Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Boeing's satellite Internet project

2,956 satellites orbiting at altitudes
of 970, 1,034 and 1,086 km at
inclinations of 45°, 55° & 88°, Source
Boeing was the prime contractor for Teledesic's failed attempt in the late 1990s.

I recently posted updates on the satellite Internet service projects of SpaceX and OneWeb. OneWeb and SpaceX have received a lot of publicity, but there is a third entry in the global satellite Internet race -- Boeing.

Boeing has applied for a license to launch a constellation of 2,956 Internet-access satellites orbiting at an altitude of 1,200 km. (In a subsequent amendment, the orbits were lowered to three different levels). They outlined a two phase plan -- the first 1,396 satellites would be operating within six years and another 1,560 would be launched within 12 years as demand justified.

There has also been speculation that Apple may be funding and collaborating with Boeing on satellite Internet-service provision. (If you follow this link, read the comments).

Small cells around Washington DC
Boeing will use beam-forming, digital processing and instantaneous handoff between overlapping satellite footprints to generate thousands of narrow spot beams, dividing the Earth's surface into 8-11 km diameter (50-95 km2) cells as illustrated here. Each cell will have 5 Ghz bandwidth and, if a cell contains both user terminals and Internet gateways, time-division algorithms will enable frequency re-use to serve both. These are very smart radios!

In reviewing the FCC filings, I was struck by the degree of cooperation between the competitors. When Boeing proposed 1,200 km orbits, OneWeb filed a comment saying that would interfere with their design which also called for 1,200 km orbits. In response, Boeing met with OneWeb and altered their plan, lowering altitudes to 970, 1,082 and 1,030 km.

There were also concerns that waivers Boeing requested might lead to radio interference and SpaceX responded by stating that:
The Commission should encourage systems that facilitate spectrum sharing among licensed users. The waivers Boeing seeks will help to build a sensible regulatory environment for NGSO operations while honoring the goals of the rules at issue.
These companies value engineering as well as business. (Tesla has shared their patents -- might SpaceX do the same)?

In researching this post, I came across two other Boeing filings -- one for 60 high-altitude satellites (shown here) and another for a low-Earth constellation of 132 satellites and 15 high-altitude satellites. I imagine these smaller constellations will complement the larger constellation somehow, but have not been able to learn how they will interact.

Sixty high-altitude satellites launched in three phases: the Amercas, Europe
and Africa and Asia and Australia. Click to enlarge. (source)

Boeing, OneWeb and SpaceX are from different generations. OneWeb and SpaceX are relatively recent startups and Boeing is venerable. The startups may have less legacy overhead and have gotten off to a faster start, but Boeing has been thinking about providing Internet service using a satellite constellation for over twenty years -- they were the prime contractor for Teledesic's failed attempt in the late 1990s.

We have three potential global Internet service providers -- SpaceX, OneWeb and Apple(?)/Boeing. I hope they all succeed, giving us some competition in the Intenet service market. That might one day help current Internet customers who have only one choice for their service provider (like me) but it would surely be a boon for people with no terrestrial Internet access today.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Internet speeds politics up and we are suffering are suffering from attention-deficit disorder.

He spent over a third of the speech attacking the "dishonest", "crooked", "fake" media -- 3,215 out of a total of 8,833 words. That is frightening.

Trump gave a speech yesterday in Phoenix and this morning, the transcript was online. In less than an hour, I was able to read it and do a little analysis.

The 77-minute speech included 105 pauses for applause and 13 interruptions for booing the media and others -- Trump was energized by the enthusiastic crowd. It was a typical campaign speech in which he assailed Obama care, illegal immigrants, Democrats, trade deals, the Senate; praised tough law enforcement and the wall and bragged about creating jobs, stopping crime, etc. Here is a particularly hyperbolic example:

Can you imagine, in this day and age -- in this day and age in this country, we are liberating towns. This is like from a different age. We are taking these people. They don't shoot people because it's too fast and not painful. They cut them up into little pieces. These are animals. We are getting them out of here. We're throwing them in jails, and we're throwing them out of the country. We're liberating our towns.

