Satellite Wars

SpaceX Starlink satellites, Amazon new Kuiper and OneWeb are competing for the low latency low-earth satellite market. This market will be worth tens of billions of dollars per year.

Amazon will be launching 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit. They will be at an orbital altitude of 367 miles to 391-miles. This will be an Amazon project and not a Jeff Bezos Blue Origin project.

There are plans from many companies and countries for over 20,000 satellites to be placed into low earth orbit.

SpaceX is trying to raise another $500 million for its Starlink satellites. They should be placing near production ready prototypes starting next month. There will be about 75 satellites in prototype configuration of the planned 4425 satellites. SpaceX will likely have to raise several billion more. They could start an operating satellite business with an initial 800 satellite constellation and could provide coverage for the northern hemisphere with 1600 satellites. SpaceX had filed for a license for another 7518 satellites using the V band.

The Starlink satellites will have xenon ion drives. SpaceX claims its new low earth orbit satellites will completely burn up on re-entry.

The other major competitor is OneWeb. OneWeb placed six satellites into orbit in February. They have raised around $3 billion for a 648 satellite constellation. The satellites will operate in circular low Earth orbit, at approximately 750 miles (1,200 km) altitude transmitting and receiving in the Ku band of the radio frequency spectrum. They could expand later with another 1980 satellites.

OneWeb plans to launch 32 satellites every 3 to 4 weeks starting in the second half of 2019.

Boeing and Samsung also talked about large satellite networks but have not made the necessary test launches or investments.

The Tens of Billion Per Year Prize

Financial centers and exchanges like New York and Chicago are willing to pay for low latency communication. It is worth New York and Chicago $100 million per year to put a premium microwave data connection between the two cities. This shaves 5% of the latency time from pricing updates and order placement. This has a lot of value when a big stock starts making a rapid move up or down.

Microwave transmitter for low latency communication

There would be 190 combinations of pairs of the top 20 financial cities. There are 435 combinations of pairs of the top 30 financial cities. If the top $100 million per year was paid by the top 20 cities, then this would be $19 billion per year. If the premium internet pairing for the connections to 21 to 30 was worth $10 million per year then this would be another $2.45 billion per year. Even with a half-price discount, the total would still be $10 billion per year.

The SpaceX Starlink or low-earth orbit competitors could save 30-50% of the latency time. This is because the speed of light is almost twice as fast in space as it is in a glass fiber. The value for the Starlink financial latency reduction should be even higher. Let us say it is double the New York to Chicago price. This means the premium pairing of cities is worth over $40 billion per year.

Other industries may pay for premium pairing but there has to be a lot of money involved and value for shaving 30 milliseconds at some time in the year.

This low latency market revenue would be more than double NASA’s annual budget. Direct TV is part of AT&T and makes about $40 billion per year in revenue.

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