FCC greenlights SpaceX’s 1Gbps satellite broadband plan

30 Mar 2018

SpaceX Dragon orbiting planet Earth. Image: NASA Images/Shutterstock

Ambitious SpaceX plan for global wireless internet to rocket ahead.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US has given the go-ahead for Elon Musk’s SpaceX to launch 4,425 internet satellites into orbit as part of a wider 12,000-satellite plan.

They will be the first phase of a planned network of 12,000 satellites that will provide Earth with a constellation of connectivity.

The plan, voted 5-0 for approval, calls for the satellites to launch in two phases between 2019 and 2024.

They will fly to between 714 and 823 miles (1,150 to 1,325km) above Earth and will be capable of providing a 1Gbps connection.

The commissioners have approved similar requests by OneWeb, Space Norway and Telesat.

The FCC has stipulated that SpaceX has to launch half of its proposed satellites within six years.

A constellation of connectivity

“We appreciate the FCC’s thorough review and approval of SpaceX’s constellation licence,” said SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement.

“Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected.”

The approval marks the first time that the FCC has allowed a US-licensed satellite constellation to provide broadband services through low-Earth-orbit satellites.

The satellites will have frequencies in the Ka and Ku spectrum bands. The system will become operational once at least 800 of the satellites are deployed.

The aim is that Starlink will provide broadband speeds similar to fibre optic networks today.

Earlier this year, SpaceX launched the first two of its planned 12,000-satellite constellation. At the time, Musk said that the satellite network would serve the “least served” with connectivity.

The FCC said: “With this action, the commission takes another step to increase high-speed broadband availability and competition in the United States.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years