Another broadband satellite cloud network moved closer to reality this month, with LeoSat securing an investment from SKY Perfect JSAT (SJC) Corporation. The exact amount of the investment was not disclosed, but SJC is Asia's largest satellite operator and Japan's only provider of both multi-channel pay TV broadcasting and satellite services.
LeoSat has not received the press coverage of satellite cloud network projects in the works by OneWeb and SpaceX or the analyst speculation of Apple investing in Boeing's project. The company plans to put a network of up to 108 low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites into the sky to provide "fiber-like" low latency gigabit per second data delivery to enterprise and government customers, using a combination of satellite-to-ground Ka-band links and satellite-to-satellite laser cross-connect links.
Large, close-to-the Earth, satellite networks would have advantages over both existing geosynchronous earth orbit (GEO) communications and existing fiber, according to proponents. Moving information through a GEO communications satellite parked over 26,000 miles above the earth adds a couple hundred or more seconds of delay in a communications session between the sheer distance traveled and the physical limit of the speed of light. LeoSat satellites would fly around 890 miles above the Earth in a number of orbital slices or "planes" to ensure coverage of the entire globe, ensuring that signals would travel a fraction of the distance for a GEO satellite.
The fiber-like low latency is expected through a combination of using lasers in space – the ultimate "free space optical" connection – to move communications quickly between satellites in order to reach a point on the ground – and because signals would move in a straight-line path between satellites and any two parties on the network, rather than following a twisted, non-linear path through fiber optic cables running under the sea and through one or more switching centers. Expected latency could be as low as 16 to 20 milliseconds for cellular backhaul and in the neighborhood of 120 milliseconds for long-distance links between Europe and Asia.
Opportunities for high-speed, low latency data links include telecommunications to support wireless networks, multinational enterprise services, and government. Since LeoSat is running its own network from end-to-end, it would presumably provide more secure communication for customers because there are fewer intermediaries (fiber, multiple carriers). Data link speeds are expected to start at 50 Mbps and go up to gigabit speeds, depending on the needs of the user.
SJC is an anchor investor in a $100 million Series A round, reports Space News, but it will need to raise an additional Series B round of around $175 million to build and launch two demonstration satellites for launch in 2019. The demonstration satellites are expected to validate the use of laser communication cross-links and the use of a new onboard processor. Total bill for a production network, including satellites and ground hardware, is expected to be up to $3.6 billion.
SJC currently has a fleet of 18 satellites around the globe. In addition to its investment in LeoSat, the company has also invested in antenna manufacturer Kymeta to produce high-throughput antennas for moving vehicles, with the first hardware demonstrations expected as soon as this summer. The LeoSat investment gives SJC a ticket into a cloud satellite network that could provided complementary service to its existing GEO satellites.
However, the clock is ticking. OneWeb is in the process of building a factory to crank out hundreds of satellites, with an expected network of 648 satellites when fully operation in the 2020 timeframe. SpaceX's initial plans should put a network of over 4,000 satellites into orbit, with an expected production service date around 2024. Meanwhile, talk continues to swirl around Apple taking some of its cash hoard and putting it making Boeing's proposed network of 1,400 to nearly 3,000 satellites into a reality.