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Friday, 21 January 2011 08:51

Does NBN Co really need to build its own satellites?


To bring broadband to a few tens of thousands of remote Australian, NBN Co is planning to spend several hundred million dollars on two geostationary satellites. Meanwhile a Canadian company is planning to launch a network of microsatellites that it says will "provide backhaul capacity will connecting remote regions of the Earth to the Internet."

Microsat Systems Canada has announced plans to develop COMMStellation, a constellation of 78 microsatellites that will be placed in polar orbit at a height of 1,000km. The company has set up a dedicated web site where it claims that COMMStellation "is being developed to help alleviate global backhaul issues and connect rural and remote areas of the world where fibre infrastructure is cost prohibitive."

Microsat president and CEO, David R Cooper, claims that COMMStellation "will provide essential backhaul capacity to mobile operators across the globe," and says: "It's an initiative many governments are pushing for because of its ability to connect all of Earth's citizens to the Internet."

According to Cooper, "High-speed backhaul infrastructure is the single most important enabler to the growth of Internet business models and wealth generation. If a country does not have it - it will fall behind."

Another company O3B Networks (for the 'other three billion' beyond terrestrial broadband) is planning a constellation of mid earth orbit satellites at a height of 8000kms with the same aim in mind, but according to Microsat "COMMStellation will provide over five times the data bandwidth density, even at the equator, for the same satellite output, and all for hundreds of millions less cost. In addition, COMMStellation will provide one eighth the data latency, ten times the total constellation capacity, and potentially provide bandwidth to any of Earth's 6.9 billion (estimate) population, not just the 'other three billion'."

O3b looked to be vying for a role in Australia in the early day of the NBN and was highly critical of plans to use geostationary satellites for rural broadband because of the almost 500 millisecond latency that their orbital height of 36,000kms introduces. However it appears to have lost interest.

Microsat says COMMStellation is scheduled for launch in 2015, but as yet it does not appear to have any firm plans. The company says it "continues to discuss partnerships with other companies with complementary interests."

Cooper said: "We are looking for service providers who want to improve service to their customers, technology partners who can bring complementary technologies to the COMMStellation initiative, military or industrial leaders who are looking for strategic communications to and from remote areas, and governments that want to improve the lives of all citizens - not only those who live in  urban areas."

COMMStellation will initially comprise 78 microsatellites in six orbital planes with an additional six redundant microsatellites. The company claims this will "Provide 100 percent global coverage with up to 15 times the speed and 10 times the total bandwidth capacity of a MEO constellation of comparable satellites." However it has given no indication of total costs to build, or of service charges.

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