Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Greg Wyler reports OneWeb progress

Think about the possibility of a WiFi network with a low-latency, 50 mbps back-haul link to the Internet in every school or rural clinic in the world.


I've been tracking Greg Wyler and Elon Musk's satellite Internet projects for some time. Both have been relatively quiet (most of what I know of Musk's SpaceX project came from an unauthorized cell phone video of a recruiting talk he gave), but Wyler talked about his company OneWeb in a keynote at the Satellite 2015 Conference yesterday.

Wyler plans a constellation of about 650 satellites in low-earth orbit (about 1,200 kilometers). He said that they plan to launch satellites in 2017 and hope to begin offering service in 2019. (It seems that OneWeb is ahead of the SpaceX schedule).

They will offer 50 mbps, 30 ms latency connectivity to $250 ground stations that will also serve as hot-spots, providing WiFi, LTE, 3G or 2G connectivity.

As shown below, a terrestrial route between Los Angeles and the tip of Chile requires 14 hops. The same route via satellite may require only five low-latency hops. (The figure is drawn to scale).


Think about the possibility of a WiFi network with a low-latency, 50 mbps back-haul link to the Internet in every school or rural clinic in the world.

Wyler showed a prototype of one of his ground-stations and also showed how easy it is to set up. The operator just spreads the solar panels and turns it on -- five seconds install time. Here we see one on the corrugated roof of a building:


This ease of deployment would be terrific for establishing ad hoc communication in the wake of disasters that had disrupted terrestrial communication.

While I have focused on OneWeb's primary goal of providing Internet connectivity in developing nations and rural areas, Wyler also spoke of providing connectivity in aircraft (and ships at sea).


Of course, all of this is speculation for now. Some conference attendees and presenters were skeptical about Wyler's project, pointing out that his low-cost satellites would have to be replaced every five years or so -- a recurring expense. Critics also pointed out that much of the time, the low-earth orbit satellites will be over oceans, polar regions and other sparsely populated areas.

That being said, Wyler has been able to attract backers and partners, each of which brings money and expertise to the table:
Like a modern Internet company that follows the dictum "do what you do best and link to the rest," OneWeb will focus on the backbone and market through local retail Internet service and cell phone providers.

One can also imagine OneWeb providing competition for conventional terrestrial ISPs in developed nations. I can dream of going over to Best Buy, picking up a OneWeb ground station, installing it on my roof and escaping the clutches of my ISP monopolist Time Warner Cable. I am not holding my breath till that happens, but I will be keeping my eye on OneWeb's ambitious project.

For some background on Wyler's previous satellite company, O3B Networks, and more on his plans for OneWeb, check out this video:


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Update 3/20/2015

FierceWirelessTech interview of Greg Wyler.

Wyler says "We've got a pretty clear path. It's not just a technology problem. It is a technology, regulatory, implementation, education problem. It's kind of a little bit of everything." In the interview, he talks about terminal design, their business model and spectrum.

As mentioned above, he stresses ease of installation and low cost for the terminals. OneWeb has the rights to the Ku and Ka spectrum they will use and patent-pending technology to assure non-interference with geo-stationary satellites in those bands. Scale is critical to their business model -- once the constellation is operating, they marginal cost of a new customer is very low.

Friday, March 13, 2015

5G mobile update from Ericsson and Samsung at Mobile World Congress (MWC)

5G mobile communication is coming and prototypes are being developed along with demonstrations. (Remember the saying that projects had to "demo or die")?

Here are a couple of 5G prototype demos:

Samsung transmission speed demo -- 7.5 gbps standing still and a 1.2 gbps in a car going 112 kph:



Erricson demonstrates seamless hand-off between LTE and 5G:



and they brought their virtual reality, remote control excavator with them to MWC:



The final products will probably not be as fast as these prototypes, but they will eventually cost about the same as today's mobile radios.

Both Samsung and Ericsson are talking about initial deployment around 2020, but general rollout and ubiquitous adoption will take many years after that. (This is one technology in which developing nations, which are generally more mobile reliant than developed nations, may somewhat narrow the digital divide). Furthermore, there are no 5G standards, and you can bet there will be more than one.

<dream>
Wouldn't it be nice if there were a global 5G standard -- everyone using the same license free spectrum and protocols -- your phone moving seamlessly between nations and carriers -- cars that were compatible with instrumented roads everywhere ... like WiFi ...?
</dream>

Awake again -- Maybe I will get a Verizon 5G phone for use in the US around 2022.

By that time, out mobile devices will be 10-20 times as powerful and there will be a lot of "things" connected to the Internet. What new applications will we find for this high-speed, low-latency wireless connectivity?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Leosat -- a third satellite Internet company

I've been tracking Greg Wyler and Elon Musk's plans to launch low-earth orbit satellites to provide Internet connectivity. Musk's SpaceX and Wyler's OneWeb have now been joined by a third would-be low-earth connectivity provider, Leosat.

I've not heard about this effort until now, but former Schlumberger executives Cliff Anders and Phil Marlar have been developing the network architecture, spectrum plan and satellite payload since 2013, and they just hired satellite industry veteran Vern Fotheringham as CEO.

