New Brunswick

Elon Musk's rural high-speed internet project in stiff competition

A telecommunications expert says there's no question Elon Musk can get his satellite internet service operating globally over the next year.

Canada's Telesat and Amazon's Jeff Bezos also in the low-Earth-orbit satellite game

Telesat's new LEO, or low Earth orbit, satellite. The company will offer 'big fat' broadband service to telecommunications companies and internet service providers on the ground. (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.)

A telecommunications expert says there's no question Elon Musk can get his satellite internet service operating globally over the next year.

But Chris Forrester of Advance Television says the engineer and founder of SpaceX and Tesla is facing formidable competition for rural internet customers from another celebrity businessman, Jeff Bezos.

Bezos has his own spacecraft company, Blue Origin, and has created a satellite internet company of his own, Project Kuiper, with plans to launch 3,200 spacecraft into low earth orbit.

He's directed $10 billion US toward the venture.

"Amazon are a year or two away from launching their service," said Forrester, who points to the company's already existing relationships with millions of customers, many of whom subscribe to services such as Amazon Prime TV and Amazon Music.

"Potentially, Amazon is a much greater threat than anyone else."

Musk's Starlink service faces another formidable hurdle: the purchase cost for the flat plate antenna required by consumers wishing to pick up the broadband satellite signal.

Forrester says the antennas are widely used on ships, commercial aircraft and military vehicles, such as tanks. 
"They work very well, but they cost a fortune," he said.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos owns his own rocket company. He's put $10 billion US toward Project Kuiper. It will use 3200 low Earth orbit satellites to bring high speed internet to its customers. (Cliff Owen/The Associated Press)

Even the cost for home use would be "many, many hundreds of dollars."

"The challenge for Starlink will be to bring that down to affordable levels," Forrester said. "If he can do that, his market is assured, in my view."

Even then Musk's satellite competition won't be over.

Existing telecommunications companies and internet service providers in New Brunswick will have an opportunity to be part of the satellite high speed internet world through a home-grown Canadian company.

Telesat is also getting into the low Earth orbit satellite game using a slightly different business model.

Telesat with work with Telcos and internet service providers, beaming what the company calls "big fat trunks," fibre optical quality broadband signals, down to existing infrastructure in rural communities. 

The local, on-the-ground companies will send the broadband signal on to homes using fibre optic cable or wireless transmission towers. 

"Our satellites are actually more complex, I would say, than Starlink," said Michellel Beck, Telesat's vice-president North American Sales. "We've got certainly more advanced capabilities on our satellite, which frankly allows us to deliver more throughput per satellite."

Telesat's service is not as far along as Starlink or Project Kuiper. The company plans to place orders for construction of its 298 satellites this fall. 

They will orbit further out than Starlink's, at between 1,000 and 1,300 kilometres above the Earth.

The Ottawa-based company hopes to launch its service in Canada late in 2022 and globally a year later.


Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726


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