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Canada Space The Internet Science

Canadian Firm Plans 78-Satellite Net Service 143

Posted by samzenpus
from the who-doesn't-love-satellite-service? dept.
matty619 writes "A CNET article is reporting on another try at low earth orbit satellites for internet access, reminiscent of Teledesic, an ill fated $9 billion Bill Gates/Paul Allen et al venture originally consisting of 840 low earth orbit satellites (LEO-SAT). From the article: 'MSCI, which stands for Microsat Systems Canada Inc., is trying to be a bit of a maverick with its project, called CommStellation. The company said today that its approach of using small, inexpensive satellites in low orbit — about 620 miles above the Earth — means better coverage of the world's population, quicker launch, and better network capacity.' Each MSCI satellite has a data-transfer capacity of 12 gigabits per second. The expected lifespan of each is 10 years, and they can be sent back into the atmosphere at the end of their lives to avoid more orbital clutter."
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Canadian Firm Plans 78-Satellite Net Service

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  • This will be great! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @06:55PM (#34933734)

    High ping, high jitter, low bandwidth once you factor in number of users and high cost, what could be better?

    • by SomeKDEUser (1243392) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @06:57PM (#34933754)

      But then, the alternative is Rogers or Bell, so...

    • by medv4380 (1604309) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @06:59PM (#34933768)

      High ping, high jitter, low bandwidth once you factor in number of users and high cost, what could be better?

      Dialup

      • Dial-up has lower latency than satellite, I speak from experience, when I play online poker I use dial-up. Factor in the Fair Access Policy and you can download more through dial-up in 24 hours than you can through satellite. Dial-up: 5MB/hr x 24hrs=288MB Satellite: 200MB FAP limit per 24hrs for the $40 plan.

        • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @09:09PM (#34934886)
          LEO satellites will have lower latency than dial-up. Using experience with a GEO service to represent all possible satellite services is silly.
      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        It makes you wonder who they are targeting. There are few places left in the civilised world where you can't get internet access via mobile, wifi or dial-up. Presumably you will need some sort of receiver/transmitter dongle for your computer so mobile devices are out too.

      • by dwandy (907337)
        Mesh networks [wikipedia.org] are used in various 3rd world countries w/o wired internet and since we're quickly and actively working on becoming a 3rd-world internet country it's time we start mesh networks. I've said before that it's the last mile we need to take back, and since the regulatory body has proven itself to be thoroughly corrupt or inept we need to come at this from another angle.
        Sure there will be no one to connect to when you start yours, but there will be someone for the second person in your neighborhoo
      • by tehcyder (746570)
        What's dialup?
    • by Galestar (1473827) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @06:59PM (#34933770)
      I personally still vote for IP-over-avian-carriers [wikipedia.org]. Think of how many pigeons you can buy for $9 Billion.
    • by DirtyCanuck (1529753) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:06PM (#34933852)

      This is Canada bud, we have the most land per person with gaps in population not seen in most places in the world.

      Even in Northern Ontario where cell service and broadband exists, there are still consistent areas that have access only to dial up.

      I have seen customers first hand, who had no service while their neighbor across the road had High Speed Bell or Cogeco.

      When we start to take into consideration people that can't even access dial up it becomes apparent that there is a glaring gap in equal access to internet up here in the proper North.

      With Bell and Rogers running the show it becomes very evident that an ideal way to harness these customers is to offer some sort of over the air service not already in place.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Those folks are not going to have the money for this kind of service. If they really want good internet service they could move closer to civilization.

        • It's not because they are leaving very North they do not have money. Some are quite rich in some areas. Others are communities which could afford a link to share.
      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        And probably a lot of people living on a location to which no roads leads and with 2 months of access by boat or a 6 months by ski/snowmobile.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        I have seen customers first hand, who had no service while their neighbor across the road had High Speed Bell or Cogeco.

        Pretty sad when their neighbor won't let them get service to there and run wireless across the road.

    • by emt377 (610337) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:13PM (#34933910)

      High ping, high jitter, low bandwidth once you factor in number of users and high cost, what could be better?