Leosat will not be marketing to individual end users, but will target government and business -- maritime applications, oil and gas exploration and productions, telecom back-haul and trunking, enterprise VSAT, etc. Their market seems closer to Wyler's former company O3b, but Leosat plans to cover the entire Earth, while O3b is restricted to locations near the equator.

They plan to offer encrypted connectivity at up to 1.2 gbps with latency under 50 ms using a constellation of 80 to 120 small satellites, with launches beginning in 2019 or 2020.

While SpaceX and OneWeb have focused their publicity on end users and developing nations, they will also have the ability to deliver low latency service over long distances. As shown below, a terrestrial link from my home in Los Angeles to La Universidad de Magallanes in Punta Arenas, Chile required 14 hops whereas a satellite route could be achieved with five hops. (The following illustration is drawn to approximate scale assuming a satellite altitude of 700 miles).


The Ping time for the terrestrial link averages around 224 ms, considerably slower than the sub 50 ms latency Leosat hopes to achieve.

Like many Americans, I am served by a monopoly Internet service provider. Might these folks actually be able to provide competition -- at least in the developing world -- some day?

Monday, March 09, 2015

Google and Facebook report on developing world connectivity at Mobile World Congress

I've been studying and working on the Internet in developing nations since 1991 when only a few nations had any sort of Internet connection, as shown in Larry Landweber's 1991 connectivity map:


Every nation is connected today, but the digital divide remains as deep as it was in 1991. Both Facebook and Google are working to bring the 3-4 billion people who do not have Internet connectivity online and they described their efforts at the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Google

Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps at Google Inc., updated the audience on two projects -- Project Loon and Project Link.

Project Loon seeks to deploy a constellation of balloons at an altitude of around 20 kilometers -- above the mountains, air traffic and weather.


The balloons will be airborne routers able to communicate with end users, each other and Internet back-haul locations.


Pinchai said the balloons now average more than six months in the air and keep nearby smartphones operating at 4G or LTE speeds, around 10 megabits per second. “We are well on our way to a platform that, by the end of the decade, will touch 4 to 5 billion people.”

He also gave a progress report on Project Link in Kampala, Uganda where they have installed over 800km of fiber, creating an urban backbone.


As is often the case with municipal networks (as in Stockholm), Google is not a retail Internet service provider, but provides wholesale connectivity to retailers. Pichai said they would be expanding Project Link -- installing fiber backbones "many more" African cities this year.

For more on the Kampala deployment and a thoughtful analysis of the reason for its success, see this post by Steve Song.

Facebook

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about Internet.org, which hopes to make basic internet services affordable, so everyone with a phone can join the knowledge economy.


While Google is working on long range projects (including an investment in Elon Musk's SpaceX project to provide Internet service using low-earth orbit satellites), Internet.org is already up and running in Ghana, Columia, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia and India.

Facebook and their Internet.org partners are focusing on improving traditional terrestrial cell phone technology by improving mobile infrastructure, mass producing cheap, powerful cell phones and caching and compressing data. Their partners reflect this orientation – phone manufacturers, Opera, a Web software company, and Mediatek, a fabless semiconductor company.

Note that they want to provide only “basic Internet services,” not access to the open Internet. For example, in India they offer access to Facebook and 37 other web sites.

Facebook also has a Connectivity Lab lab working on more exotic, long-range solutions.

Short videos on Project Loon and Internet.org

Project Loon:



Internet.org:



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Update 4/10/2015

Mark Zuckerberg spoke at a business conference being held in conjunction with the Summit of the Americas in Panama City yesterday. He announced that Internet.org would be available in Panama and stated that eventually expanding into Cuba “definitely fits within our mission.” (Recall that Internet.org provides “basic Internet services" -- access to leading Web sites -- not access to the open Internet).

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Internet routes around censorship

The Indian courts failed in their attempt to stop the showing of "India's Daughter," a BBC documentary exposing the New Delhi bus gang rape of a medical student and its aftermath.

The Indian government banned the showing of the film and the BBC blocked it on YouTube for copyright reasons. (Perhaps it is visible in Britain).

Banning the video gave it notoriety, increasing its popularity. (This is an example of the so called "Streisand effect," referring to the rush to view an aerial view of Barbara Streisand's house when she objected to it being posted online).

I am not certain when it was banned on YouTube, but it became available on Vimeo on March 5 and by the afternoon of the 6th had been viewed 60,000 times, but it was subsequently taken down.


As of this writing, it is available on the Daily Motion site. By the time you read this, it may be gone from there, but you will probably be able to find it using Google search. (If you are reading this from England or using a VPN -- is it still available on the BBC Web site)?

At nearly the same time, the Chinese government blocked access to "Under the Dome," a scathing documentary on pollution, which had hundreds of millions of view on Chinese Web sites within days of its release.

It may have been banned in China, but it is readily accessible in other nations (with English subtitles) and to any Chinese person willing to use a VPN to view it on YouTube.

Information wants to be free.