Today, September 6, startup satellite provider LeoSat Enterprises announced its first customer contract. A global financial trading company – not named in today's announcement – with offices worldwide is the first to sign up for the company's unique high-speed broadband satellite network, but it will have to wait a while before service is available.
LeoSat plans to launch a constellation of anywhere between 78 to 108 low-flying communications satellites. By operating only a few hundred miles above the Earth's surface in low orbit (LEO), LeoSat will be able to deliver faster service than traditional geosynchronous satellites parked at a fixed location 22,500 miles away, with around 20 milliseconds (ms) between ground and a satellite. Each satellite will use a combination of radio frequency downlinks and laser cross-links to other satellites to provide latency that -- at least on paper – should outperform terrestrial fiber networks when delivering data from point A to point B around the globe. The company says it should be able to deliver data between New York to Tokyo at under 130ms while a well-engineered fiber connection between those cities is around 250ms.
Along with lower latency than fiber and higher speed than traditional satellite networks, LeoSat's third selling point is a more secure network for moving data, with information encrypted end-to-end and able to travel solely through the satellite network between locations without transiting through a terrestrial station and onto a traditional telecommunications carrier.
Speed will also be a selling point. LeoSat will offer up to 1.6 Gbps of full-duplex connectivity per link, with 5.2 Gbps "where needed" – most likely available if and when the company launches the top end 108 satellites.
Financial traders are continually looking for any speed edge possible, so the promise of faster-than-fiber service is a no-brainer for hedge funds and other institutions that can gain advantage by processing orders more quickly than competitors. Other markets the company is pursuing include oil field services and operations, maritime communications, enterprise-enterprise communications, internet and cellular backhaul services, video, and government customers.
LeoSat hopes to start launching the first 84 satellites of its primary network, 78 operational plus 6 on-orbit spares, in 2019 with service availability starting in 2020. Building the initial satellite network will require up to $3.5 billion. LeoSat is currently talking with various parties to raise $100 million for detailed satellite design and the launch of a pair of pathfinder demonstration satellites that may provide broadband services across Antarctica for National Science Foundation (NSF) researchers at the South Pole.
Some might compare LeoSat to other LEO cloud satellite networks, such as OneWeb, but LeoSat is solely focused on the enterprise space. OneWeb started out in the "broadband for everyone" model, but has more recently shifted to more of a business/cellular carrier focus to get cash flowing in. OneWeb's network of 648 or so satellites is expected to deliver 50 Mbps per customer with 30ms or so of latency. The company's backers and partners include Airbus, Bharti, Coca Cola, Qualcomm, and the Virgin Group. Too little is known about SpaceX and Boeing's LEO plans to provide comparison with OneWeb but both Boeing and SpaceX have filed paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission to reserve radio spectrum and launch pathfinder satellites.
Clearly, LeoSat would appear to have an edge in delivering enterprise services. Now it needs to find the right combination of investors and other financing to start building and launching them.
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