Satellite Internet: Working, Advantages and Challenges – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

In October 2022, ISRO successfully deployed 36 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites for Bharti Group’s OneWeb. With this deployment, OneWeb has come closer to the commercial launch of its Satellite Internet services. The company has deployed 70% of planned satellite fleet (462 out of planned 648). In September 2022, Reliance Jio received approval from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to offer global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) services in India. This has spiced up the competition in the satellite internet space in India.

What is Satellite Internet?

A satellite internet connection uses communication satellites to provide internet connectivity to the users. Earlier the space internet services utilized Geostationary Orbit (or GEO) Satellites but now increasingly in Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are being deployed. Space Internet isn’t dependent on optic fibers or phone lines. Satellite internet works similarly to satellite TV.

Internet Technologies UPSC

How does Satellite Internet function?
Infrastructure

Space Internet relies on 3 components: (a) A satellite (mostly in Low Earth orbit (LEO)); (b) A number of ground stations known as gateways. Gateways relay Internet data to and from the satellite via radio waves (microwaves); (c) Further ground stations to serve each subscriber, with a small antenna and transceiver. Transceiver consists of both transmitter and receivers. It can both transmit and receive radio waves.

Other components of a Space Internet system include a modem at the user end which links the user’s network with the transceiver, and a centralized Network Operations Centre (NOC) for monitoring the entire system. All network communication passes through the network’s central hub processor. With this configuration, the number of ground stations that can be connected to the hub.

Satellite internet uses three satellite dishes: one at the service provider’s Centre (NOC), one in space satellite, and one on user premises.

Flow of Signals

Every request a user makes (for a new page, a download, an email, etc.) is sent to the satellite dish. The satellite dish sends it to the ISP’s hub. The Hub processes the request (page, download or email) and sends the signal back to the Satellite.  It is then relayed back to the user’s dish and finally to the user’s computer.

Radio waves are used to communicate with satellites orbiting the Earth. Data is delivered and received via a communication network that begins with the user’s device and continues through the user’s modem and satellite dish, out to a satellite in orbit, and finally back to Earth to the network operations centre (NOC). User will need electricity to keep the receiver dish powered. Clear view of sky is necessary for the functioning of the space internet.

Working of Satellite Internet

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

What are the advantages of Satellite Internet?

First, It is faster than terrestrial dial-up internet. Satellite internet speed is 10x to 35x times faster than dialup internet.

Second, Space internet connections can handle high bandwidth usage, so internet speed/quality isn’t be affected by lots of users or ‘peak use’.

Third, Internet user don’t need a phone line for satellite internet.

Fourth, the biggest advantage over other types of internet is accessibility. Satellite Internet is accessible in places where internet services aren’t otherwise available. Satellite service is good for residents of rural areas and in places where traditional telecom infrastructure (like cable, fiber, or phone wiring) isn’t in place. It can help provide connectivity to people who live in the outer suburbs, small towns, developing nations, and rural areas.

Fifth, Satellite Internet can work better than terrestrial systems in case of disasters (provided dish is intact). Terrestrial networks go down when towers etc. are damaged during natural calamities.

What are the challenges associated with Satellite Internet?

Speed and Bandwidth: Terrestrial Internet provided by fibre cables has much higher speed and bandwidth compared to satellite based internet. Earlier the speed of satellite internet used to be extremely slow and offered download speeds of around 750 Kbps. Advancements in technology and new satellites have helped to increase bandwidth to ~150 Mbps. In contrast, 5G can reach top speed of 20 Gbps.

Higher Latency: The time taken to send and receive data is known as latency. For Space Internet, latency is the time it takes for data to go from user’s system through the complete network (satellite, ISP NOC and internet) and back to the user. Due to longer path (via Satellite), it has higher latency than terrestrial internet. Cable and fiber internet offers latency in the range of 20 to 50 milliseconds (ms), whereas Space internet ranges can be as high as 600 ms. Higher latency limits its utility for applications like gaming. It is more suitable for simpler activities like web browsing, emailing etc.

Impact of Weather: Satellite Internet is frequently disrupted by storm-related interruptions (rain fade). Heavy snowfall can also result in break in services.

Cost: Satellite internet is comparatively more expensive than cable or fiber internet. It is very expensive to establish a network of satellites to provide the services.

Solar Storms: Starlink lost 40 satellites in February 2022 from a geomagnetic storm.

What are the various initiatives related to Satellite Internet?

According to one estimate, the Satellite Internet market is expected to reach US$ 16 billion globally by 2030.

Size of Satellite Internet Market

Source: Business Standard

Hughes Communications India (HCI), has launched India’s first high throughput satellite (HTS) broadband service powered by ISRO satellites in September 2022. (HTS is a communication satellite that provides more throughput than conventional communication satellites or Fixed Satellite Service).

OneWeb A private company called OneWeb (Backed by the British Government ) has successfully put 254 satellites, or 40% of OneWeb’s planned fleet of 648 LEO satellites that will deliver high-speed, low-latency global connectivity. OneWeb intends to make global service available in 2022-23. In July 2020, OneWeb was purchased by Bharti Global (Airtel)(a former OneWeb partner) and the Government of the United Kingdom.

Starlink (owned by Elon Musk) has launched around 2,300 satellites and has roped in over 500,000 customers across 40 countries offering internet services in Europe, Japan, New Zealand etc.

Reliance Jio Platforms has teamed up with SES, a European satellite-based broadband service provider, to get into the satellite internet market.

The Tata Group has tied up with Canadian firm Telesat to offer LEO-powered satellite internet services by 2024.

Project Kuiper: Amazon announced this project in 2019.

Loon Project: In 2013, Google started the “Loon” project, which uses high-altitude balloons to make a wireless network in the air. Alphabet, which owns Google, gave up on the project in 2021 after testing the service in rural Kenya.

Conclusion

Satellite Internet offers exciting opportunities in providing internet connectivity in remotely accessible areas. As the digital economic footprint expands, it can help plug the digital gap and ensure inclusive development. There are some challenges that limit the effectiveness of space internet services. However, with the advancement of technologies, these challenges can be addressed. Many experts contend that satellite internet is the future.

Syllabus: GS III, Science and Technology: Developments and their applications and effects in everyday life; GS III, Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers.

Source: The Times of India, Indian Express, Business Standard

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