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Alphabet's Loon Debuts New Telecom Buzzword: 'Temporospatial SDN'

Mike Dano
2/1/2019
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Yes, software-defined networking is changing the very fabric of the world's telecommunications systems. But let's face it: SDN is so yesterday.

Now, thanks to the Alphabet subsidiary and Google sibling Loon, we've got a brand-new take on that worn-out acronym: Temporospatial SDN.

What is that, you ask?

It's a "network brain," according to Loon's Salvatore Candido, head of the company's engineering. (And, more importantly for Loon, it's another avenue for the company to make money that's not necessarily tied to the company's plans to blast LTE services from balloons.)

As Candido writes, Temporospatial SDN "orchestrates Loon's connectivity efforts. … It consumes forecasts of the future state of everything in our network — the balloons, the ground stations, even the weather — and then structures connections and routes data to optimize connection speeds, minimize latency, and avoid network disruptions."

Boasts Candido: "The Loon SDN functions autonomously on a massive scale to ensure people below our balloons have a connection to the internet."

And how exactly is Loon going to make money from this technology and tongue-twisting acronym? The company announced this morning that Canadian satellite company Telesat is going to purchase its Temporospatial SDN technology in order to manage Telesat's planned deployment of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, slated for launch in 2022.


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But here's the most important question: Why should this matter to anyone in the telecom industry? All of this is important because Telesat's LEO network will run in Ka-band spectrum and will provide "capacity, speed, security, resiliency and low cost with latency that is equal to, or better than, the most advanced terrestrial networks," the company said.

But wait! There's more! The obligatory 5G angle: "Telesat LEO will help satisfy many of the world's most challenging communications requirements. It will accelerate 5G expansion, bridge the digital divide with fiber-like high speed services into rural and remote communities, and set new levels of performance for commercial and government connectivity on land and in key maritime and aeronautical broadband markets, which are among the fastest growing in today's satcom industry," the company said.

The bottom line here is that Loon, Telesat and a variety of other players are working to provide Internet services outside of standard wireless and wired delivery systems. Loon, for its part, sprung from Google's X moonshot division with a balloon-powered LTE service and is now working to conjure money out of six years' worth of R&D (and it recently scored some high-profile advisors to do just that) (See With New Advisors, Loon Tries to Get Serious.)

Telesat, meantime, is one of a number of space players looking to beam high-speed Internet services from a constellation of satellites that are lower in orbit than traditional telecom satellites. As The Verge points out, an LEO satellite is roughly 35 times closer to the Earth than a standard geostationary one, but roughly 50 to 100 times higher than a Loon balloon.

And that's where the new deal between Telesat and Loon comes into play: Telesat's planned constellation of LEO satellites will behave in the same way as Loon's balloons. Meaning, both networks consist of objects that are moving around. "Because of that motion, the network challenges present in Loon’s internet balloon system will also be present for future NGSO [non-geostationary orbit] communications satellites," Loon's Candido wrote. "The Loon SDN offers a promising solution to power these systems and create hybrid connectivity efforts to bring the reach of the internet even further."

Concluded Condido: "We're excited to leverage our expertise to assist in the development of this next generation of global communications satellite constellations. We see it as yet another opportunity for Loon to pursue our mission of connecting people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technology, in parallel to the commercial rollout of balloon-powered internet."

What remains unwritten, however, is whether the efforts by Loon, Telesat and other non-traditional telecom service providers will eventually create direct competition to the wireless, cable and telecom providers currently building out their own next-generation networks here on the ground.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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