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FCC Authorizes SpaceX to Provide Broadband Satellite Services (fcc.gov)
691 points by runesoerensen on March 29, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 321 comments

Here's one way I could see this killing Comcast, even in major cities:

As a homeowner, you by a small box which lives under the eave of your roof. The box has high-bandwidth, low-latency satellite uplink to SpaceX which gives you your internet.

The same box also has a terrestrial wireless repeater which serves the local neighborhood. Internet is available through your "tower" to neighbors and passers-by. You and SpaceX split the revenue from the traffic.

Basically, it's like a solar roof, but for internet. Photons/bits rain down from space onto your roof, and you sell the energy/bandwidth back to the local area for a price that amortizes your investment.

In areas very poorly served by internet, or with very poor broadband choices, there could be an especially strong financial incentive to be the guy on your block with a SpaceX repeater.

It would certainly scale a lot better than every house having an uplink-- customer connections are instead concentrated into micro-regional nodes. If there's a node in your area, you buy internet from them. If there's no node around, you invest in becoming one.

This could drastically decentralize and cheapen internet across the globe, if done right. It could be extremely disruptive to telecoms, and profitable for SpaceX.

this model already exists (google "WISP micro pop"). One of the primary problems with doing this at a large scale is that the bandwidth via satellite will not be that great, compared to what's possible with current terrestrial technology. the second is that the micro POP needs some kind of serious battery backup and a way to meet five nines or better reliability. you can't start hanging downstream customers off of the rooftop radio system on some random person's house unless you can be absolutely certain that the main uplink won't be unplugged by somebody's kid messing around with a power-over-ethernet injector underneath a desk.

one of the challenges with a wisp micro POP approach for current last mile FCC part 15 unlicensed band operators is that you need to (a) keep the equipment powered independently of whatever the POP-host customer might be messing around with inside of their house, and (b) provide a good sized UPS for it, and (c) ensure that the POP stays in place and contractually "survives" the original resident moving out, either new tenants or new homeowner. The (c) part requires a fairly long and ironclad commercial lease agreement that becomes attached to the property title, which is not something either ISPs or homeowners take lightly.

Maybe not so much for homeowners given the regulatory issues you describe, but combining this with solar panels and a backup battery could be a cool way to provide cell service to sparsely populated areas using satellite backhaul. I wonder how expensive that would be, it would be fantastic if it changed cost calculations sufficiently to make it financially viable.

Oh, and it’s a SpaceX/Tesla synergy, so Musk fans will be delighted ;)

Why 5-9s? I doubt any home connection has this, let alone the satellite.

Depends if it is data only or if you will be offering Voice Services. If you are going to offer Voice Service e911 regulations come into play on Residential Services. Most state require additional reliability as part of the service.

Thet is why my Fios Service has a Battery Backup for the voice circuits (even though I do not have them active)

An ISP serving from 5 to 30 downstream customers needs the micro pop to be up and online at least five nines, if not, something has gone terribly wrong.


I thought i read somewhere spacex is shooting for sub 30ms latency gig connections.... for < $100....

I think you're perhaps over-estimating how much bandwidth the system will have. Satellites are limited by power, earth ground-station uplink/downlink, the amount of spectrum they have for customer access in each spot-beam, etc.

Definitely for rural and less densely populated areas you could potentially get hundreds of Mbps per subscriber, but even for the crazy high number of satellites they're talking about in their constellation, at this point you're probably only going to get tens of megabits per subscriber in a densely populated city with any decent take-up rate...

Having bandwidth is paramount.

I've long opined network routers should have an "ad-hoc" mode (preferably on by default) whereby users can create a decentralized network, leveraging whatever long-range/high-bandwidth connection that can be accessed. With enough market penetration, the need for a direct service provider drops (from per-endpoint to per-region or even per-backbone; poor description of intent noted).

Xfiniti wifi has this pretty much. If you have an xfiniti account, you can connect to anyone's xfiniti wifi. That saved me from installing internet in a small commercial shop because the neighbor had xfiniti and we had an account.

It would be nice to see other providers do this, but a lot of tech users have reservations about other people using their routers.

Only if wireless would actually work, instead of fading in half after one wall and 10m distance. Also, imagine how crowded the limited 2.4GHz spectrum will become with all additional networks and connections.

Which is why we should not have done the "auctions" and made more of the lower frequency available nonexclusively.

How can satellites have low latency? The current average ping times seem to be around 900ms. Isn't this almost unusable?

SpaceX satellites will have a very low orbit. That’s also why they need so many.

Thanks. It looks like their orbit is around 800 miles compared to the usual 22,000. Expected latency seems to be around 25ms. Would satellites be used for first hop only? I image latency would quickly increase if used for multiple hops.

I imagine SpaceX could eventually perform the majority of routing in orbit, with packets returning to earth for the "last mile".

If they're successful, you could potentially see a high bandwidth SpaceX link on the roof of every major data center on the planet. They could be self-reliant for connections to every major online service.

If they're very successful, you could potentially see data providers like Netflix and CloudFlare joining SpaceX in orbit, most likely embedded into a future SpaceX satellite...

Space is just about the worst place to put a datacenter.

Price to orbit is thousands of dollars per kilo. Maintainability is zilch. And you have lots of cosmic rays flinging charged particles into your sensitive memory banks, flipping random bits. Also, heat management is very difficult.

I couldn't think of a worse place to put a datacenter than space. The bottom of the ocean would make more sense.

Netflix ISP CDN in space. Now that'd be something seriously cool.

It's funny; Netflix is one provider that doesn't need low latency so they would be fine with more traditional satellite orbits.

It wouldn't be a wise decision; what if they one day decide to enter into live programming (sports, news, etc.), where latency does matter?

Latency doesn't really matter for that either. Seeing a football play 5 seconds too late doesn't hurt anyone.

And existing streaming services already have a latency of several seconds. Twitch for example can have a delay from 5 to 20 seconds or more. Unless you're using WebRTC or similar technologies you won't see latencies below a second.

>Seeing a football play 5 seconds too late doesn't hurt anyone. Only if the audience do not know about it.

Once the constellation is built, you can do worldwide routing in orbit, which is actually more efficient latency-wise (at least for international hops) as you're not dealing with political and physical boundaries and light is passing through vacuum not fiber.

While this is possible, it is very challenging to actually achieve. Your latency numbers go to hell in a hurry if you're bouncing around satellites in orbit (eating a queuing delay on every hop). Iridium did this, but at the end of the day their mobile to mobile latency numbers are similar to Geo satellites.

SpaceX's plan is almost absurdly ambitious and there is a lot of skepticism in the comm satellite community that they will achieve their stated goals, especially at an affordable price point.

> especially at an affordable price point.

They don’t necessarily have to be affordable. You can be premium. They just have to be able to provide high speed internet and not be Comcast.

They might even make it realistic for more people to live out in rural areas where there either is no internet or what’s available is inhibitingly slow. That would be an interesting niche. People who choose to live out further than where telecomm companies will support have money to spend too. There’s pent up demand.

>there is a lot of skepticism in the comm satellite community that they will achieve their stated goals, especially at an affordable price point.

Not that I have any experience in that industry, but didn't the commercial rocket launch have the same set of opinions?

Satellite internet: a radio based internet connection (like cellular or wifi) but now instead of having the antenna/base station sitting on something it's hurtling around the earth at an unimaginable speed and a rather large distance from everything connected to it.

This might disrupt cellular and satellite ISPs and it will affect wired ISPs in the same sense that cellular affects them now which is all pretty exciting, but I don't think it will do anything beyond that.

TL;DR: insanely great for sensor networks, exciting for mobile internet (especially at sea), not quite irrelevant for home internet unless you live in the middle of nowhere like my parents.

Even for your parents you need to consider the cost. There are a number of satellite internet companies already providing service, but none of it is affordable to your typical rural customer. Often billing is still measured in megabytes, and denominated in full dollar amounts. Think $5/MB, if you buy a lot of data up front to keep the costs down.

