International Launch Services (ILS) successfully carried SkyTerra 1 into orbit today for LightSquared of Reston, Virginia. The ILS Proton launch of SkyTerra 1 was the first satellite launch for LightSquared. The craft is one of two that will provide satphone service in the second half of next year from startup LightSquared.
It features a 22-meter (72 feet) L-band reflector-based antenna — the largest commercial antenna reflector to be put into service.
SkyTerra-1 can have more than 500 spot beams working at the same time, compared with 200 for Inmarsat, the next most powerful communications satellite. The satellite service should be able to deliver 300 to 400 Kbps speeds to cellular-sized phones.
SkyTerra 1 will combine satellite and terrestrial technologies for use in standard handsets. Using the satellite’s 1.6GHz frequency, LightSquared will also offer a 4G-LTE terrestrial network. LightSquared says Nokia Siemens Networks will build the $7 billion LightSquared nationwide terrestrial network.
Lightsquared is also talking up public safety use for regional or national “talk groups”. No commercial 700 MHz LTE providers (i.e. AT&T and/or Verizon), have yet been mentioned as part of that plan.
Lightsquared hopes to extend its terrestrial LTE network to Dallas, Chicago and Minneapolis in 2011, reports Business Week. The company’s network may grow to 20 cities in 2012, including New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The Breeze M rocket successfully released the SkyTerra 1 satellite, weighing over 5.3 metric tons, into geostationary transfer orbit. The Proton Breeze M launch vehicle was developed and built by Khrunichev Research and Production Space Center of Moscow, one of the pillars of the Russian space industry and the majority shareholder in ILS.
The company claims its L-band (1.6 GHz) spectrum for LTE is the largest contiguous block of spectrum below 2 GHz. According to the terms of its spectrum licenses, LightSquared is required to reach 92 percent of the U.S. population by the end of 2014. The satellite will link back to the Internet via four ground stations, arrays of dishes located near Ottawa and Saskatoon in Canada and near Dallas and Napa, California.
“LightSquared could provide a renewed opportunity for retailers and major brands such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Office Depot to enter the wireless market as service providers to consumers,” said Ken Hays, partner at global management consulting firm PRTM. NSN previously announced a deal with TerreStar, to provide its I-HSPA technology. So far not much has happened with the TerreStar/Nokia network beyond handshaking.
Satellite phones with terrestrial networks seem to be sprouting up all over:
- The TerreStar satellite, launched one year ago, uses the MSS (2 GHz) band. It declared bankruptcy on Oct 19, 2010.
- SkyTerra will use the lower frequency L-band at 1.6 GHz. SkyTerra’s giant geosynchronous satphone platform, uses a 22-m L-band reflector built by Harris.
- GlobalStar, the Big LEO constellation, also planned to re-use their satphone frequencies on terrestrial towers. Open Range hoped to lease mobile satellite spectrum from Globalstar, although that plan seems less certain when the spectrum was yanked. Six, 2nd generation Globalstar satellites were launched on Oct 20th. Globalstar service has been on a downward spiral service degradation caused from radiation.
- Iridium covers the whole Earth, including poles, oceans and airways at 1.6 GHz. Iridium NEXT, anticipated to begin launching in 2015, will maintain the existing constellation of 66 cross-linked satellites.
- Craig McCaw’s ICO, in the 2 GHz band, launched ICO G1 in April 2008, the largest commercial satellite ever launched at the time. But ICO does not yet offer service, and is in the process of emerging from bankruptcy as DBSD Satellite Services.
TerreStar promised to hand off to AT&T’s terrestrial cellular network (using their Genus satphone) when local service was available. It’s been more talk than action.
The TerreStar satellite, launched a year ago, declared bankruptcy on Oct 19, 2010. A last minute EchoStar loan of $75 million was approved, over opposition from TerreStar creditors, will provide the funding for TerreStar Networks’ exit from Chapter 11. Under the proposed restructuring, EchoStar, based in Englewood, Colorado, and other secured noteholders would swap more than $940 million in debt for 97 percent of TerreStar’s equity, according to court papers.
