Broadband Stimulus in Space


Terrestar-1 was launched a couple of weeks ago. In-orbit testing is going well, and the antenna is up. Wish we could say the same about the Solaris Mobile bird.

As we’ve blogged before, the company behind it has an interesting propostion: a diverse path for communicating via smartphone.  No signal? No problem: connect via satellite.

More interesting is they’ll be one of many satcom-based communications companies going after some of the US$7.2 billion set aside for broadband, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

 The launch is significant because it could make the case to policymakers, who may have government grants or business to offer, that satellite Internet service is a viable alternative to cable or cellular hookups.

The sheer size of TerreStar’s satellite, which has a 60-foot antenna, will ensure that military personnel, emergency responders, and rural customers are always connected, said TerreStar President Jeff Epstein.

TerreStar has developed a smart phone that operates both on its satellite network and a traditional cellular network. The company has secured a roaming agreement with AT&T Inc. (T), and it could pursue similar agreements with other wireless carriers.

"Off the network grid, you can make calls via the satellite," Epstein said. "It’s a redundant path."

TerreStar will be among the first satellite carriers to offer Internet speeds that are comparable to high-speed WiFi or cellular broadband. That could make the company eligible for some of the $7.2 billion in economic stimulus money for high-speed Internet connections in unserved and rural areas.

Right now, government officials and industry analysts say satellite Internet service is too spotty and slow to be a good candidate for the government money.

The advantage of satellite service, however, is that it can cover much wider swaths of the country than other types of connections.

With a robust network, satellite could become the ideal method to deliver high-speed Internet to sparsely populated areas, a top priority of President Barack Obama.

But TerreStar’s Internet service rollout might be too late for an economic stimulus subsidy. By law, the government Internet grant money must be distributed by the end of September 2010, which means grant makers will start allocating the last round of funds sometime next spring.

Before TerreStar can start selling voice and data service, it has to test its network in orbit. Epstein said he wants to complete that testing by the end of the year.

SkyTerra Communications Inc. (SKYT) has similar plans to offer mobile Internet services. It announced earlier this month that it will launch one of two next-generation satellites in the first half of 2010.

Both SkyTerra and TerreStar have agreements with Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) and Infineon Technologies AG (IFNNY) to develop more models of regular-size satellite-cellular devices.

More power to them!

Here’s the launch video, courtesy of Space Systems/Loral