But two things stood out for me. He spent over a third of the speech attacking the "dishonest", "crooked", "fake" media -- 3,215 out of a total of 8,833 words. That is frightening.

He also devoted 409 words to the "absolutely necessary" border wall. (When he turned to the topic, the crowd applauded and chanted "Build that wall! Build that wall! Build that wall!"). He called out the Democratic obstructionists and threatened to shut down the government in order fund the wall. Mexico paying for the wall is evidently off the table after his embarrassing call to the Mexican President.

That was evidently the start of a wall building campaign/distraction because I got an email from
contact@victory.donaldtrump.com
this morning asking me to sign a petition calling on the Senate to fund the wall:

Naturally, I "signed" the petition (using the name "Jim Jones" -- they do not check) and was redirected to https://action.donaldjtrump.com/, where I was asked for a contribution.


I cannot say that surprised me since I receive an average of more than one Trump contribution solicitation per day.

For better or worse, the Internet gives us machine-readable access to presidential speeches (and tweets), allowing us to quickly analyze and digest them. The downside is that they distract us from more mundane news about meaningful actions like changes in enforcement of immigration and drug laws or environmental regulation. We are suffering from attention-deficit disorder.



Tuesday, August 22, 2017

OneWeb satellite Internet project update

The OneWeb mission is to bridge the digital divide globally by 2027
Greg Wyler, 2017 Softbank World conference

Whoever gets the most data wins.
Masayoshi Son, 2017 Softbank World conference

Satellites in 18 orbital planes
SpaceX and OneWeb are formidable, experienced competitors in a race to become global Internet service providers using satellite constellations -- routers in space. I posted a status report on SpaceX last week, now let's look at OneWeb.

OneWeb founder and executive chairman Greg Wyler has extensive experience with networking in developing nations. In 2003 his company, Terracom, signed a contract to connect Rwandan schools, government institutions, and homes. They failed to meet their goal, and the difficulty of dealing with terrestrial infrastructure led Wyler to focus on satellite connectivity.

In 2007, he founded O3b Networks (Other 3 billion), which today provides high-speed connectivity to Internet service providers and phone companies using a constellation of 12 satellites orbiting at 8,012 km above the equator. (The geosynchronous satellites used for TV transmission and Internet access in remote areas orbit 35,786 km above the equator). In spite of its name, O3b was not going to connect the entire world and Wyler founded OneWeb in 2012, with the mission of bridging the digital divide, which he hopes to do by 2027.

Satellites will be mass-produced,
reducing cost and cutting production
time significantly.
OneWeb and SpaceX have the same goal, but their organizations are dissimilar. SpaceX is integrated -- building the rockets, satellites and ground stations themselves -- while OneWeb has partners that bring skills and funds to the project. For example, Qualcomm will design and supply communication chips and Airbus will manufacture satellites.

OneWeb also has a symbiotic relationship with Softbank, their largest investor. SoftBank's Vision Fund has invested $1 billion in OneWeb and OneWeb plays a strategic role in SoftBank's vision of the future.

SoftBank founder and CEO Masayoshi Son outlined his vision of the future in the keynote session ofth the 2017 SoftBank World conference. He believes the information revolution will be driven by strong, general artificial intelligence (AI), therefore the key material asset for the information age will be AI training data -- "whoever gets the most data wins."

Low-cost, user-installable
terminals will support WiFi, cell
phones, and the Internet. Solar panels
and batteries are optional.
Several Vision Fund investments focus on collecting that training data from Internet of things (IoT) devices. They have invested in ARM, which dominates the IoT and smartphone processor markets, Nvidia which makes processors used in AI, Boston Dynamics which is building intelligent robots and, you guessed it, OneWeb, which will link 1 trillion IoT devices to AI projects.