A TerreStar bankruptcy, like the fate of Globalstar and Iridium ten years ago, could be a good thing for the company. The LEOs emerged largely debt-free. TerreStar shares MSS (2 GHz) spectrum with Craig McCaw’s ICO. Both satellite providers successfully launched huge, expensive geosynchronous platforms – now largely unused.
SkyTerra (Lightsquared) will use the lower frequency L-band at 1.6 GHz. Harbinger Capital has money on both Geosynchronous satellite phone platforms (TerreStar and Lightsquared).
The 1.6 GHz Lightsquared service says they’ll build their own nationwide terrestrial LTE network — using their own satellite frequencies. Still, Lightsquared hasn’t announced any major cellular partners (yet), and it may need them. If T-Mobile struck a deal with Clearwire, it may not partner with LightSquared, and visa versa. As TMF Associates put it:
T-Mobile might even be waiting to see if the 2GHz MSS spectrum could present another possible alternative, once the TerreStar and DBSD bankruptcies are resolved, given that this spectrum is closer to its existing PCS and AWS holdings than either the LightSquared L-band spectrum or the Clearwire 2.5GHz spectrum, and could even be available without ATC restrictions (via an incentive auction) in a couple of years’ time.
Harbinger Capital Partners, the hedge fund backing the wholesale LTE venture LightSquared, is being investigated by federal authorities over a $113 million loan taken out by Harbinger founder Philip Falcone to pay personal taxes, notes Fierce Wireless. The investigation is also looking at whether the fund gave preferential treatment to some investors, reports Bloomberg.
The O3b constellation is a new approach for global connectivity. It aims to provide cell towers with backhaul using Medium orbit. O3b’s groundbreaking concept is endorsed by investments from SES, Google, Liberty Global, HSBC Bank, Allen and Company and North Bridge Venture Partners. Arianespace expects to launch the first eight of O3b’s 20 planned Ka-band satellites in 2012. Plans are to operate a constellation of 20 satellites by 2015. The total cost of the O3B project is $1.1 billion.
The satellites will be equally spaced around the equator — but not in GEO. The O3b constellation is only 5,000 miles high, in Medium Earth Orbit. Latency is around 120 milliseconds compared to 600 milliseconds for GEO. The O3b satellites, nearing delivery, have not yet been given a commercial name.
O3B hopes to get underway in the next few years. It hired Thales Alenia Space to build an initial group of eight satellites, followed by 12 more, to form a constellation. Each satellite has 12 steerable antennas that can focus a 600 km diameter spot beam on any point of the Earth between +/- 45 degrees N/S latitude (video clips).
Both the rising satellite and the setting satellite illuminate the area for two minutes. During this time, all remotes in the coverage area must switch from one satellite to the other. An initial deployment of eight satellites requires a handover approximately every 45 minutes. O3b plans to increase the number of in-orbit satellites to 16, with handoffs occurring every 22.5 minutes. The handover window can be up to two minutes long, but the actual handover will be much shorter (pdf).
Two of these steerable beams will be dedicated to a Gateway site and the other 10 beams used for customer locations in each region. The satellite multiplexes these 10 customer beams into the two Gateway beams. Each customer beam operates in the Ka-band and has an available bandwidth of 216 MHz. ViaSat will supply teleport gear.
Northern Sky Research, in their annual review of the wireless backhaul via satellite market shows the industry made tremendous gains from wireless subscriber growth in 2009 and the first half of 2010. The wireless industry was one of the global economic bright spots, which led to sustained demand for satellite backhaul services for use primarily in rural markets. In total, NSR projects that satellite backhaul equipment and services will grow from an estimated $316.6 million in revenues in 2009 to $583.4 million by 2019.
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