Can tiny satellites bring internet access to remote areas?

Last week, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced they’re leading an $13.5m investment in Astranis, a startup focused on building commercial telecommunications satellites. In recent years, a “new space race” centered around satellite internet has emerged, with companies like SpaceX and Richard Branson-backed OneWeb competing to launch devices and establish networks capable of reaching areas […]


March 5, 2018

Last week, venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced they’re leading an $13.5m investment in Astranis, a startup focused on building commercial telecommunications satellites.

In recent years, a “new space race” centered around satellite internet has emerged, with companies like SpaceX and Richard Branson-backed OneWeb competing to launch devices and establish networks capable of reaching areas where traditional broadband falls short. 

So, what does tiny Astranis offer? Smaller, more affordable satellites. 

Why are people interested in satellite internet?

There are still 4B people on Earth without internet access — the majority of whom live in rural areas, where broadband service isn’t available.

Satellite internet has been touted as a solution to this since the mid-’90s, but the problem has always been latency (satellites have been too slow in responding to requests).

Part of this is a distance issue: These satellites traditionally operate 22k miles above Earth, in what’s called geosynchronous orbit. SpaceX, OneWeb, and others have tried to solve this by launching satellites into low Earth orbit, which, at only 100 to 1.2k miles above us, reduces latency.

But there’s a problem with that solution

Satellites in low Earth orbit are able to cover less territory, and companies have to launch a lot more of them to be effective. SpaceX, for instance, plans to launch 4k of them.

That’s insanely expensive, when considering that each satellite can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build…

And that’s where Astranis comes in

The company’s satellites are “only” about the size of a mini-fridge, compared to the average, bus-sized satellite. They can also be built for tens of millions of dollars — a fraction of the cost of other models.

Unlike its competitors, Astranis will launch its satellites into geosynchronous orbit (farther away from Earth) and sell bandwidth to internet service providers, allowing it to reach users in more remote areas.

This won’t solve some of the long-standing latency issues, but it could provide a cheaper solution for making internet more readily available in previously out-of-range regions.

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