Wyler and representatives of some other Vision Fund companies made presentations during the keynote. Here is a summary of what Wyler said:
  • They have priority rights to 3.55 GHz of globally harmonized spectrum for non-geostationary satellites. (They also have a technique for avoiding interference with geo-stationary satellites when over the equator).
  • They will have 49 satellites in each of 18, 1,200 km orbital planes.
  • With Airbus, they have devised a novel satellite manufacturing process that will allow mass production rather than hand building.
  • Cost per satellite will be under $1 million and they will be able to produce three per day.
  • They will connect both Internet gateways and end users.
  • The first satellites will have a capacity of 595 Mbps, but that will increase to over 1 Gbps. (More on capacity below).
  • Latency will be under 50 ms, making interactive applications like 5G mobile telephony, game playing and Web surfing possible.
The following is a video (9:43) of his presentation:


(You can see the entire keynote session with presentations by several Vision Fund companies (2:12:15) here or just Son's introduction, outlining his Vision Fund strategy (30:17) here).

Satellite footprint 1,080 by 1,080 km
System capacity is a key variable. OneWeb claimed satellite throughput would be "up to" 7.5 Gbps in a June 2016 presentation to the ITU, but Wyler quoted much lower capacity in his Softbank talk. (I've asked OneWeb for clarification on this change, but have not received a reply. I will update this post if and when I do).

That revised capacity estimate may explain Wyler's February 2017 statement that they had sold a considerable portion of the capacity of their planned constellation. The following month they filed an application with the FCC for an additional 720 satellites orbiting at 1,200 km and 1,280 orbiting at 8,500 km. The 720 satellite constellation application has been approved.

I have no idea what their planned customer mix is. They will presumably serve relatively few Internet gateways, but those will require considerable bandwidth. End users like homes and schools will require less bandwidth, but there will be more of them. There will be large numbers of IoT devices, but they will require little bandwidth. Population densities also vary greatly -- between urban and rural areas, continents and islands and, in the extreme, ships at sea. 1 Gbps will go a lot further in Alaska than Bangladesh.

OneWeb seems to be ahead of SpaceX's schedule. They plan to launch their first satellites in March 2018. (That will satisfy the ITU requirement that they are using their spectrum). They will begin offering service in Alaska in 2019 and hope to cover all of Alaska by the end of 2020. By 2025 they expect to have 1 billion subscribers and their mission is to eliminate the global digital divide by 2027.

=====
Update 10/28/2017

The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) and OneWeb have signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on rural connectivity. Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman of OneWeb, promised that “Starting in 2020, OneWeb will be able to deliver everyone in Saudi Arabia, regardless of their location, high-speed broadband at their home, office, or school."

The Saudi National transformation plan calls for extending connectivity to nearly all rural areas and OneWeb is expected to help them reach 30% of rural homes. No details were released, but since this is a deal with the government, the strategy may be to use OneWeb for a national "backbone" and provide backhaul for local area networks rather than serving consumers directly.

Note that OneWeb investor and partner Richard Branson is witnessing the signing.

OneWeb's Greg Wyler signing an MOU with the Saudi MCIT

=====
Update 11/3/2017

Greg Wyler testifying
Greg Wyler, Founder and Executive Chairman of OneWeb, testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on "The Commercial Satellite Industry: What’s Up and What’s on the Horizon."

In his introductory remarks, Wyler said their schedule had slipped by two months and they will launch their first ten satellites next May. By 2019, they will be able to offer service throughout Alaska and will cover the entire US in 2020. Their first constellation will offer connections of up to 500 mbps and have a total capacity of 7 tbps. The second constellation, planned for 2021, will offer speeds up to 2.5 tbps and bring total capacity to 120 tbps. (High speeds will be possible in lightly populated regions). The third constellation, planned for 2013, will cover 1 billion potential consumers by 2025 and have a total capacity of 1,000 tbps. By 2027 they will cover the globe.

