Last Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, the event that led many to proclaim America as the winner of the space race. Fast forward to 2019, we’re heading towards an internet space race. This time, instead of country vs. country, it’s company vs. company. SpaceX, Amazon and OneWeb are just a few of the companies who have already invested billions of dollars into creating a broadband internet network in space.
SpaceX’s plan for ultra-fast broadband internet from space involves 11,943 satellites which would hover at low-Earth orbit, approximately 112-1,200 miles above earth. Amazon’s plan, dubbed Project Kuiper, plans to launch a network of 3,236 satellites and UK based OneWeb plans to launch 650 satellites in the next two years, both at low-Earth orbit.
Together that’s over 15,000 satellites, each roughly the size of a small fridge, hovering just over Earth to provide internet access across the planet.
In its application to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Amazon cited FCC studies that say 21 million Americans lack fixed, residential broadband, while 33 million Americans don’t have access to speedy mobile service. The study also states that 3.8 billion people around the world don’t have reliable broadband service.
These projects if or when they are fully realized, will provide reliable internet access to countless consumers and businesses that have gone without it. For an e-commerce company like Amazon the motivation behind this project is simple: more people with internet access means more people online, which means more customers for Amazon.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said their network will be aimed at rural or semi-rural areas places that do not currently have connectivity. According to the FCC, in 2017 more than 26% of people living in rural area of the U.S. were not covered by terrestrial broadband internet service. For SpaceX, the motivation behind their broadband satellite network is to fund its goal of sending people to Mars.
OneWeb and European aerospace company Airbus jointly own the company OneWeb Satellites that will build their satellite broadband network. The UK-based company stated its initial goal as providing schools a means to access the internet. Its pilot program launched six satellites earlier this year to test the connection on schools in Alaska, Ecuador, Honduras, Rwanda, Nepal and Kyrgyzstan.
“The combination of declining space launch costs and advances in satellite technology will raise the value of the space economy from $340 billion currently to nearly $1 trillion over the next two decades,” reads a statement from investment bank UBS. “And while traditional satellite, government and military applications in space will continue to grow, in our view, the space economy will start to have major spillovers across several industries.”
An entire planet connected to the internet can only mean good things for consumers and businesses alike. No doubt, whichever company wins the internet space race will be the real winner. But businesses, employees and customers alike could potentially benefit from the implementation of one or multiple broadband satellite networks. For example, the ability to connect to the internet from anywhere on the planet could engage more remote employees, increase productivity, encourage innovation and connect businesses with new pools of customers.