      622 miles is really quite low and would only add about 10-12ms to the roundtrip. It's only a little more than the distance from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Jitter and bandwidth is a matter of pricing, and presumably there will be service tiers. Oversell it enough and it will be crap. Price it to manage demand and it could be excellent. If they can make this work anywhere in the world (why else 78 nodes) with an access device resembling a small book or hockey puck, then I predict monumental success.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Jitter is a matter of the constantly moving sats, you will be losing them over the horizon and pick up new ones. If you price it so that a reasonable amount of bandwidth is affordable you will not be able to afford launch costs.

        • by afidel (530433)
          This is why high altitude balloons with solar motors to maintain position make much more sense to me, higher payload, lower cost, easier to maintain (put up a second bird, repair the problem then use that to replace the next failing bird).
      • 622 miles is one way. RT is 1244mi, presuming it's right above you. Add in the route to get to the uplink, if it's not your own dish. And as geography says that people mostly live in towns and cities, congestion of a specific sat is likely, and is unlikely to be able to effectively load balanced in any meaningful way. Depending on the freq, you may or may not have to have a clear sky path, and you may or may not need to align things to maximize speed.

        Then there's launching a lot of sats because you have a l

        • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @08:12PM (#34934448) Journal

          I would think that the 10-12 msec estimate already took all of that into account. If the bird is right above you, a 1244 mile round trip is a little over 6 msec. at the speed of light. Also, bear in mind that LEO satellites don't use a dish---they use a normal antenna---so no alignment is involved. You can't realistically track a bird whose twenty minute ground path is the size of North America using a directional aerial. The whole point of LEO constellations is that there are always multiple birds overhead, so you talk to the one that provides the strongest signal or whatever.

          But you're right about load balancing and cities. The flip side of that coin is that these can cover areas that can't feasibly be covered by cellular coverage due to low population density. You know, like most of Canada, where this company is based. It's a tradeoff.

        • by dave562 (969951)

          The only time I ever worked with a satellite connection was at a power plant in the middle of California's Central Valley. The latency was constantly above 2000ms and establishing a VPN connection back to the main office in Los Angeles was a real challenge.

          • by green1 (322787)

            But that was a geostationary satellite, this is talking LEO, there's a huge difference.
            Geostationary is the reason satellite internet has a bad reputation, you're sending a signal 36,000km each way, that adds a lot of time to your pings. The plan here is for the altitude to be only 1000km, or 1/36th the distance, so if your ping before was 2000ms then your new ping time would only be about 55ms which is quite acceptable.

            The downside is instead of launching 1 satellite, they are launching 78, so the big ques

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            That's the equivalent of stating that DSL is capable of 300 bps because it runs over the same copper you used to get 300 bps on last you tried it. Your ignorance of the technology isn't an effective argument. These satellites are about 1/10th as far away as the satellite you were likely using. Not to mention that to get 2000 ms response, you'd have to be on a crap service. Comparing the capabilities of "satellite" from someone so incompetent as to try running business services over a very oversubscribed
            • by dave562 (969951)

              Hostile much? It was business class satellite. Definitely not Dish. I will figure out who it was and get back to you. I'm going to laugh if it's your company.

              • by AK Marc (707885)
                And I'll laugh if someone sold you Starband or WildBlue or such as a "business class satellite."
    • Low earth orbit satellites are only a few hundred miles up, so ping isn't so much of a problem.
    • by Kenja (541830)
      Only 6ms round trip. At that distance, you're looking at as little as 3ms each way (6ms round trip from ground to satellite and then back). Of course it will be higher then that, but its not going to be a major hindrance.
      • by guruevi (827432)

        Probably closer to 7ms + equipment would be roughly 10ms. Still better than Comcast or Time Warner though.

    • by ewieling (90662)
      It is about 800 miles from New York City to Chicago. These will be orbiting at 670 miles above. If there are latency issues, it is not because of the distance.
    • Well, if you have no copper or fiber coming to your area, let alone house, I think that this sounds like a GREAT idea.
      The simple fact is, that northern Canada is fairly desolate and loads of space from local to local. The same is true of much of this planet.
      These guys are going to make loads of money.
      • by green1 (322787)

        Or more likely, these guys will go broke, but whoever buys their satellite constellation will make loads of money...

        I really like the idea, but I see it going the way of Iridium, the up front costs are just too high to make any money in the near term. That said, Iridium is still around, and I've been quite happy with it every time I've used it (works much better than Globalstar) So if this does the same thing, I look forward to whoever buys the constellation. It will solve a really big problem of internet i

        • Seriously?