Wyler said they and their partners will invest $30 billion and provide many high-paying jobs. They will partner with local ISPs and phone companies in marketing their service. He also spoke of space debris and reentry casualties.

After the introductory remarks, the senators asked questions of the panelists. Mr. Wyler said the US is the technology leader among spacefaring nations and, if we take the lead in regulation, other nations and the International Telecommunication Union would follow. For example, he feels that a 125 km orbital altitude separation should be maintained between satellites and they should be limited to a five-year lifespan.

Several senators asked about pricing and data caps and Mr. Wyler responded that their partner ISPs, not OneWeb, would set prices that were affordable in their regions -- we can expect a customer in a high-GDP nation to pay considerably more than a customer in a low-GDP nation. He also stressed the importance of safety, saying investments would dry up if there were a satellite collision and he said prolonged uncertainty over spectrum-sharing would also dampen investment.

You can read Wyler's written testimony summarizing their plans, expected benefits and policy recommendations here or watch his oral testimony, beginning 1:02:50 of the archived video of the hearing. Representatives of OneWeb, Intelsat and ViaSat also testified, but, Boeing was noticeably absent.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Annals of sleazy political fundraising

This morning, contact@victory.donaldtrump.com sent me an email offering a chance to enter a lottery for a trip to a Trump rally:


The email greeted me as "friend" and was signed by Trump himself. Trump said the winner would be flown to the rally and have his or her picture taken with him. (He did not say anything about per diem or a stay at a Trump hotel. I wonder if it would be a business class flight.)

I clicked on the Enter Now button and was taken to the solicitation page at https://donate.donaldjtrump.com:


I checked, and it turns out that the domain name donaldjtrump.com belongs to "THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION" (their caps).

I wonder how the receipts for those contributions are divided up.

-----
Update 8/17/2017

I just got another offer to enter the raffle for a trip to a rally. This one is telling me I better hurry to donate because the deadline for entering the drawing is drawing near: "All it takes is ANY CONTRIBUTION before 11:59 PM, Friday, August 18, 2017, to be entered to win this once-in-a-lifetime chance".

Trump is shameless.

------
10/7/2017

I get these offers every day since I am on Trump's email list, but this one stands out. It came from Trump Headquarters and is addressed to friend.

Trump HQ says that "Just like before the election, we don’t trust the approval polls of President Trump that the media continue to put out ... Instead, we want to hear straight from you (italics in the original).

The poll asks only one question (there is a textbox for an optional comment).


I submitted an empty form -- no vote and no comment -- but I was still thanked and asked to contribute a suggested amount between $25 and $2,700 one time or, optionally, on a monthly recurring basis. The old $1 option has been replaced by "other" -- evidently, too many people were only giving a cheesy $1.

Does anyone believe this is an unbiased poll? Does Trump think his supporters are dumb enough to consider this a legitimate poll? I guess the answers must be "yes" or they would not keep sending this sort of thing out.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Are all politicians this blatant and all contributors this naive?

Last Saturday, Newt Gingrich sent me an email inviting me to the President's Trust. Newt said I had to act quickly because the membership list was being sent to the White House at midnight. Here's the invitation:



When I clicked on the link to join the Trust, Newt asked me for a donation. He suggested amounts a lot higher than $1 and offered me the chance to make it a recurring donation:



The next day, I got an invitation to take a survey to show the liberal fake news outlets how out of touch with the truth they were on immigration.




I took the survey and, when I submitted it, got another request for a donation. It looked a lot like Newt's.





This is my first experience with a political mailing list and I have a couple questions:

  • Is this typical -- have other presidents requested donations this frequently and this early in their terms?
  • If so, is the childish deception in these offers typical?
  • Outside of Trump's base "base," are people naove enough to fall for this sort of thing?
  • Who actually gets the money?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

SpaceX satellite Internet project status update

If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will be offering global Internet connectivity by 2024.