Even a highly disruptive network that drops the cost by two orders of magnitude will still be expensive.

This is monumental - I claim every major advance in communication technology immediately precedes a major progress for society.

This will make the 'Internet' truly global and ubiquitous.

So excited for the developing world.

I'm from a third world country(Sri Lanka) and we already have really cheap LTE access, the connection I'm using right now(on my phone) gives me something like 1GB/1.5USD at average 4MBPS. What sucks is the speed and reliability, speed always fluctuate and even though most of the island is now covered by 3G, LTE is not a given. It has been improving a lot though because we have relatively good competition between mobile ISPs(something like 10 providers all island) and more than a quarter of the population has smartphones and demanding bandwidth.

I was visiting a friend in Sri Lanka in 2004 and he was checking cricket scores on his phone in the middle of the jungle. I still can’t get a signal the whole way between KC and Omaha. We Americans sometimes ave a distorted view of the world.

It's funny you mention that route, it's about 185 miles which is about how wide Sri Lanka is. Living in the US also gives us a distorted view of how large the typical nation is.

For reference for Americans that's about the distance from Providence to New York City. Or San Diego to Oxnard for left coasters. Drives that people wouldn't think anything about, and where you would probably have cell service for the vast majority of the drive.

Can confirm. My Cambodian wife’s family lives in the jungle and have 4G and she has perfect skype video calls with them. It costs them $1 a month and they get 5GB for that.

These developing countries are going all-in on mobile and it’s a good thing. They really don’t need these sattelites, but for Americans apparently it’s good for leveling the ISP playing field.

As someone who works through mobile phone based internet services in Africa and South Asia I agree that in many parts of the world, what you describe is happening, which is great. But there is a huge difference between countries. Just as an example:

Sri Lanka coverage: http://www.airtel.lk/coverage-map.html Bamako (capital of Mali) coverage: https://www.orange.com/en/Group/Orange-in-the-world/countrie...

The uncovered area of Mali is probably 5-8 times the size of Sri Lanka.

I'm from a third world country(Germany) and we don't have cheap LTE access. I pay more than 40€/month (about 50 USD) for 4GB of LTE and I got my contract for half of what it would normally cost. The reception is very poor and I barely ever see the LTE popping up on my phone, most times it's just 3G. And that's in the ex-capitol of Germany. If I visit my parents, which live barely a 45 minute drive outside of the city, I got no phone reception at all (not even emergency calls). My provider (Vodafone) claims to have the best coverage of Germany. Wired internet is very spotty, too. There are still a lot of parts within the cities, where you barely get a downstream of 1 Mbit/s. So yes, when I say that Germany is a "third world country", I mean it (at least regarding the internet coverage). I'm a web developer (my wife is an admin) and when we searched for a new home, we've had to turn down a lot of offers, because the houses/flats didn't have a proper internet connection. Now we're getting our internet though cable but because the cables are to old, we can't get TV over cable at the same time.

Sorry, needed to get that out. I'm a little frustrated here, because I have been in several poor countries (Africa, Thailand, Moldowa) and they've all had a way better internet coverage than Germany.

Fellow German here. I know this issues. But I think the Bayerns strategy worked. They subsidied all the fiber from Telekom, and now we have in the south of Bayern incredible internet speeds at acceptable price : 110Mbit/35Mbit for about 40 euros. I can double that for extra 10 euros.

LTE is everywhere and in my home town I get 20Mbs/5Mbs rates over Vodafone. There is only one place, literally in the middle of a dense forest ( part of a Wandertour ) where there is no signal at all. The highways are well covered, I normally skype and other VoIP apps work flawless.

So while we are talking about Germany, let's not forget this is a federal state and each state can individually influence the development. Not sure if USA is the same.

I feel your pain. Germany is a bit of an anomaly in the 'West'. Even mobile contracts are stupidly hard to get out of.

I lived in Germany for about 5 years. Half of that the last 300m of connection to my house were over the thinnest legally allowable copper wire. 3.2mbps max speed down on a very very good day (usually sub 2mbps), about a tenth or slightly more up.

My in-laws previous house was semi-detached and the neighbours house have fiber, but theirs didn't. Same actual building but KabelDeutschland wouldn't run an extension just 2 meters to the wall on my in-laws actual house.

And I mean 'won't' not "couldn't". They scoped the cost and agreed to pay for it to be done, even at the overinflated price, and KD actually said they didn't want to do it.

>I'm from a third world country(Germany)

I was under the impression that "third world" was supposed to be defined as "a country that was not on the axis or allied side during all of World War 2." Your use of the term directly contradicts this definition.

I was under the impression that it was irony. ;)

Also it was the Cold War, not WWII. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_World

>The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either NATO or the Communist Bloc.

my sister lives in germany and i go there sometimes, internet in germany is just so weird, thank god for no roaming in eu now, so i can at least use my sim there.

I don’t know if I would call that cheap. Right now I consume 300GB per month on aversge, and that’s just my home use. I get 150Mbps for $98 per month. St your rates, that 300GB would cost $450 per month, though I do realize I would consume less on a slower connection.

He is talking about the mobile LTE price and there is an FTTH package at 100mbps for 425GB(170 peak & 255 off peak) for about $58 per month.

Sri Lanka is only the 51st "best country in the world" according to US News[1]. That's really not bad and not really 3rd world at this point.

[1] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/sri-lanka

The term third world is often used incorrectly. It was created during the cold war to refer to countries that we're not in alliance with one of the dominant super powers (USA, USSR). [1]

People often use when they want to say "backwards" countries.

The correct term is developing world, which just means rapidly improving and doesn't cloudy the convo with connotations about the cold war.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_World

The term is not being used incorrectly.

The primary definition is now "underdeveloped countries" - because language changes over time.


Sorry, but the term "third world" has long been co-opted like "hacker".

That list is a bit weird though (looking at the top 10 overall)

The list looks about right. What do you find weird?

It has gotten considerably faster in last few years. I'm using SLT 4G with an average speed of 30Mbps.

It doesn’t seem cheap given the 1GB limit. With some YouTube videos you are over 1GB.

Agreed. While not as profound as bringing access to the developing world, this will also be a major win for people looking to live alternative lifestyles, i.e. perpetual traveling, van life etc, where keeping a consistent internet connection is the one thing holding many back.

You can get decent 4G internet plans already in most parts of the world. While this will have better coverage of rural areas, mobile internet is very adequate for the van lifestyle.

That really depends on how much bandwidth you need. Several aspects of remote working like video conferencing large file transfers are too demanding for 4G in terms of bandwidth and transfer caps.

Satellite is worse, so if you can't get it done with 4G you won't be doing it with satellite.

This new tech is going to be better than 4G

It won't be as good as you think. This one is going right next to the Model 3 in Elon's book of things he'll technically deliver but will progressively dial back the claims before and after delivery.

Even if he delivers half of the bandwidth he promised for twice the cost that he quoted, it's still a far better option in many places. I have two ISPs where I live. One only goes up to 12Mbps/1Mbps. The other is a gigabit connection, but it's $200/mo and has a substantial amount of downtime.

Wouldn't the latency of a sat connection interfere with something real-time like video conferencing?

Current internet satellites with a geosynchronous orbit are about 35,000km above the surface. These Low Earth Orbit satellites will be less than 2,000km above ground, and as low as 300km above. This difference should have a big impact on the current latency number of satellite communication.


Edit: Please note that the data packets make a two way trip from the satellite. Many network communications assume a lot of two way communication from client and server, so this decrease in distance should have a big impact.

The best you can physically do is about 2 ms more lag than the fastest ground based system, and that's assuming you're only adding in the transit time from ground station -> satellite -> user.

So it possibly won't be a killer for video conferencing, but keep in mind that the USAF's current system for drone video has 2 seconds of one-way lag. There's three orders of magnitude between what we're currently doing and the physical limit.

SpaceX's system will undoubtedly be better than what is in use today, but even with two orders of magnitude improvement (a HUGE improvement) you're looking at adding 20 ms of lag on top of what you'd already have.