          Learn the market before you talk.

          You should check out a company called Northwestel. They're not even in a monopoly position and they've made over 25 million a year in PROFIT on average for the last 10 fucking years in ONE town of 6-9 thousand(population has been growing obviously). At peak pop thats around 3k per person per year. Given that they're charging and making similar profits, all across the north, and that population is somewhere in the quarter to half a million range for just the Canadi

          • by green1 (322787)

            That 25 million profit won't get their first satellite off the ground, and they need 78 of them. They also have no existing market share to work off of, and are competing with entrenched players. They also can't rely on people in any town or city as those people will always be better off on DSL, Cable, or Fibre. (this will necessarily be slower, and more expensive than those options where they are available)

            They have a great market niche to look forward to, but the start up costs truly are "out of this worl

            • You seem to completely miss the point. You also can't be working in the telecommunications industry in Canada or you would be aware of the large chunk of rural/out of the way people that have no internet access beyond dial-up, and not even dial-up in some cases. These are situations where they're comparing apples to apples, you're comparing apples to oranges. If they truly have a better service and are reliable, plus the price isn't totally out of this world.

              That was the problem with Iridium btw, I did use

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        It's not just northern Canada - even better settled parts of Canada still can't get mobile internet. If this thing is reasonably priced, I'd gladly buy it just so I can have net access on the road. Not only could I use it all over Canada, but I'd be able to take it anywhere in the world, so I wouldn't have to worry about roaming charges or availability of service when I go visit Europe, or deploy to some third-world shithole. You can bet that it would be equally valuable to any businesses which do resour

    • by khallow (566160)

      High ping, high jitter, low bandwidth once you factor in number of users and high cost, what could be better?

      A lot of stuff could be better. But you know what's worse? No service at all.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      You're only talking a 600 mile data transport. Google is 3,000 miles from Illinois where I am, and I have no trouble getting YouTube videos to stream. When I was into gaming, I got fragged by people a lot farther away.

      Now, if they do it like satellite internet usually is now, with satellite downloads and POTS uploads, then yeah, it will suck. But if they do it right I don't see why it would be a problem.

      • You're only talking a 600 mile data transport. Google is 3,000 miles from Illinois where I am, and I have no trouble getting YouTube videos to stream. When I was into gaming, I got fragged by people a lot farther away.

        Now, if they do it like satellite internet usually is now, with satellite downloads and POTS uploads, then yeah, it will suck. But if they do it right I don't see why it would be a problem.

        Google may be 3,000 miles away from you, but the place in which your YouTube stream comes from is much closer. CDNs, anyone? Also, while a LEO system would have a much lower latency than existing satellite offerings, it's not going to be a "7ms" penalty. Like everything else, you'll be multiple hops away from the content you want. For example, you want YouTube on DSL, you don't get 1 hop access. You bounce from your machine to your modem to the local DSLAM, etc.

        Let's say 7ms is reasonable. It's 7ms up t

    • Not everywhere has 3G or even cell coverage. This is one way to provide total mobile internet coverage. When considering mobile devices, ping, latency, and bandwidth are not as meaningful as when connecting with say a laptop or desktop. This could be very useful in a lot of places for tablets, hand helds, and WiFi cellphones.

      Making it affordable to the masses is the key. If the Iridium experiment showed us anything it is that there is a very limited market for high cost low performance sat communications.

  • Yeah, let's dump them in the ocean instead, along with the rest of our trash...

    • More like vaporized in the atmosphere. Not really a big deal.
      • Unless you consider the massive waste of these multimillion dollar devices being turned into dust. Go for it though, I'm sure the base cost will be so low for the few consumers on the outer edges of CA will be able to afford this wonderful service while the carrier absorbs the cost of launch, lunch, and reentry. Makes good sense, and should be up and running SkyNet in no time! Damn the jitters, just drink more to cope!!1!

  • by caseih (160668) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:02PM (#34933798)

    With the satellites at 600 miles, and if they truly could cover the entire earth, they could provide internet access of some kind to the ISS. Would beat the current system of vnc over radio link.

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Why would they use vnc over radio?
      It seems like there would be many better ways, using a caching proxy would be one. I don't see what vnc adds.

