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Post at: Jul 12 2021

Internet through LEO satellites

 

Recent Context

  • A global communications company OneWeb, aims to deliver broadband satellite Internet around the world through its fleet of LEO satellites.
  • On May 28, 2021 OneWeb has successfully launched its next batch of 36 satellites from Russia. With the latest launch, OneWeb’s total in-orbit constellation stands at 218 satellites. These would be a part of OneWeb’s 648 LEO satellite fleet. 

‘Five to 50’ service Programme by OneWeb

  • OneWeb calls this programme the ‘Five to 50’ service of offering internet connectivity to all regions north of 50 degrees latitude.
  • Using LEO satellites OneWeb seeks to offer connectivity across the UK, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, the Arctic Seas and Canada. The company expects the service to be switched on by June 2021 with global services powered by 648 satellites available in 2022.

Other Similar Projects

  • Starlink, a venture of SpaceX, currently has 1,385 satellites in orbit and has already started beta testing in North America and initiating pre-orders in countries like India.
  • Project Kuiper: It is a project of Amazon announced in 2019.

Loon Project: Google launched its ‘Loon’ project in 2013, using high-altitude balloons to create an aerial wireless network.

What is the Internet from Satellites?

  • Satellite internet is wireless internet beamed down from satellites orbiting the Earth. It’s a lot different from land-based internet services like cable or DSL, which transmit data through wires. 

How does it work?

  • Satellite internet works by using radio waves to communicate with satellites orbiting the Earth. 
  • Data is sent and retrieved through a communication network that starts with your device and travels through your modem and satellite dish, out to a satellite in space, then back to Earth to ground stations known as network operations centers. 
  • And then, data travels back through this network out to space and then back to your satellite dish on Earth to deliver data on your device.

About LEO (Low Earth Orbit) Internet Technology

  • LEO satellites are positioned around 500km-2000km from earth, compared to stationary orbit satellites which are approximately 36,000km away. 
  • Latency, or the time needed for data to be sent and received, is contingent on proximity. 
  • As LEO satellites orbit closer to the earth, they are able to provide stronger signals and faster speeds than traditional fixed-satellite systems. 
  • Additionally, because signals travel faster through space than through fibre-optic cables, they also have the potential to rival if not exceed existing ground-based networks.
  • LEO satellites individual satellites can only make direct contact with a land transmitter for a short period of time thus requiring massive LEO satellite fleets and consequently, a significant capital investment.

 

Satellite Internet Market in India
 

  • Over 70% of rural Indians do not have access to the Internet, a problem that is particularly worrisome given the increasing need for digital integration in the fields of education and banking in light of the pandemic. 
  • Additionally, according to the ADB report referenced earlier, “telecom operators are already challenging the expected market entry of  LEO satellites,” fearing that they could cut into their profits. 
  • On the other hand, currently, Starlink and OneWeb aim to launch in India by 2022, with Amazon’s Project Kuiper also in talks to receive regulatory approval to operate in the country. 
  • Also, the acquisition of OneWeb by Bharati Limited already has a significant presence in India and parts of Africa.

Conclusion

  • LEO satellite internet is advancement in the technology of earlier geostationary satellite communications, but the cost of these faster and stronger internet projects is very high.
  • In Indian perspective, such higher cost technology will not be able to flourish even though the still 70 percent of the population is rural based and required faster internet. Therefore, more research and developments should be persuaded by governments itself to bring such technologies to its population.

Rishabh Srivastava
 


 


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