SpaceX orbital path schematic, source
I've been following the efforts of SpaceX and OneWeb to become global Internet service providers using constellations of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites for some time. Launch times are getting close, so I'm posting a status update on SpaceX's project. (I'll do the same for OneWeb in a subsequent post).

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing titled “Investing in America’s Broadband Infrastructure: Exploring Ways to Reduce Barriers to Deployment” on May 3, 2017, and one of the expert witnesses was Patricia Cooper, SpaceX Vice President, Satellite Government Affairs.

She began her oral testimony with a description of SpaceX and its capability and went on to outline the disparities in broadband availability and quality and the domestic and global broadband market opportunities.

Next she presented their two-stage plan. The first, LEO, satellite constellation will consist of 4,425 satellites operating in 83 orbital planes at altitudes ranging from 1,110 to 1,325 km. They plan to launch a prototype satellite before the end of this year and a second one during the early months of 2018. They will start launching operational satellites in 2019 and will complete the first constellation by 2024.

The LEO satellites launched in the first phase of the project will enable SpaceX to bring the Internet to all underserved and rural areas of the Earth. If all goes according to plan, SpaceX will be offering global Internet connectivity by 2024. These satellites may also have an advantage over terrestrial networks for long-range backhaul links since they will require fewer router hops, as shown in the following illustration comparing a terrestrial route (14 hops) with a satellite route (5 hops) between Los Angeles and a University in Punta Arenas, Chile (The figure is drawn to scale).

Ms. Cooper also said they had filed for authority to launch a second constellation of 7,500 satellites operating closer to the Earth -- in very low Earth orbit (VLEO). A 2016 patent by Mark Krebs, then at Google, now at SpaceX, describes the relationship between the two constellations.

I don't have dates for the second constellation, but the satellite altitudes will range from 335.9 to 345.6 km. (The International Space Station orbits at 400 km). These satellites will be able to provide high-speed, low-latency connectivity because of their low-altitude orbits. Coverage of the two constellations will overlap, allowing for dynamic handoffs between them when desirable. When this second constellation is complete, SpaceX might be able to compete with terrestrial networks in densely populated urban areas.

These VLEO satellites might also be used for Earth imaging and sensing applications and a bullish article by Gavin Sheriden suggests they may also connect all Tesla cars and Tesla solar roofs.

Very low Earth orbit (VLEO) satellites have smaller footprints,
but are faster and have lower latency times than higher
altitude satellites. Image Source

Ms. Cooper concluded her testimony with a discussion of administrative barriers they were encountering and listed six specific policy recommendation. You can see her full written testimony here. The entire hearing is shown below and Ms. Cooper's testimony begins at 13:54.



I will follow this post with a similar update on OneWeb, SpaceX's formidable competitor in the race to become a global Internet service provider using satellites.

Global connectivity is a rosy prospect, but we must ask one more question. Success by either or both of these companies could, like the shift from dial-up to broadband, disrupt the Internet service industry. As of July/August, 1997, there were 4,009 ISPs in North America and today few people in the United States have more than two ISP choices. Might we end up with only one or two global Internet service providers and, if so, what sort of regulation, if any, would be beneficial?

-----
Update 9/21/2017

Evidently SpaceX will name their satellite Internet service Starlink. They applied to trademark the name last month and described the service as follows:


-----
Update 9/27/2017

The SpaceX Internet service project hit a roadblock yesterday when the FCC voted to delay it due to fear of radio interference with OneWeb and Telesat satellites. Like SpaceX, OneWeb is planning to provide Internet service with a constellation of low-Earth orbiting satellites and they and Telesat have reserved International Telecommunication Union (ITU) priority rights to spectrum SpaceX plans to use.

OneWeb technique to avoid inference
with geostationary satellites (source)
ITU priority does not mean they have exclusive use of their frequencies and it is not a permanent designation, but SpaceX will have to work out a spectrum-sharing scheme that OneWeb and Telesat agree to. OneWeb has already patented a technique they say will avoid interference with Telesat's geostationary satellites, which orbit at much higher altitudes around the equator.