  • by Thud457 (234763) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:03PM (#34933810) Homepage Journal
    1 better than iridium!
    • Exactly

      “COMMStellation is a completely unique solution born from non-traditional thinking,” *cough* GPS *cough*

      But wait! There's more!

      “Until now, no one in the industry has been able to find the manufacturing cost and scheduling efficiencies, and cost-effective microsatellite technology to enable an economically viable constellation of satellites to provide 100% global coverage.”

      So there you go, They've reduced the price.. How non-traditional! Most unique!

      They've reinvented the keros

    • If I had mod points, I would mod the parent up. As it is, I will just grumble that Thud457 posted this before I did.

      For those with short memories, in the 90s Motorola proposed a similar project with 77 LEO satellites (thus Iridium with atomic number 77). I thought it was such a cool idea that I bought a bunch of Motorola stock. Things didn't pan out very well.

  • Could any of the higher ranking nerds on this site tell me if they design satellites to burn up during de-orbit without reaching the ground or ocean? Seems like it would be a pretty compromising design feature since they're trying to pack in as much communications equipment as they can into the smallest possible space.
    • by evanbd (210358) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:12PM (#34933894)
      Satellites naturally end up with modest densities, not super tightly packed (usually). Weight tends to be at more of a premium than space, especially when you have bulky things like solar panels and antennas involved. A few small, dense pieces might reach the ground, but that's not normally an issue. They'll be deorbited over the ocean, for starters, and the total mass reaching the ground is small.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yes, there are limits on the quantity of certain materials (metals) that can be used in the design of a satellite for exactly this reason. I believe the spec is AIAA S-110-2005e. For big projects there are exceptions to this (Skylab) but re-entry procedures for these are thoroughly reviewed by governing bodies.

  • Been there done that?

    www.orbcomm.com

    • orbcomm is a really low speed network used mostly for gathering data from remote sensors and tracking devices. not really comparable
  • by DeltaQH (717204) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:15PM (#34933926)
    Such a service, flying over the GFW, would theoretically give access to uncensored internet.

    Will the company filter traffic from China in exchange to get into that market.

    Will China shoot the satellites down?
    • Unless these satellites are crazy cheap compared to historical implementations of satellite communication, they'll probably do nothing about it.

      With occasional high-profile exceptions(often driven by diplomatic spats), China doesn't have much to gain by hassling well-heeled foreigners or the services that they use. They are too valuable as potential investors and sources of new technology, and tend to be ill equipped for local political disturbance.

      If local troublemakers somehow get their hands on the
    • by Nikker (749551)
      They would need LOS for an up link so as the satellite passes over China unless someone else provides an up link I doubt it would be able to be of any use to anyone.
    • China won't need to - even relatively crude ELINT gear will more than suffice to locate the transmitters on the ground. That's the great weakness in such a scheme for providing uncensored internet, it's anything but stealthy.

  • I've always wondered why satellites don't have a self destruct mechanism? Blow it up, burns up in orbit, problem solved?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @07:23PM (#34934002)

      First, because then it might blow up on accident and there goes your very expensive satellite. Second, it might blow up at a bad time (launch) which would be very bad for the rest of the satellites on your launch. Third, if you blow it up you're going to create a lot of debris you can't track. Most satellites are in GEO and have their orbits raised at the end of life to open up there orbital slots. There's no point to blow those up since the debris wouldn't enter the atmosphere. If you're in LEO then you'd still have to make sure there aren't any satellites below you before you blow up since you'll lose control of all of the pieces, and if you can control the descent of one spacecraft into the atmosphere to burn up you may as well not blow it up. Space junk is actually a huge problem for satellites and it's likely only to get worse.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Becasue pices would go every where, including into a higher orbit.

      Also, launching with additional explosive material increased the risk in all phases of the launch.

      And it's not necessary, just de-orbit.

      Now, if you question is why don't satellites de-orbit when EOL approaches, that's just do to people wanting to save money. IMO they should be designed to de-orbit into the atmosphere at EOL.
      It doesn't have to be fast. A gentile 'nudge' that begins spiraling down over months would be fine.

      • by Arlet (29997)

        A gentile 'nudge' that begins spiraling down over months would be fine.

        Of course, this is only an option for satellites that are already in a low earth orbit. A geostationary satellite is going to need more than a nudge.

