Amazon has announced plans for a new internet satellite network. “Project Kuiper” will comprise 3,236 low earth orbit satellites providing broadband access across the planet.
Amazon’s entry into the internet satellite race is notable because of the company’s technical acumen, access to capital, and ties to Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
The project will be in direct competition with industry leaders SpaceX and OneWeb.
June 11 will usher the publication of Jim Cashel’s new book The Great Connecting: The Emergence of Global Broadband, and How That Changes Everything.
The book is available for pre-order at any independent bookstore or on Amazon.
From the cover:
What happens when affordable broadband finally reaches the half of the planet that has little or no Internet access? Google, Facebook, SpaceX, and many others have major initiatives underway to connect the rest of the planet over the next few years. For the first time, even the poorest and most remote of global citizens will have access to information, communications, identity authentication, government programs, global philanthropy, online banking, telehealth, distance education, and other powerful services heretofore impossible. In The Great Connecting, Jim Cashel speaks with the major players driving the broadband revolution and travels to the most remote corners of the globe to consider the changes in our world about to take place ― certainly one of the biggest events in human history. As Cashel explains, the expansion of broadband offers many challenges but will also bring a remarkable opportunity for the planet.
Advance commentary on The Great Connecting:
Jim Cashel has identified our position on the precipice of potentially one of the great turning points of history. Almost half the world’s population has never known the ability to connect with the other half and with each other. The result will change lives, economies, and existing social structures. Cashel describes how connections have consequences, and he explores both the promise and peril that accompany connecting three billion people living in societies built around the absence of such connections. The Great Connecting is a must read for those who want to get ahead of this transformation curve.
—Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and author of From Gutenberg to Google: The History of Our Future
Communications technologies are reshaping the planet—but we haven’t seen anything yet. Three billion new internet users changes everything . . . and this wonderful book captures that change in a very human way.
—Jeanne Bourgault, President and CEO, Internews
Jim Cashel explores a truly consequential moment in history through a compelling interweaving of narrative, travel notes, and policy recommendations. As both a technologist and a physician, Cashel leads us from the tech campuses of Silicon Valley to the refugee camps of Southeast Asia. I highly recommend you join him on this readable exploration of The Great Connecting.
—Nicco Mele, Director, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
From the Kirkus Review of The Great Connecting:
[Cashel’s] study is impressively exacting. At the same time, it’s an exceedingly practical work, and draws heavily not only on theory and data, but also on the author’s travels to the developing world.
From Goodreads reviews:
This is a thoughtful, vital book penned by an expert. And it’s an entertaining read, to boot.
The full Introduction to the book is posted here.
The “How to Get Involved” appendix of the book is published here.
Interview with the author here.
The book is available for pre-order at any independent bookstore or on Amazon.
OneWeb has announced closing of its latest round of financing at $1.25 billion. Investors include Softbank Group Corp., Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Grupo Salinas, and the Government of Rwanda.
OneWeb plans to use the funds to build out its constellation of 720 low earth orbit satellites. OneWeb has contracted with Arianespace for 20 launches using Soyuz rockets.
“This latest funding round makes OneWeb’s service inevitable and is a vote of confidence from our core investor base in our business model and the OneWeb value proposition,” said Adrian Steckel, CEO of OneWeb, in a statement accompanying the announcement.
OneWeb plans to begin regional service in 2020 and full global service in 2021.
Broadband in the next few years will be reaching the half of the planet’s population that doesn’t have it yet — and that changes everything.
Media organizations may be interested in a new paper I wrote as a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School titled Broadband Everywhere: Media Implications of Internet Access for the Next Three Billion.
Media markets are currently expanding faster than at any time in history. That offers many opportunities for media organizations who are prepared.
China has launched the first test satellite of its ambitious Hongyun internet satellite program. The Hongyun program foresees a network of 156 low earth orbit internet satellites by 2025. The goal of the program is to provide internet service to rural parts of China as well as to developing countries. The program is described as part of China’s “Belt and Road” infrastructure project involving dozens of developing countries.
The Chinese technology firm LinkSure Network has unveiled a new satellite designed to provide wifi across the planet. The service, to include 272 satellites in low earth orbit, will sell a number of communications services, but also aspires to provide free wifi to regions of the planet currently without coverage.
The firm plans to launch its first test satellite in 2019, followed by ten more satellites in 2020. The full network will be operational by 2026.
The FCC has approved SpaceX’s latest application for an additional 7,518 satellites, bringing the total number of approved satellites to 11,943. Simultaneously the FCC approved hundreds of new satellites from communications firms Kepler, Telesat and Leosat.
SpaceX has received FCC permission to launch 4,425 Starlink communications satellites between 1,110 and 1,325 km in altitude. SpaceX in a new filing is now requesting that 1,584 of those satellites be allowed at lower orbits of 550 km. Satellites at that orbit are at the upper reaches of the atmosphere and have naturally decaying orbits over several years. Starlink satellites at that elevation would therefore be easier to decommission. Satellites that fail would also fall into the atmosphere naturally.
When SpaceX received initial FCC approval, the permission was contingent upon SpaceX providing updated satellite decommissioning plans. The FCC is concerned about space debris. This new orbital plan by SpaceX may address some FCC concerns.
SpaceX’s two current test satellites, TinTin A and B, were launched into the lower orbits but expected to be boosted to higher orbits. That boost hasn’t happened, leading some observers to question whether the satellites failed. In fact SpaceX may be studying the lower orbits in greater detail.
Lower orbits would represent faster communications speeds, with latencies as low as 15 ms. Satellites would also potentially cover less of the planets surface, which would require modifications to their design.
More detailed reporting of SpaceX’s updated FCC filing is provided by The Verge.
SpaceX has posted a number of new job openings that suggest it may be developing a classified satellite network. As reported in Teslarati, the new positions require technical skills involving low-cost satellite networks but also require top secret clearances.
One reasonable explanation for these new job openings would be that the US Government is exploring new approaches to satellite networks. DARPA has previously announced funding of up to $117 million for the Blackjack program, seeking to place 20 test satellites in orbit.
SpaceX has announced current plans to raise $750 million in debt financing to support next generation rocket development as well as the Starlink program. It appears SpaceX might have its eyes on additional Starlink funding from government sources.
One enormous challenge for first-time users of the internet in developing countries is knowing what the internet is and does. If you have always lived in a technology-free environment, how are you supposed to understand, say, the Android apps on Google Play?
One solution will be the design of single purpose internet devices. Imagine a smart speaker that only tells you the weather, or a tablet that only shows football matches.
A good example of a single purpose internet device is now rolling out in the US. Facebook has launched “Portal“, a videoconferencing system that only allows calling to other Facebook users. You plug it in, link to wifi, link to Facebook, and start requesting calls. The device is powered by complex technology, including Alexa, and has a number of sophisticated design features, such as tracking your movements around a room. It only has one purpose, however: videoconference with others on Facebook.
Does some of this raise privacy issues or other objections? Probably. But the device is easy to use, and that alone may drive its popularity. Simplicity of this sort will be a precondition for internet devices across much of the planet.