These are very low orbit satellites, not geosynchronous ones. 200 miles, instead of 36,000. Should be much better latency

I think you have your distances wrong. Geosynchronous orbit is 36,000km not miles.

LEO is a range between 300km - 2000km. I suspect the satellites will be on the higher range to reduce atmospheric drag. The IIS has a 400km (250 miles) orbit and it's orbit decays at 2km/month without correction maneuvers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geostationary_orbit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Space_Station https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low_Earth_orbit

That's the crazy part, he didn't have his distances wrong. Part of the constellation is planned for an orbit of 340 km which is ~211 miles so close enough. The satellites are only intended to have an operational lifespan of 5 to 7 years. That's not a typo, that also means that given the massive size of the constellation that SpaceX will need to average one launch a month for StarLink with 105 satellites on it. If one of the lower orbit satellites goes dead, without actively maintaining the orbit it'll decay fast enough that it'll passively deorbit itself without risk of it just becoming a derelict satellite for centuries.

His Leo distance was correct, but his geo distance is in the wrong unit of measurement.

You should read some RV forums for the hoops they need to jump through to get coverage, and deal with data caps

I'm doing it (mobile internet, not van life). The conversations on RV forums deal with stuff like unlimited data in the middle of Wyoming for less money, or how to get a SIM card and plan from a connected car device that AT&T discontinued because RVers were using for other than it's intended purpose.

What the RVers are too cheap to do is pay for the product they want. Go to unlimitedville.com, pay $200 a month, and you have unlimited LTE in every city you travel to. If you want the best mobile internet you have to pay for it.

T-Mobile (or their wholly owned metroPCS MVNO which rides the same network) has plans which are "unlimited" up to about 50GB/month of usage, for a lot less than $200/mo... It's not a lot, but can be stretched pretty far if you're willing to refrain from watching a lot of youtube and netflix video. It used to have a 22GB soft-cap limit after which it rate limited to 128kbps x 128 kbps, they recently changed it to 50.

Seriously? 200$/month and you have unlimited data only in US? It seems like a really crap offer to me. I pay 17£/month and I have unlimited data in a lot of countries in the world, including US. Sadly my awesome plan got discontinued and now it’s not possible to buy it anymore.

17£/mo is sustainable when your users are just scrolling through Facebook and streaming Spotify. When they're all using it as their primary data connection and watching a few hours of HD Netflix a night, you need to charge more.

Unlimited mobile data went away or got expensive in most places right around the time that smartphones gained the ability to act as wifi access points.

That doesn't make any sense. An AP is just an AP, it has no internet connection. How does the smartphone get internet connection? With UMTS/LTE or similar. So you still need a data plan (or a combination with it).

The point is that without a way to tether your phone to a 'real computer', you have to be actively trying to use more than a couple of GB of data per month, so "unlimited" really means "up to maybe 5GB". While tethering was possible beforehand, it became much easier when wifi tethering was added to Android. This let anyone push a button and use their 3G / 4G data connection for torrenting, streaming and other such heavy duty usage, and suddenly "unlimited" phone plans were seeing hundreds of GB per month.

These days you can easily consume tons of HD video directly to your phone, even without tethering. So the situation has changed yet again.

"Incidentally", I suspect your plan was discontinued right about the time the number of competitors in the UK mobile market dropped from four to three. When 3 bought O2. And right about the peak of the 4g rollout. The same happened to my £13 plan. I'm not sure which of the above was the larger factor, or whether it was because usage patterns (tethering, Netflix) did in fact make these plans unsustainable. Interestingly, 3 also had their "one" plan (IIRC) which specifically allowed tethering, with unlimited data, for ~£20/mo.

Also, for completeness, it's probably worth mentioning the conditions of your unlimited data roaming were bandwidth limits, and a maximum trip duration of thirty days. Though I know people who considerably exceeded that duration in Europe and weren't noticeably restricted or penalised. Of course it's moot now (yay!- I write this message from Madrid airport..).

From their site:

> Data abusers are those who purposefully push limits or conduct known illegal activity like torrenting etc. If you consistently burn through a half terabyte or more a month (that’s over 500 GBs!), that is not normal internet usage and you could be asked to split your usage between two accounts or the service could be terminated by certain carriers.

Why would you pay this much just to get what's basically a high FUP plan?

I would call it normal internet usage (have about 500GB-1000GB traffic per month, with LTE)

But then why not just sell 500 GB packages? So everyone knows what they will get.

500 is effectively unlimited compared to the 22 GB that AT&T throttles you at on their native plans.

My Cox internet also had a 500 GB warning.

Plus, Netflix HD streaming is about 3GB per hour. You can stream a two hour movie every night and only use 180 GB per month. I've never gotten to 500 GB, so it's effectively unlimited.

If it's good enough for you, I'm glad. But imagine someone that replaces a TV on in the background with an internet stream. Now 2 hours is 6 or 10. Then multiply that by multiple people in a household.

It doesn't take abusive behavior to hit a limit like that on a home connection. If you took a 2007-era 250GB cap, and kept it price-constant, you'd be looking at something like 20TB caps these days.

Imagine living on a cruise ship though!

Imagine traveling on planes all the time!

> live alternative lifestyles

I know exactly the meaning that you intend here, but at first I thought "how exactly is this going to be beneficial for polyamorous triads of hemp farmers who attend burning man every year?"

Is that not covered under perpetual traveling and van life?

Well they'll have good internet, for starters.

I've just driven through 21 countries in West Africa. [1]

Every single country has 3G, a few have 4G. Often the speeds were faster than what I get in Canada.

A pre-paid SIM costs $1, data is anything from $1-$10/GB in a pre-paid bundle. So I think the biggest difference the SpaceX Constellation can make is price.

A huge percentage of the population in virtually every dirt street town has a smartphone with facebook and whatsapp.

[1] theroadchoseme.com

This service could be aimed at "Internet third world" countries like US or UK.

If you really want to get excited for the developing world - research the number of new submarine fiber cables that have connected coastal cities in many major African nations in the time frame from 2004 to 2018.

That's a lot of capacity. Now a big part of the problem is outdated regulatory regimes and government-controlled telecoms that are keeping prices artificially high, and keeping out competition in the 4G/LTE market and ISP market.

As some who sells B2B SaaS in Africa (among other places): There is no question that a lot is happening, but there are huge swats of countryside in many parts of Africa that are not covered yet. The question is, who gets there first, and at what price.

I don't see how corporations meddling with the government can produce any good for the developing world, apart from generating profit for themselves masked as charity. Digital natives will be offered a walled garden, terrorcorp version of "the internet" as we know it (e.g. Facebook meddling with Albanian government).

Decentralized alternatives, like Freifunk, are the best option in my opinion.

Bare in mind that Space X doesn't really care about trying to control the internet - their focus is making money from putting stuff in space so they can build the BFR.

So a better comparison as others have said is comcast and mobile broadband providers. The more competition the better as far as I'm concerned.

not just the developing world. there are large swaths of the US without decent broadband either. Also large areas with no internet whatsoever beyond satellite. (and I mean really shitty really expensive satellite)

ubiquitous internet will make remote weather stations, drones and a multitude of other things far more cost effective or possible. (especially here in Alaska)

ACS and GCI have recently spent a great deal of (partly subsidized) money to build high capacity point to point microwave to reach a number of fly-in type communities:



The goal for these is to build network bridges to alaskan terrestrial fiber, getting to Fairbanks and/or Anchorage, from where connections are possible into Alaska's subsea fiber cables to WA state and the Seattle area.

Implemented properly this can be significantly faster than satellite, bringing a 1 to 2 Gbps full duplex connection to each town with licensed microwave bands. From the perspective of ACS and GCI and similar operators, it can pay for itself pretty quickly because they can stop paying monthly-recurring geostationary satellite transponder kHz leases.

I would like to know how this technology will affect the great firewall of China, does anyone have any ideas?