        • by geekoid (135745)

          Not really. I practice there is no perfect geostationary orbit. They need station keeping thrusters. So just turning those off means it will do a figure 8 twice a day, and eventually lose orbit. I just want to be sure it's a controlled failure.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Not really.

            Yes, really. The energy needed to get them to deorbit is substantial. They just move them higher, it's cheaper, easier, and takes a reasonable amount of energy.

            I practice there is no perfect geostationary orbit. They need station keeping thrusters. So just turning those off means it will do a figure 8 twice a day, and eventually lose orbit.

            No. If you turn off the thrusters, it will drift. It won't crash in our lifetimes. Thrusters are needed because the earth isn't round. Thrusters ar
    • Neither "blowing up" nor "burning up" have much effect on mass. In an atmosphere, "burning up" is pretty close to losing mass because various gaseous oxides just go floating off in the breeze. "Blowing up", similarly, tends to reduce something recognisable into little bits that blend in with the dirt/rocks/whatever.

      In space, neither usefully applies. To burn, you would have to bring your own oxygen, and you would leave a big, slowly expanding cloud of assorted oxides(I sure hope those don't like condensi
    • by Surt (22457)

      In addition to the reasons listed by others, self destruct mechanisms have mass. Mass is very expensive to lift into orbit.

  • As if copying a failed business wasn't bad enough, using a pun-based product name isn't a good place to start.

  • The expected lifespan of each is 10 years, and they can be sent back into the atmosphere at the end of their lives to avoid more orbital clutter.

    In other news, Canadian forces is expecting to introduce their new kinetic planetary bombardment weapon in 2021.

    • by c6gunner (950153) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @09:08PM (#34934882)

      In other news, Canadian forces is expecting to introduce their new kinetic planetary bombardment weapon in 2021.

      We've been doing that for years - they're called paratroopers. Unfortunately they've recently acquired better parachutes, so their effectiveness has been greatly decreased.

      • by Strider- (39683)

        Eh, I thought that's what the Sea King helicopters were. Most countries drop torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare... we just cut to the chase and drop the whole damned helicopter.

        • by c6gunner (950153)

          Well, yeah, but the problem is they rarely stay in one piece long enough to hit the water, let alone damage the sub. 20,000 components falling on you is more of an annoyance than a bombardment.

  • Seriously, this thing provides 12 Gbps backhaul alternate route in four years? Capacity of 10% of a single strand of fibre?
    • by guruevi (827432)

      12Gbps per satellite system. It would cost you roughly $8k/gigabit/month without any profit margins and given that they have enough backhaul here on earth.

      • by c6gunner (950153)

        Uh, no. Unless all 78 satelites are serving the same customers at the same time, there's going to be a lot more than 12Gbps for the whole system. Still expensive, but quite a bit less than what you quoted.

  • by bugs2squash (1132591) on Wednesday January 19, 2011 @09:09PM (#34934892)
    I read the article quickly and may have missed it, but I saw no mention of frequency band. If they plan to use licensed spectrum then it will be interesting to see how they achieve licenses for all of their markets. and for unlicensed spectrum I don't see how they'll reach the throughput they are hoping for. Directionality/tracking capability of the ground equipment is an interesting question too. I would imagine that when all is said and done, the pitch of 12Gbits/satellite wherever it is in the world under any reasonable circumstances it is likely to encounter is probably wildly optimistic.
    A more interesting idea to my mind would be to have a "spectrum-administration-hopping satellite that can work on multiple bands and pick the most apt band for the area it is currently orbiting above. ie. perhaps use whitespace, licensed cellular where it owns licenses and UNII capacity when over north america and use something different when over Japan or Europe and anything the hell it likes when over the ocean.
    Any idiot can launch a satellite, launching a satellite that is expert in international spectrum licensing law would be something more special.
  • The company likes to spotlight its competition with the O3b, the Google-backed satellite project to improve Net access for the 3 billion people who live outside of wealthy, well-wired areas.

    Sounds like more options and much needed competition on the way. If it's not tied to another service the way DSL, Cable, and Cell service is, it could heat up the ISP market. I do wonder if and how RF saturation might limit the market potential for this tech.

  • sure, putting these things in LEO rather then GEO has some advantages, lower launch cost, lower latency, but that means each satelite will be traveling in and out of your view, so you will be switching satelite connections every x minutes... i wonder what that will do to SSL sessions etc...

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