Test launch approved for Saturday onboard Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX, the company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk, has received backing from the US communications regulator to build a broadband network using satellites.
SpaceX made an application to provide the broadband services in the US and worldwide. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, said the network would solve one of the biggest headaches in technology today: poor internet connectivity in rural areas.
“Satellite technology can help reach Americans who live in rural or hard-to-serve places, where fibre-optic cables and cell towers do not reach,” Pai said in a statement to Reuters.
To boldly go where no WAN has gone before
In a letter sent to the FCC earlier this month, SpaceX confirmed plans to launch a pair of experimental satellites on one of its Falcon 9 rockets. The launch has been approved by the FCC, and is set for Saturday.
The rocket will carry the PAZ satellite for Hisdesat, a satellite communications services provider to government agencies, based in Madrid, Spain. It will also carry multiple secondary payloads.
Pai wants SpaceX to get approval for the scheme, and for it to become the first US-based organisation to provide broadband services using low-Earth-orbit satellites.
Others have backed the move. FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel claimed that a satellite internet service would “create extraordinary new opportunities”. She urged the FCC to move quickly to approve the scheme.
In space, no one can hear you stream
Musk has previously stated that SpaceX wants to launch a satellite internet business to help fund a future city on Mars. He suggested that the move would be about “rebuilding the internet in space”, making a global communications system that would be faster than existing connections.
However, while SpaceX may be the only company to blast a roadster into space, it isn’t the only one aiming to deploy satellites for broadband services. The FCC has also approved bids by OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat, and is still processing requests from other businesses.
In January, Telesat launched a satellite operated by the (state) Indian Space Research Organization. Its aim is to deliver “high-performing, cost-effective, fibre-like broadband anywhere in the world”, with tests to be conducted later this year.
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These technologies could be a game changer for the broadband market, which has long been hampered by a lack of progress in boosting connectivity in rural areas. In the US, it is estimated that at least 14 million people lack mobile broadband.
In the UK – where BT’s belief that 10Mbps is “superfast” has probably done more to set back the digital economy than any other factor – the government is investigating which technologies could provide internet access to rural communities, without being cost-prohibitive.
However, many communities have been frustrated by the British government’s lack of progress, with some launching a range of independent projects that have a more earthbound perspective than Mr Musk’s.
B4RN – a fibre-optic broadband network registered as a non-profit, community-benefit society – is one such project. It is run by a dedicated local team with the support of landowners and volunteers. It offers a 1,000Mbps FTTH (fibre to the home) connection to every property in its coverage area, costing households just £30 per month.
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