It will not affect it in any way. They have released their plans for Starlink and there will be a "blackout" zone over China, so China doesn't shoot down their satellites. In 2007, China shot down FY-1C as a test of a kinetic kill vehicle (leaving tons of high speed space debris). Unless they receive approval from China to broadcast, they won't over China.

Source: http://www.businessinsider.com/spacex-internet-satellite-con...

China won't shoot down commercial satellites, they'll just either jam the signal, or block ownership of the ground terminals. Shooting down satellites is very expensive, and would cause an incredible hue and cry internationally. It's one thing to shoot down one of your own defunct satellites, quite another thing to shoot down someone else's.

China might or might not shoot down the satellites, but the FCC would absolutely not have authorized the satellite network had SpaceX been so blatantly antagonistic towards China as to provide service there.

> Shooting down satellites is very expensive

It's less expensive than launching satellites, and the Chinese goverment has enough money to do it if they want.

> It's less expensive than launching satellites

I doubt it, since a single Falcon Heavy launch would carry dozens of Starlink satellites but the existing anti-satellite technology can only hit one at a time. Keep in mind they have said the final constellation will be 12,000 satellites!

edit: and BFR could theoretically carry 300 when it is operational. https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/25525/how-many-spa...

I'm not sure that it is cheaper, but I am sure there is a cheaper way to shoot something down than to keep it up. Idon't know if the tech and economics are correct, but the physics says it should be.

Moving something to the same altitude as Leo requires much less energy than moving something to Leo. Rockets don't fire straight up because the need their momentum to be at an angle. In addition, the payload of a communication satellite is more expensive than the payload required to throw it either disable the satellite or put it into a declining orbit.

Maybe Elon's rockets are just so cheap he can make it up in margin, but we are really talking about we aren't talking about marginal amount of difficulty difference, but an entire order of magnitude.

Yeah I completely agree it could be done cheaper because physics, my comment was about the current economics.

I'm not sure how efficient China's military industrial complex is, but I wouldn't trust the US's military to be able to build a weapon system that could destroy SpaceX satellite's more efficiently than SpaceX can launch them, haha.

> It's less expensive than launching satellites

Are you sure? If China knocks out one of ours, we’ll knock out at least one of theirs. We’ll also likely implement a suite of sanctions. Shooting down a satellite is an act of war.

Why am I ever surprised at the constant expansion of justifications for war?

Wars kill lots of people. You knew that, right?

>If China knocks out one of ours, we’ll knock out at least one of theirs.

No, we won’t. We’ll impose several decades of meaningless tariffs and embargoes with tons of loopholes so it looks like we’re doing something until everyone forgets what everyone was mad about in the first place.

The linked source says nothing about a "blackout zone" over China. More likely SpaceX won't sell ground receivers in mainland China and/or the PRC will simply ban Starlink receivers.

> shot down FY-1C as a test of a kinetic kill vehicle (leaving tons of high speed space debris)

Do you have more info on this? Or anyone?

That's so crass. It's plain indefensible. I really want to know more.

edit: Thanks for the links.

Googling the phrase "China shot down FY-1C" came up with a bunch of stuff, the first of which was the wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_mi...

Why is it indefensible to defend your nation’s sovereignty. Many nations have google maps blur out their military bases for example.

I’m sure lots of North Americans wouldn’t want Chinese satellites overhead for concern of privacy.

I mean, generating tons of space junk is not cool. But what else are you going to do if others are lurking on your airspace?

It is going to be shift is policy though. We are going to need to update space law.

> I’m sure lots of North Americans wouldn’t want Chinese satellites overhead for concern of privacy.

Umm, there are of course Chinese satellites overhead and they have excellent imagery of all of our military bases. As we do for theirs (and every other country!). Orbits aren't very friendly to avoiding airspace.

I mean specifically generating high-speed shrapnel in orbit. That's going to have implications for a very long time.

If there is a willingness to do it once, it tests the barrier of what's acceptable.

It's bad for everyone—present, and future.

National sovereignty over airspace does not extend into orbit. Otherwise nearly every earth science satellite in polar orbit would be in violation of international law.

shooting down shit and generating orbital debris in polar orbits is incredibly dangerous to the commons that is low earth orbit, generally.

accidental example:


no nation-state wants to start the game of shooting down another's satellite, either military or commercial, because everything up there is so vulnerable. it would open china to retaliatory strikes taking down their own polar orbit LEO, inclined LEO (35-45 degree) molnia, MEO and GEO satellites. satellites are fragile things and can be killed with one 200g chunk of tungsten at a closing velocity of 18,000 km/h.

Why is a Chinese sattelite less private than a sheriffs helicopter, private imaging plane running grids or an American satellite? Or my neighbors drone?

Your defining 'space' as airspace is odd also

How far does "airspace" extend? I can see that for low orbit, but geostationary?

The SpaceX satellites won’t be in GTO, they will be in LEO, around 600 miles altitude. Well within kill range for ballistic missiles.

If China shoots down a SpaceX satellite, that is an act of war against the United States. China wouldn’t risk it. This is a great opportunity to break the great firewall and finally give the Chinese people access to unfiltered information.

Which might be seen as a provocation by the Chinese Government of the US to destabilize it's citizens.

Not illegal under international law. We did this all the time to the Soviets. This is what Voice of America does today.

China absolutely will. And if SpaceX were to beam internet over North Korea, then NK will shoot it down too.

Your comment implies they could successfully destroy said satellite. It might be a better distraction to tell NK there's one overhead, "leak" it's orbit, position, etc. and watch the fireworks month over month.

I know NK has made some major advancements in their missile capabilities but shooting down a satellite is pretty advanced stuff... any indications that they're capable of doing what you claim they would do?

> If China shoots down a SpaceX satellite, that is an act of war against the United States.

These are not government satellites and china owns the airwaves over their nation. I highly doubt the US government would retaliate whatsoever against China if they shot down a satellite that illegally interacted with their airspace.

> China wouldn’t risk it. This is a great opportunity to break the great firewall and finally give the Chinese people access to unfiltered information.

Take this with a grain of salt since this is mostly based on what I have heard hearsay, but they can jam the signals and/or monitor who transmits back and go after the citizens using said signal (and china is not a country where you want to poke the government). I doubt this will have any effect on the great firewall.

Airspace extends 12 miles. Satellites are governed by space law. It would be the same as sinking a commercial American ship in international waters.

Not much effect. The Chinese government will prohibit import and possession of the ground terminals. Smugglers will bring in a few but not enough to really bypass the Great Firewall for many people.

>bring in a few

Bring in a few from where? Where do you think these devices will be manufactured anyway? ;)


Also, even if they were manufactured in the US, China is literally the best country to reverse-engineer electronics and produce knockoffs ;).

That said, AFAIK those satellites aren't meant to be dumb routers/repeaters - so China might just politically/economically pressure US to tell SpaceX to pretty-please don't service connections to/from China.

Probably the US.

If you can get a 1Gbps up-link and VPN within China that's going to be harder to track down and could service a lot of people.

However, I suspect SpaceX will however allow China to monitor/limit connections. Further, China has a lot more power to crack down on purely internal operations would deter many.

The problem is twofold from a China perspective:

a) the rooftop CPE needs to be reasonably large and have high gain to be used effectively, and needs clear unobstructed line of sight to as much of the sky and horizon as possible.


b) It needs to transmit, it will transmit in very known frequency ranges, and the chinese authorities have plenty of budget to buy portable spectrum analyzers, horn antennas and to reach people how to use them. It only takes a couple of hours maximum to reach somebody how to use a portable spectrum analyzer to physically locate and identify transmitters in almost any band.

A) A thin tarp or pant etc could obscure the shape without blocking radio waves.

B) These things need to transmit up, so you can reasonably block most signals in other directions. Aircraft would work, but again not cheap.

The real issue is more on the human side and network monitoring. Lots of encrypted network traffic to a ransom location would be suspect.

