency period. By reducing the latency period, you maximize the uses”, remarks Mr. Israel.

On the other hand, being closer to Earth makes it necessary to send a lot of machines into orbit: more than 3,200 for Amazon, and thousands for Starlink, of which some 1,500 are already active.

Liftoff of a Soyuz rocket with 36 satellites from Britain's OneWeb on October 14, 2021 from the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia (Russian Space Agency Roscomos/AFP/Archives - Handout)
Liftoff of a Soyuz rocket with 36 satellites from Britain’s OneWeb on October 14, 2021 from the Vostochny cosmodrome in Russia (Russian Space Agency Roscomos/AFP/Archives – Handout)

For its part, the British OneWeb has launched 428 of the 648 satellites in its constellation, also in low orbit. It foresees an operational global internet at the end of 2022.

China, for its part, plans to deploy no less than 13,000 “Guowang” satellites, while Europe entered the game with an agreement in February to develop its own constellation of communications satellites.

Beyond the issues of sovereignty, this effervescence responds to a recent explosion of needs.

“Once considered a luxury, internet connectivity has become crucial for many people during the Covid-19 pandemic, as people were ordered to stay home and many practices went online,” noted the end of March. the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the United Nations.

“Bandwidth needs have soared around the world and we will never launch enough satellites to meet demand,” predicted a business executive met by AFP this week in Colorado Springs (United States), in sidelines of the largest trade fair for space technologies.

But this bandwidth marketer, speaking on condition of anonymity, also notes that low-orbiting craft are much more vulnerable than geostationary ones, as the recent loss of dozens of Starlinks after a thunderstorm showed. magnetic.

Consequently, “it will be necessary to constantly replace them”. Which isn’t bad news for pitchers.

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Speed ​​race to take a position on the space internet – Sciences et Avenir


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