As companies such as Starlink and OneWeb grow their constellations, the prospect of cheap, reliable satellite-delivered internet broadband is ever closer.
That service is expected to start by the end of the year in the higher latitudes of the northern hemisphere and extend across the globe next year.
By then Starlink, a subsidiary of SpaceX, will have around 1,500 of its planned 12,000 small communications satellites in operation, and OneWeb around 650 satellites.
But in order to connect to either network, you’ll need a suitable terminal. To encourage take-up, those terminals will need to be cheap, reliable and readily available.
SpaceNews reported that both companies are working hard at their terminals.
OneWeb’s government business unit president Dylan Browne said the company was establishing a broad network of suppliers to build components in mass.
“We have a similar supply chain discussion around our user terminals, producing in such a volume — literally thousands a month — that we can’t have just one vendor,” he said.
OneWeb expects to sell the user terminals for community Wi-Fi services for between US$1,000 and US$1,500.
That would appear to be at the high end for home use but acceptable for venues such as internet cafes or locations where dozens of devices may want to connect simultaneously.
Starlink is building its terminals in-house, which it said will allow very low pricing. But it’s not talking prices just yet.
“But it is something that we know is critical to making this business successful,” said Jonathan Hofeller, vice president of Starlink commercial sales.
As both Starlink and OneWeb constellations will be in low-Earth orbit, a fixed dish won’t necessarily work that well and both companies are looking at small steerable antenna systems.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk has described the Starlink user terminals as akin to a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick, with electric motors performing the adjustment.
OneWeb is looking at a compact electronically steered antenna and a parabolic dish.
The advantage of an electronically steered antenna is that it can connect to a number of satellites simultaneously.
This is regarded as sophisticated technology that might be too expensive for consumer level systems.
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