PS: For once tinfoil might actually be useful vs government spying :)

A) all radome materials have some degree of loss. Ideally you want no loss at all. The path loss in higher than 10GHz frequencies to LEO is already extreme.

B) not just up but to the sides and toward the horizon as well. This will be a non moving phased array antenna that can talk to two LEO satellites moving across the sky at the same time. I predict that any reasonable amount of blockage to the sides will not be a good idea for their network architecture.

C) all Tx have some sort of sidelobes and nothing has a perfect f/b ratio. Will still be detectable by spectrum analyzers from the side.

A) 1% signal attenuation is not going to kill this and that's plenty to work with.

B) Depends on how many satellites are in the constellation. Ideally you want a lot of them as there is vastly more atmosphere the lower your angle to the horizon.

C) detectable at say 50 feet sure, but a signal you can detect from 10+ miles in a van doing 60mph without a lot of false positives is another story.

the threat model for hiding from spectrum analyzers is not 10+ miles in a van doing 60 mph. With the resources of a nation-state at the disposal of the spectrum analyzer operators (Iran, China, Ethiopia) it will look more like a person walking around a neighborhood with a portable spectrum analyzer and horn antenna. Multiply by however many people are needed to canvass a metro area in a reasonable amount of time.

With the resources of China, spending $15,000 per spectrum analyzer kit x 8 kits, plus training, is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money and effort they are currently spending on IP cameras that feed into facial recognition systems, etc.

I was more thinking a FSO link ~2km into the middle of nowhere vs having one of those sitting in someone's house. But directional wifi is probably safer as it's also not going to look strange to a spectrum analyzer.

However, if you want to catch individual usage in urban areas, with guys on for that's going to easily be into the 10's of of billions as users don't need to keep them on 24/7. AKA within the capability of nation states, but not without significant effort.

> Aircraft would work, but again not cheap.

s/Aircraft/Drone/. Now it's cheap.

And those people who would be interested in smuggled ground terminals will already be using VPNs. Maybe this will be more convienient and possibly somewhat safer, but not it won't be a game-changer for even a minority (at least not in the firewall problem, general internet connectivity in rural China is another issue)

Probably not really a factor. Countries were the government wants to control the Internet or communications in general will outlaw the possession of sat-com equipment if they can't get adequate control over it through some other means.

Just like India does.

Can you elaborate ?

I can, basically anything that transmits needs an indian license from their version of the FCC. No license, it might get taken away by men with guns. You can't even bring a handheld Iridium satellite phone into India without a license. It is not rigorously enforced, because the Indian version of the FCC is certainly not fitted out with Sprinter vans equipped with $60,000 of spectrum analyzers, but it is occasionally enforced. The more traffic you move or the more significant your thing becomes in your local area's telecom infrastructure, the more likely it is to be noticed.

Doubt it. I was downloading Linux distros among various other things in a developing country in the 90s. This might be useful for the most isolated areas.

The developing world needs fiber instead of satellite. This isn't going to change much over their current LTE speeds. This type of satellite internet is far too expensive far far too limited bandwidth to be useful for them. The energy cost of RF broadband is so much higher than fiber.

Really, the audience for this are ships and other remote regions, not anyplace that has a road going to it.

Nah, You’re thinking of different constellations like OneWeb. This constellation is being way overbuilt by SpaceX. They want gigabit speeds and way cheaper data than LTE. They want to compete with fiber (at least in non-super-dense areas). From Spacex’s perspective, they’re happy to build it so large that it only breaks even (even though I think it’ll do better than that) because it gives them something to launch on their huge, fully reusable rocket that they’re building.

Nah, they can want infinite speeds, but they're only going to get a few megabits of speed.

It will be much slower than LTE, since the satellites are going to be about 100 miles away. LTE towers are only a few miles away. How do you expect it to have higher bandwidth than LTE with communications a hundred miles away? It doesn't matter that they're putting in 4000 satellites, since those satellites are still 100 miles away from the terminal.

Again, I want everyone to be clear: This is going to be MUCH slower and more expensive than LTE.

Like Iridium, this project is only useful for remote areas that can't be reached by roads. Very few people will benefit from this project. It won't change society.

This is another one of Elon Musk's garbage projects that doesn't really advance the state-of-the-art.

Latency and bandwidth are two separate things, and the distance to an LTE tower has approximately nothing to do with latency to the server you’re connecting to, which btw is likely much further away than 100 miles. Now factor in that light moves 50% faster in air or vacuum than it does in fibre optic cables. The satellites are also going to be at a height of around 1000km (600 miles). But I t takes light only about 3.3ms to travel that distance. 30ms latency end-to-end should be realistically achievable this way. That’s more than a good residential connection but good enough for just about any application other than latency-sensitive multiplayer games.

There’s valid skepticism of SpaceX’s plan, but none of your points are among it.

This is a discussion about low bandwidth. Why are you talking about latency?

Because otherwise your comment makes no sense. You can already get satellite data rates (100Mbps on a home plan) equal to or greater than LTE, from ~100 times further (36,000 km altitude Geosynchronous orbit) and the distance itself does not fundamentally limit the speed, but the latency there is terrible and is fundamentally limited. LEO satellite constellations address that.

SpaceX's particularly large constellation (allowing streaming from multiple satellites at a time and with large phased array antennae on both ends) will allow much higher bandwidth than existing satellite internet systems, but the biggest deal about these LEO satellite constellations over GSO satellites is the far lower latency.

How? Because both the satellites and the receivers will use large phased array (beam forming) antennas with hundreds to thousands of elements unlike LTE. No one will have deployed phased arrays to users at the scale of this constellation, therefore SpaceX has invested a lot in phased-array/beamforming technology.

“Another one of Elon Musk’s garbage projects that doesn’t really advance the state-of-the-art.”

Okay, so you’re just trolling, then. Never mind.

OK but now you've limited your applications to non-mobile devices, unlike LTE.

And if they're targeting this for cellular base-stations, they're now on the hook to provide an even larger aggregate bandwidth to share among hundreds or thousands of local users per tower.

Correct, the entire point of SpaceX's constellation is non-mobile. Always has been.


Major advances in communication technology also precede major military upsets. Only the victors labelled those as progress.

Here are some comms milestones. How does this correlate with any level of causation to major millitary upsets.


A few examples?

Something one of my history teachers used to go on about. I’m not sure I can do him justice now that I’m thinking about it. Big military upsets due to superior intel. Sometimes by new means. I’m wondering now if he was paraphrasing Napoleon (the secret of war lies in the communications).

Roman roads, pigeons, semaphore, radio, all used to project military power in profound and overwhelming ways. Radar, sonar (if you’re willing to stretch the definition a little). CDMA (invented by Hedy Lamarr during WWII for torpedos, but not used until the Cuban missile crisis). Cryptanalysis to defeat the Germans. ARPAnet was built to be literally bomb proof.

Your earlier post seems to intimate that technological leaps like this precede the start of wars, but your follow up comment intimates that technological leaps like this help win wars, and now I'm not sure I'm exactly following which one is supposed to be your central point to this.

Could you clarify this and help me understand your viewpoint a bit better?

Honestly my first reply was a moment of progress fatigue. Tech fatigue really. Tech is amoral. Tech means change, but change doesn’t mean progress.

I’ve been watching tech for a long time and we tell ourselves a lot of half truths. My good friend showed me a private demo of the first web browser that supported images. I was around people who wanted to change the world and it was all thrilling. But I can still recall conversations about how we were all going to slay Big Brother, but instead we made him stronger than ever. It’s really painful to look at your role in that. I’d bet money that half of them still don’t. And that was why I started my post with “careful”. War is just a conterexample. Especially if you have sympathy for the losing side.

Tech will only be good if you exert yourself toward making it so. Here we are with three threads a day talking about how Facebook used their technology for negligence or evil depending on your point of view.

It's still going to be more expensive than wired Internet. In the developing world where PTTs impose crazy prices they will impose those costs on top of whatever SpaceX charges.

No chance it's going to be more expensive than comparable wired - fiber or cable - Internet.

