China Joins Global Satellite Broadband Party

Robert Clark
News Analysis
Robert Clark
11/22/2019

China is getting into the global satellite broadband game, with its Hongyun fleet expected to start pilot services next year.

Hongyun, built and operated by a unit of state-owned China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp (CASIC), aims to launch 156 satellites into low earth orbit (LEO) for broadband connectivity to China and elsewhere.

The first trial satellite, launched last December, has successfully completed its testing of services including web, video communication and HD video on demand, according to the People's Daily.

Hongyun's prime purpose is to serve China's domestic market. According to official statistics, 854 million Chinese have broadband Internet access, which leaves another 541 million without access.

But, typical for secretive defense industry organizations like CASIC, details are sketchy. It has not released any technical specs or key financial data, and it has given no indication of how it will go to market or who its partners might be.

Four satellites will launch next year to offer pilot services and test out key apps, according to a speech from Zou Guangbao, the general manager of the Space Engineering Company, a CASIC company, at a conference last week.

He said the project was intended to be fully operational by 2025.

When it goes into service, the Hongyun fleet will "integrate communication, navigation and remote sensing," according to trade journal OF Week. It will deliver very low latency and a true global footprint in order to "meet the broadband needs of underdeveloped regions in China and internationally."

Aside from Hongyun, CASIC has a separate IoT satellite project underway, called Xingyun, which will put 80 communication satellites into LEO.


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It is aimed at servicing verticals such as long-distance shipping and resources firms operating in remote sites. Two pilot satellites will be launched later this year, Caixin Global reports.

CASIC is a $38 billion aerospace and weapons manufacturer that ranks 322 on the Fortune 500 -- not to be confused with another state-owned group, CASC, which operates China's main rocket fleet and is ranked 323 on the Fortune list.

Outside China, global satellite broadband is a busy space, aimed at connecting the 52% of the world's population that doesn't have Internet access.

The best-known project is Elon Musk's ambitious Starlink, which is planned to involve initially 12,000 and ultimately 42,000 satellites. Already 122 are in orbit, but the project has suddenly encountered opposition from astronomers who say the huge orbiting fleet makes ground-based astronomical observation impossible.

This might impact on other satellite projects as well. Aside from Hongyun, Amazon is building a fleet of 3,326 satellites and OneWeb is planning to put 1,980 in space.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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