Society

SpaceX Plans High-Speed, Low Latency Satellite Internet

| by Nik Bonopartis

It seems like Elon Musk has his hand in everything these days.

He heads electric-car company Tesla, he's at the helm of an ambitious plan for humans to explore Mars, and he even found time to voice himself during an appearance on South Park, according to Crave.

Now, Musk is turning his attention toward internet access with a plan that would fundamentally improve satellite-based internet for the entire world.

The plan comes by way of SpaceX, the same company Musk founded for his space travel projects. Currently, anyone who tries to tap into the internet from far-flung corners of the world must use a satellite network with relays 22,000 miles above Earth, according to Ars Technica.

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That distance means latency times of 600ms or more, a large enough delay that it's noticeable to human users and makes certain internet activity frustrating or impossible.

But Musk's SpaceX says it plans to launch 4,425 satellites into low-Earth orbit, at much lower altitudes than the existing HughesNet satellites. At altitudes between 715 miles and 823 miles above Earth, the SpaceX satellites would allow users to send and receive data with much lower latency.

In fact, SpaceX says it hopes its satellite latency won't be any different from delay times on typical wired networks, with latencies between 25 and 35 milliseconds, Ars Technica reported.

Satellite internet has a wide range of uses but for the consumer market, it particularly appeals to users who live or work in areas where they can't get high-speed internet connections via cable or phone companies.

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Connecting to the internet via satellite has major drawbacks, according to networking information site PlugThingsIn. Weather and physical obstructions can degrade network signals, users can't employ virtual private networks, and a satellite connection is usually much more expensive than a typical cable or fiber optic high bandwidth connection.

SpaceX unveiled some details of its planned low-Earth orbit satellite network Nov. 17, when it filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission seeking "approval for orbital deployment ... for a non-geostationary orbit satellite system," meaning the satellites won't be geosynchronous.

In addition to drastically reducing latency, SpaceX said it hopes to significantly increase bandwidth for users tapping into satellites.

“Once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1Gbps per user), low-latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the US and globally,” SpaceX told the FCC. “Subject to additional development work, SpaceX plans to design and manufacture its own satellites, gateway earth stations, and user terminals.”

Sources: FCC, Ars Technica, PlugThingsIn.com, Crave / Photo credit: Bidgee/​Wikimedia ​Commons

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