You're leaving out the vast cost to build & maintain the wired infrastructure. Tax payers & consumers in those developing nations have to pay for that. That cost has to be included with the monthly fees to do a serious comparison.

The cost of building wired infrastructure has an inverse relationship with population density. This might be more expensive than wired internet in dense cities. The metal of city buildings and the high density of transmitters might make the performance lower in cities than suburban/rural areas.

The Manhattan and Tokyo speed tests are more important to me personally than The Grand Canyon and Indian Ocean speed test.

A key strength of the proposed network is its ubiquity, which makes it most competitive in un(der)served markets than in high-density cities. They can't just hover more satellites over Tokyo, so the service would inevitably become fully loaded there.

>This will make the 'Internet' truly global and ubiquitous...

So does it makes the exploitation that comes with it...

Providing internet to the unmotivated masses only results in their exploitation..not in their empowerment.

Your claim seems too broad to be justifiable.

The idea is that most of the people (think around 99.5 percentage) of the people ll be hooked to the insta-gratification stuff provided by the internet, ending up perpetually distracted, manipulated, with new insecurities instilled and existing ones blown up, ad fed human beings...

So as I said again, it ll result in the exploitation of 99.5 percentage and may be empower the rest to attempt something that was impossible before...

It's a sad state of affairs if this FCC approval is a major advance in communication technology.

As many of us learned from the unauthorized Swarm Technologies satellites the other week, the FCC approve satellite launches. So this is effectively SpaceX getting the final sign-off they need to launch this service - I think that can count as an advance. I think there are a lot of arguments to be made about the world-changing nature of this project but I'm not sure FCC approval is the best one to downplay.

Did you notice the part of the article that talked about this being a conditional approval, not the final one?

99.9% of the time FCC conditional approvals for new tech will eventually convert into final approval. It's just a procedural thing.

I dont think parent meant that the FCC approval itself is what should be celebrated, but rather that the technology needed FCC approval to move forward, and every step closer is something to celebrate

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government created by statute (47 U.S.C. § 151 and 47 U.S.C. § 154) to regulate interstate communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The FCC works towards six goals in the areas of broadband, competition, the spectrum, the media, public safety and homeland security, and modernizing itself. [0]

Lots of that communication moves through electromagnetic radiation which practically anyone anywhere can use/interfere with. This is a textbook case of a common good which if unmanaged would be effectively destroyed due to the tragedy of the commons [1].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Communications_Commiss...

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

FCC was formed to discourage competition in telecom, and that is mostly what it has done for over 80 years.

Regulation can enhance confidence and breed investment interest.

People aren't perfect, and some are terrible, so it makes sense to have government. However, it is reasonable to be critical of government removing your rights to work. Actually, it is a civil duty. I am not sure where the line should be drawn, but it has certainly gone too far. Should you need gov approval to download an IDE, or sell an app? What about to braid hair?[1]

I would bet that as soon as government begins infringing on the rights to work which affect HN usere, suddenly everyone here would be a civil libertarian.


You don't own the radio spectrum. Neither do I. No one individual does. We can license it, but since there's such a great opportunity for harm, it's controlled by the government.

You're against the government deciding on "removing your right to work", but the alternative is your neighbor or your competitor making that decision for you and overloading "your" spectrum. And you have no recourse to complain, all you can do is push more power, which impacts more people. And your competitor pushes more power, so you push more power and now no one gets to use it.

Libertarian ideas always seem to end in a corporate power struggle while everyone else gets locked out. That doesn't sound like a good outcome to me.

Yea, if you see the other comment I replied to, I tried to make it more clear that this case is obviously to the benefit of everyone. What you describe is a simple tragedy of the commons market failure, which need be regulated, and is not unique to radiowaves.

I think the point I was trying to make is missed. Should someone, the OP, criticizing the FCC's role for doing this be downvoted/ridiculed? No, I think it's an important job, because we should always question when rights are taken away from the people and handed over to government.

Maybe it's all too far gone and this is a better discussion to have for a Mars colony, but I still have faith.

What does any of that have to do with launching satellites and distributing radio bandwidth, both of which need regulation in order to provide safety for the masses?

I'm sorry, but it's completely self evident. The point was that the natural right to perform/produce a service/product should be the null hypothesis (as opposed to government removing that right and granting it at their discretion) in any such case; and while on the extremes the answers may seem obvious (launching communication satellites vs braiding hair), it's often not always so. Finally, I concluded that people should ideally care about this before it adversely affects them. In other words, the OP's post was not without reason.

I'll ask again, what does any of that have to do with launching satellites and distributing radio bandwidth?

I can't think of a better way to explain it. Maybe you should re-read the comment chain to help you understand this conversation.

I can't speak for anyone currently in the chain, but overall the thread is quite confusing.

Can you help me understand where the confusion arises?

As a hiker who likes to spend many nights camping out in the remote wilderness, this will be a blessing but also a curse. I'll be able to stay connected to family and friends, and have emergency services and information available if necessary, but at the same time I'll have Hacker News and Reddit distractions - but inevitably this is the way the future will be, so it's time to get used to it.

At least when going on a cruise I won't have to pay for their shitty expensive satellite Internet.

This service won't do that. This is not for satellite phones, that would be Iridium (or more accurately, Iridium NEXT which will come online soon), this is for fixed installation or perhaps vehicle based broadband. It'll require a fairly substantial, sophisticated, and expensive antenna (think pizza box sized) to use, and a lot of power as well. This won't connect directly to handsets. It'll be helpful for providing broadband internet access to remote or less developed locations, it'll be helpful to set a cost/performance baseline across the globe for broadband service, and it'll also likely be useful in providing broadband service for various vehicles such as planes, boats, and automobiles, if they are large enough to have the spare power and area to run the antenna.

Answering the only question that matters, thanks.

What you want is an Iridium 9575 handheld phone, or the model that they release when the Iridium NEXT constellation comes fully online and they start turning off the old satellites. This is not going to be for handheld satellite phones or things that weigh less than maybe 7-10 kilograms.

Yup, but apply the same thought to sailing boats and the GP’s point stands. Could be great for search & rescue (EPIRB is incredibly slow, this could maybe be used to build an alternative system?), but could also compromise the feeling of remoteness.

GP is talking about hiking - big difference in a 300g satellite phone vs the size and weight of what you can mount on a 30' sailboat.

Yes obviously, but sailing is similarly remote from civilisation, you’re a small group with nobody else nearby. So the changes would be similar, except that it’s trivial to mount on a boat so the changes the GP was thinking about actually apply to that scenario. (But with a solar-powered battery-buffered LTE antenna with satellite backhaul, it could apply to hikers without them having to carry around an antenna)

This is where I would love my old Samsung's "ultra power saving" mode. Nothing but calls and texting on a black and white screen. Almost a week of battery life.

What phone is that?

My S7 had it, and so does my S8. Very cool feature that I haven't seen in other phones.

My S7 has that. In my area (with good coverage) it lasts 9 days! in standby.

The Nokia 3310.

Besides, this is gonna have big impact for ppl who travel on planes frequently!

You know how how much i desire internet connection everytime i travel long distance flights.

Please tell me that this means Comcast will go out of business. Oh man. The excitement I would feel at watching them go down...

Satellite can be amazing tech. But it's still not going to be the best viable option for high bandwidth connections in medium to large sized cities. As companies like centurylink build GPON and 10GPON based FTTH networks (example: Capitol, Hill, Seattle) it's quite possible to do 900 x 900 Mbps symmetric, though slightly oversubscribed, residential connections.

DOCSIS3.1 over old copper coax cable, with enough RF channel bonding, can also do 300 to 900 Mbps downstream, again slightly oversubscribed. With much less upstream because the RF channels are usually allocated asymmetrically at a ratio of 10:1 or thereabouts.

