October 11, 2021
Suddenly, everyone wants to be in satellite broadband.
The FCC is considering an application from Boeing to launch and operate a satellite broadband constellation of 147 satellites. The FCC's acting chair, Jessica Rosenworcel, circulated the proposal for voting on Thursday.
The fact that Boeing has reached this stage suggests it is likely to be approved.
Generally speaking, the FCC does not advance proposals to a vote which do not have high odds for approval. Even more amazing is that Boeing filed this application way back in 2017.
Two years later, SpaceX presented objections to Boeing's plan, saying it raised "clear danger of harmful interference" to other systems, like its own.
Elon Musk's company called on the FCC to reject the plan or "at a minimum impose appropriate conditions to ensure that Boeing's operations do not harm" other operators.
So Boeing's constellation has lingered in "public comment" purgatory since.
SpaceX, for its part, has been met with luck in its trips to the FCC.
In April, the regulator approved a plan to deploy 2,824 Starlink satellites at a lower-Earth orbit than initially planned.
In return, SpaceX agreed to accept the satellites could encounter interference from other satellites within Amazon's $10 billion 3,236-satellite Kuiper Systems constellation.
Boeing's plan involves a V-band constellation, using low-Earth orbit and highly inclined geostationary orbit satellites.
Its network will focus on the US, including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
For Boeing, whose Boeing Satellite Systems is one of the largest satellite manufacturers in the world, the recent growth of the Internet-by-satellite market may have given it reason to push to dust off the shelved proposal.
Satellite broadband is getting increasingly crowded, with SpaceX reaching 1,735 satellites in its Starlink constellation. Starlink is due to exit beta and receive a full commercial launch this month.
Besides Amazon, OneWeb recently reached the halfway point, with 322 of its targeted 648 satellites in orbit after a launch in late September.
Airbus has a plan to use lasers to connect aircraft with the Internet, in a technology called UltraAir.
And Eutelsat has made a number of recent partnerships, including one with Deutsche Telekom to provide satellite broadband for rural Germany.
Want to know more about satellite? Check out our dedicated satellite content channel here on Light Reading.
A second partnership is with Nigeria's second-largest operator Globacom (operating as Glo), to provide high-speed broadband by satellite to underserved areas in Nigeria.
Both of these rely on its Eutelsat Konnect, in service through early this year, whose footprint covers Europe and Africa.
As well as rural and developing-world customers, eager clients for satellite broadband could include residents of countries that censor the Internet, like North Korea and Afghanistan.
Other customers include emergency services and military, farmers seeking to use IoT away from reliable data networks, and cruise ships.
Russia's government said last week it plans to cover the entire country with satellite broadband by 2030.
Elsewhere on the agenda of Rosenworcel's regulator, the FCC also has announced that on October 29, it will open up a $1.9 billion program to reimburse chiefly rural telecoms carriers for stripping out network equipment from Huawei and other Chinese companies.
But for those wondering if Boeing will now join the ranks of Starlink and OneWeb, watch this space.
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