I am not an expert in such matters, but it seems that we are at the start of a transition from exclusive spectrum rights to an era of unlicensed spectrum (like WiFi) and spectrum sharing. This fundamental shift will enable efficient use of spectrum (on Earth and in space). It is reminiscent of the shift from circuit-switching to packet-switching and will take years to complete.

I understand OneWeb's desire to delay the SpaceX project for business reasons, but they seem to be on the wrong side of the technology trend in this case and delaying SpaceX is not in the best interest of society.

For more on this ruling and its implications, click here.

-----
Update 9/29/2017

Elon Musk gave a terrific talk on SpaceX's plan to go to Mars yesterday. He plans to send two 150-ton cargo loads to Mars in 2022 and send four -- two with cargo and two with people -- in 2024. He focused on technology advances that will enable those Mars trips, going to the Moon and intercity travel on Earth. He did not mention the satellite-Internet project, but those technology advances will also cut the cost of Internet satellite launches.

Reliable reusability makes BFR launches cheaper than others.
The key to reducing cost is their shift to a new rocket, called, for now, the Big F***ing Rocket or BFR. The BFR will carry a 150-ton payload (10 times that of their current Falcon 9) and have an extra landing-guidance engine for reliable reusability. (They have now successfully landed 16 straight boosters with only one engine). As shown here, marginal cost per BFR launch will be the lowest of all SpaceX rockets, which are cheaper than any others.

Musk said they would soon begin soft-landing and reusing second stage rockets as well as boosters and he suggested that the BFR and its reusable second stage may be able to retrieve spent satellites in the future.

I don't know how many Internet satellites will fit in a BFR 150-ton payload module, but the BFR may give SpaceX a cost advantage over competitors OneWeb and Boeing. (Note that Boeing is also planning a Mars mission, so they may have something novel up their sleeve).

For more on the BFR and it's role in the satellite Internet project see this post.

You can see a number of the slides from Musk's talk here and I heartily recommend watching the talk:



=====
Update 10/17/2017

SpaceX has applied for FCC approval to test satellite communication using radios on two buildings in Redmond Washington. The ground station equipment will be mounted on the SpaceX satellite research and development building shown here and the communications equipment that will eventually be in test satellites will be on top of a tall building about 6 km away. You can read more on the application and test on Reddit.

SpaceX satellite research and development building

=====
Update 10/28/2017

Patricia Cooper testifying
SpaceX vice president of satellite government affairs Patricia Cooper testified before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on "The Commercial Satellite Industry: What’s Up and What’s on the Horizon."

She said they would launch two prototype satellites within the next few months and would begin operation in 2019. Launching the full 4,425 LEO satellite constellation will take about five years and commercial service will begin with 800 satellites in the 2020-1 time frame. At that time, they will cover the entire US. (OneWeb will also cover the US first for political reasons and because we have a high-margin Internet market due to our GDP and lack of terrestrial ISP competition).

Ms. Cooper said their emphasis was on building constellation capacity by increasing the throughput of each satellite and increasing the number of satellites in orbit as quickly as possible. When the constellation is fully deployed, they will have "over 20 satellites in view from any spot in the US." She also said that if operators cannot agree on techniques to share spectrum, the FCC (and ITU) will divide and allocate fixed spectrum blocks and no one wants that so they are motivated to rapidly develop spectrum-sharing techniques.

Ms. Cooper did not give a timeline for the second constellation of 7,500 VLEO satellites mentioned above, but it sounds like they expect this constellation to enable them to eventually compete in urban areas and it will be interesting to see how well they can compete with terrestrial ISPs at that time.

You can read her written testimony describing their plans, expected benefits and policy recommendations here or watch her oral testimony, beginning 45:50 of the archived video of the hearing. Representatives of OneWeb, Intelsat and ViaSat also testified, but, Boeing was noticeably absent. Ms. Cooper and the others answered questions after their introductory oral testimony.