This is by no means going to hurt Comcast. Comcast (and similar companies like Wave, RCN, Charter, Shaw, etc) are building DOCSIS3.1 and also overbuilding their own networks with fiber. They have the established right of way through major cities, both on pole and underground, and can incrementally build a FTTN/FTTdP architecture with existing copper, and will eventually overbuild everything with singlemode fiber to the customer.

What this will be revolutionary for is small towns, remote/rural areas. In the US as an example the market for ISP last mile connections that is presently served by either WISPs, or in places where no WISP exists, two-way Ku/Ka-band VSAT terminals (HughesNet, ViaSat, etc). The capacity constrains on traditional geostationary consumer grade VSAT services result in terrible things (TDMA oversubscription that pushes latency to 1150ms during peak hours), and things like 20GB/month transfer quotas. That's for a typical $100/month, 24 or 36-month term with the latest generation of Viasat's services.

For polar regions this will be a big deal because they are presently almost entirely dependent on geostationary C and Ku-band satellite capacity.

On ships: Very relevant and has the potential to capture a ton of market from Inmarsat's I-4 and I-5 series satellites and tech, and Iridium's upcoming maritime products. With a sufficient number (thousands!) of polar orbit satellites it can cover mid ocean areas very effectively.

> The capacity constrains on traditional geostationary consumer grade VSAT services result in terrible things (TDMA oversubscription that pushes latency to 1150ms during peak hours), and things like 20GB/month transfer quotas. That's for a typical $100/month, 24 or 36-month term with the latest generation of Viasat's services.

I live in a rural town. This is most definitely the status quo, and your description might actually be rosier than what happens in reality. It's quite a stark difference compared to the +100Mbps fiber connection that you can get about 60 minutes away in the city.

yes... From a US consumer perspective, although I work in two way satellite but not in consumer-facing stuff, I've experienced it in places in Idaho where a whole town's population is 150 people.

There are some "middle of the night" lows in traffic use where a few of the consumer VSAT operators offer quota-free traffic. Can be used with bittorrent clients that support time-based scheduling and automatic pausing such as to download a few episodes of your favorite TV show between 0100 and 0445 every morning.

But during peak evening hours, for human-interactive use like web browsing, it's generally going to be a miserable experience.

Thank you. Someone in this thread finally gets this correct. This is impressive but not in the way people think.

Great points, but...

> This is by no means going to hurt Comcast.

Well, it could, couldn't it? Satellite internet does have the potential to make regional pseudo-monopolies go away, which means Comcast now has price competition. Even if speeds end up being much lower, it will still be plenty fast for lots of people, and the price will be the determining factor.

At the very least, I think this will force Comcast to lower their prices and/or be better.

Maybe in very far suburban areas verging on rural. I have seen a number of edge cases where a cable MSO (multi-system operator, basically triple play TV/Internet/Phone) such as Comcast, Shaw or Charter will demand a one time payment of $2,000 to $5,000 to extend service to a house that is on the edge of their current service area.

Those sorts of customers at present usually end up going with a local WISP instead (terrestrial based point-to-multipoint microwave wireless, which can be quite good if implemented right), or something like the consumer grade VSAT systems from hughesnet/viasat. Or maybe a slow but usable very-long-loop-length ADSL2+ connection at only 3.5 Mbps from the ILEC.

But as for places that are solidly in the comcast network, no. Increasing use of feeding small CMTS from 1/10GbE via fiber, and the very high data rate capacity of DOCSIS3.1 as coaxial cable plant segments are broken up into smaller chunks, means that it's feasible for comcast to offer 300 to 900 Mbps service at fairly low costs to large numbers of people in suburban areas. Satellite won't be able to compete with this. And Comcast will be able to come and overbuild their coax with singlemode fiber incrementally to sell either active-ethernet based FTTH or GPON FTTH.

> one time payment of $2,000 to $5,000

Wow, that is very expensive.

> But as for places that are solidly in the comcast network, no

There are a couple of things which, if they happened, I think could make SpaceX very competitive.

The first is if they could drastically cut the price to consumers. The cheapest Comcast plan in my area (New Mexico, USA) is $75/month. If they offered something like $15 for 15 Mbps I think a lot of people (including me!) would buy it. This would put pressure on Comcast to cut prices (and their margins).

The second would be making a much better product. Imagine being able to take your internet with you wherever you go. I could climb up a mountain, open my laptop, and start working. That sounds pretty appealing.

WISPs sound really interesting, and thanks for all this info!

The newest Viasat plans are 100 Gb soft data cap for 100/mo at 50 Mbps


Yes, but same general idea. It's 100GB, not 100Gb. Compared to terrestrial based networks it's not much - very easy to do far more than 100GB/mo with a land based WISP that offers last mile connections of 15 Mbps down x 6 Mbps up.

The oversubscription for consumer grade VSAT services is an economic necessity, based on the fact that with current technology and launch costs, it's a $150 to $200 million project to build and launch a new 5000-6000 kilogram high powered satellite into geostationary orbit. It will have an estimated 15 year usable lifespan.

viasat-2 weighs 6400 kg: http://space.skyrocket.de/doc_sdat/viasat-2.htm

There is only so much spectrum to go around. Even with tight beams, providing high speed to everyone in a densely populated area is much easier to do with fiber than with any radio-based system.

In many regions this will be serious competition to comcast, but in cities traditional ISPs won't go away in the next 30 years.

Cities are gaining a higher proportion of the population over time too. It's clearly the better market.

Everywhere on Earth is going to get a big bandwidth increase, expect for cities (and places not allowed for political reasons). It's an advancement that will continue to help fewer and fewer people.

Good luck with those ping times if you're a gamer.

Their satellites will be low-earth orbit and have latencies ~50-70ms supposedly. Current internet satellite systems are much, much higher in orbit and thus have horrendous lag.

What remains to be seen is what packet loss will be like with environmental disturbances. That latency is perfectly fine for gaming, but bursts of 20%+ packet loss will quickly flip it back to "sucks for gaming" territory while still being perfectly fine for browsing or Netflix.

I was just looking at Iridium and they seem to have very low latency of around 40ms roundtrip [0] but very small throughput. If SpaceX (or whoever else) can address the latter, then 40ms will challenge any ISP. If you combine this with the adoption of new protocols like HTTP/2, the user experience will be definitely comparable.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satellite_Internet_access#Medi...

In real world practice Iridium's current satellites (not the next generation) have latency from 700ms to 1400ms to the gateway. It's also 2400 baud for data, something like 2400baud+1200bps of FEC for voice. Actually kind of amazing that they can fit intelligible voice through that bitrate with voice codec technology that was finalized 19 years ago.

The raw RF latency of Iridium in its present state does not correspond with the network topology at layers 2 and 3.

I believe they plan to improve upon current satelite internet latency by using lower satelites.

If this turns Comcast into a niche provider for gamers then Comcast is definitely over.

Comcast is no more just a dumb pipe. Thanks to their acquisitions they would, in case of this scenario, simple reinvent themselves as a content producer (which they already are).

Comcast as a content producer means I don't have to deal with Comcast as a broadband monopoly, which is more than enough for me.

Reading the full document[1] is really interesting. Lots of details about the potential technical problems, timelines and a couple requests to deny the application.

[1] https://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/201...

Oneweb and Telesat intend to build LEO polar orbit satellite networks that are, architecturally, very similar. Their objections are mostly about interference and spectrum use. If all three projects come to fruition and actually build thousands of satellites and launch them, we could be looking at not just spacex's 4,000+ satellite in polar LEO, but several thousand more from oneweb and telesat as well.

Background section from one of the attachments to that announcement:

On November 15, 2016, SpaceX filed an application requesting authority for its proposed NGSO FSS satellite system, comprising 4,425 satellites in 83 orbital planes, at an approximate altitude of 1,110 to 1,325 kilometers. In this application, SpaceX proposes to operate in the 10.7-12.7 GHz, 13.85-14.5 GHz, 17.8-18.6 GHz, 18.8-19.3 GHz, 27.5-29.1 GHz, and 29.5-30 GHz bands. SpaceX also requests waivers of certain Commission rules.

Out of curiosity, dont they have to ask other bodies like European Union or other countries for permission as well? Those satellites wont fly over usa only, which is fcc oversight.

Also reversing my question - if they would get denied, could they form company in EU and still shoot satellites from there based on EU permission?

Just curiosity of a hacker in me pushes out these questions ;)

It is not entirely impossible to have satellites where the legal owner is incorporated somewhere for regulatory purposes. There are a few geostationary, traditional style C/Ku-band transponder capacity satellites which are owned by companies in the Isle of Man. Huge numbers of satellites are owned by a Luxembourg based company (SES), one of the top-4 largest satellite operators worldwide, not because they particularly love Luxembourg so much, but because it has regulatory and tax advantages. The majority of SES' earth stations and facilities are not located in Luxembourg.

What will the latency be like? My understanding is that these satellites will be in lower orbit, allowing for shorter round-trips... But how much shorter exactly? And how would that translate to real-world latency? Presumably there would be multiple hops involved in traversing the SpaceX network?

Geosynchronous orbit is 35k kilometers up, which a calculator tells me is 119 light milliseconds from the surface.

Iridium satellites were the first set of satellites I could find numbers for that made any kind of relevant example. They orbited at 781 kilometers, or 2.6 light milliseconds away. Over 45 times closer.

okay... so i work in two way satellite and will expand a bit on what this looks like in real world practice, with currently available technology and satellite architectures.

geostationary orbit dedicated (1:1) transponder capacity, in real world use with large earth stations and SCPC modems, has latency of around 485ms to 490ms for a return trip ping. That's a figure from remote earth station (example: Nauru) to the other end of a link (example: Singapore).

119 x 4 = 476 ms

add anywhere from 10ms to 20ms for a combination of modem Tx encoding, framing, adding FEC, and then the reverse on the Rx side.


nauru router with a 1000BaseLX link into a satellite modem generates one ICMP ping

nauru --> satellite -->

satellite --> singapore

singapore modem does decode, passes IP traffic to a router or something else that can answer ICMP

singapore --> satellite

satellite --> nauru

nauru satellite modem decodes, passes traffic to router

I was very careful not to draw any conclusion besides "closer" because this is not my wheelhouse.

Some of the low cost wireless broadband projects have proposed the use of a ground station fairly nearby as the upstream network provider but I haven't the fuzziest what SpaceX has planned.

In your opinion what fraction of the overall delays in the network are attributable to the diameter of the orbit (great circle distance and ground-to-satellite distance) instead of the limitations of the hardware?

delays in geostationary orbit based systems are limited by basically two things... one is the distance, assuming dedicated 1:1 capacity. From a consumer internet user perspective the other delays are oversubscription and TDMA timeslice related. Consumer grade VSAT-based internet services (hughnesnet, viasat, etc) that you can buy for a cabin in a far rural part of Idaho are oversubscribed at a 16:1, 32:1 or greater ratio. So the RTT latency will be anywhere from 495ms in the middle of the night up to 1250ms during peak evening hours. This is a network architecture limitation/capacity limitation at layers 2 and 3, not so much about the physical distance that the RF has to travel.

The SpaceX system will likely operate somewhat similarly to o3b, which has a number of backbone link earth stations around the earth, adjacent to major fiber IX points. They don't want to endlessly pass data satellite-to-satellite-to-satellite because that will reduce the overall throughput and capacity of the system. Within a single moving spot beam I bet they are designing the system to pass data satellite-to-satellite if necessary. Or as few hops as possible. Once again using a rural Idaho example, at any given time a satellite or an adjacent pair of satellites in two orbital planes might "see" both a rural cabin CPE, and also a larger earth station/trunk link located next to terrestrial fiber in Boise. The goal is to get the traffic from the CPE to Boise in a few hops as possible. Ideally in a single "bent pipe" relay architecture.

I’m still not sure if you answered my question but thank you for participating. We don’t often get people with real experience in satcom.

I’ve never had to understand satellite physics beyond explaining to a director why he needed terrestrial internet to solve his telecommunications problem. They get the Grace Hopper explanation (aka the speed of light says data can only move this far per nanosecond)

Space X is actually aiming for a low earth orbit constellation. I've heard others mention numbers of around 50ms which is quite acceptable in my mind.

But how does that 50ms factor into the overall latency experienced by the end user?

As I recall, SpaceX will route user<->sat1<->sat2<->server. At low orbit, rtt for sat1<->sat2 is comparable to that for user<->server. Maybe even less, because ~vacuum vs fiber or copper. So you just add 50 msec to the landline rtt.

What the implications are for countries that severely restrict and monitor internet access? Would Chinese citizens be able to sign up for this service? Would SpaceX comply with foreign governments asking to ban connections or new customers from their countries?

It would be subject to local wireless spectrum control.

So like for your example it would have to sell to Chinese customers illegally if it wasn't going to comply with their censorship regulations. Which the Chinese government could then do a lot to fight.

So basically no, satellite internet is unlikely to have any impact on censorship.

Here's a wild idea... They could disable transmit in these areas, but allow reception. Someone in a hostile area with access to an antenna could send one way messages up with useful info.

Good idea, but just as easy to detect (send a message).

It's a pretty easy problem to solve: This is extraterrestrial wireless internet, and geography should have no bearing on your service. Don't require an address, just an account. Problem solved. Others will step in to resell bandwidth if SpaceX doesn't want to involve themselves with this political nightmare.

That's all well and good, i encourage you to move to addis abbaba, ethiopia (an example of a semi-autocratic state that does not allow ANY non-government-owned competition in international telecom links) and build a 2.4 meter c-band Tx/Rx earth station on top of your house. Count how many days elapse before men with guns come to dismantle it.

see here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16712540

Unless the rooftop CPE can be significantly disguised, it'll be difficult for places like Iran. The Iranian government periodically goes on (not very successful) campaigns to get people to remove rooftop Ku-band TVRO, Rx only satellite dishes. Those don't transmit. With a portable spectrum analyzer it will not be difficult to identify starlink rooftop CPE radios.

This is ultimately the same problem that applies to rubber hose cryptanalysis. From a network engineering perspective, if an authoritarian state can use sufficient local resources to control the OSI layer 1, it doesn't matter how good your L2 to L7 are.

The last fifteen years I have been lamenting the fact that we happen to be living in that tiny slice of history between the internet being invented and the internet being everywhere, having to deal with things like “long distance” and “no service” and underhanded last mile monopolies.

I could not be more excited about this.

Conversely, I am happy to have existed during the tiny slice of history between the internet being invented and governments and corporations figuring out how useful it is and controlling it for their own purposes.

And that period, alas, was all too brief.

Also discussed when the application was filed https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12973223

I wonder if you'll be able to get a device small enough for this to replace satellite telephony. I enjoy backpacking and would like to get a sat-phone for emergencies, but it's kind of cost prohibitive.

Could a SpaceX constellation provide lower latency than undersea fiber? If the satellites can communicate to each other would the speed of signalling through a vacuum/air (~30% greater than fiber) outweigh any other steps?

If so, maybe SpaceX should get into HFT/arbitrage between global markets?

Do they have to get a license from every country in which they intend to operate?

I believe so, yes - definitely at least to transmit from earth to the satellite, according to some of the satellite providers I've worked with.

Probably similar to however the licensing for satellite phones works.

It's weird on a country by country basis. For example it is technically illegal to bring a handheld Iridium phone into India without a special license.

No, you need to get authorisation to launch a payload based on where your company is headquartered.

I'm assuming the parent was asking if licenses are required to provide service to people in other countries.

The linked site is for the FCC giving them permission to launch and operate the service. They may need individual licenses to operate in each country but I answered in the context of the submitted post. This article


Also provides more context, this company launched from outside the US but as a US company they needed authorization from the FCC for the payload and operating.

Does that mean, once you have a satellite in orbit, you can transmit anything into any country?

Most likely you'll need to buy spectrum wherever you plan to do this.

So you do need a license from every country?

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