Starlink: Here are 6 of SpaceX's biggest rivals for satellite internet dominance
Starlink is clearly leading the race for satellite internet supremacy.
The latest internet speed analysis from Ookla showed that SpaceX's satellite service provides the fastest satellite internet in the world, and even provides faster download speeds than fixed broadband in most European countries.
With more than 2,200 satellites in orbit at the time of writing, other companies have a lot of catching up to do if they are to compete. Some companies and organizations have big plans though, and one of them is even bigger than Amazon.
OneWeb and SpaceX have a friendly rivalry. In March, Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, announced it would no longer launch a batch of UK-based OneWeb's satellites due to Western sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine. Shortly afterward, SpaceX announced it would step in to launch OneWeb's satellites.
And things are only getting better. Last month, both firms sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission stating they would collaborate in a spectrum agreement. Both also asked the FCC to drop all past disputes filed against each other.
OneWeb currently has 428 satellites in orbit, all sent up aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. OneWeb has pitched its service to businesses and it currently plans to launch a total of 648 satellites. In an April 2021 test, OneWeb recorded download speeds of 165 Mbps, upload speeds of 30 Mbps, and latency of 45 milliseconds.
Viasat and SpaceX's relationship is a little less friendly. That may be partially down to the fact that Viasat operates at a higher orbit than SpaceX — In an FCC filing this year, Viasat argued that SpaceX's Starlink mega-constellation is congesting low-Earth orbit, which it needs to traverse to launch its own satellites.
According to Bloomberg, Viasat provided consumer broadband services to about 590,000 U.S. subscribers last year, while SpaceX had 500,000 subscribers.
Viasat currently operates four large satellites: ViaSat-1, WildBlue1, Anik-F2, and ViaSat-2. These are much larger than SpaceX's Starlink satellites, though the company offers lower download speeds ranging from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. Its next satellite, Viasat-3, which is due to launch next year, will deliver "download speeds of up to 100's of Mbps."
Starlink's availability map shows that it currently has no plans to provide its service in China. Internet access in China is only available via state-owned providers. So, barring historic changes to the status quo, government-backed companies will be the ones providing satellite internet to China's 1.4 billion population.
One company that may do just that is Geespace. On June 2, a Chinese Chang Zheng 2C rocket launched nine satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) for the company, which is a subsidiary of Chinese auto giant Geely.
Geespace currently plans to build a constellation of only 240 satellites, and these will mainly be used to transmit data for parent company Geely's autonomous driving program. However, in an interview with Bloomberg, Geespace CEO and Chief Scientist Tony Wang said "Geely's future collaboration partners will not be limited to Geely’s ecosystems and car brands. We are also building up partnerships with other industries."
Canadian firm Telesat currently operates 15 geostationary satellites. Much like OneWeb, it is targeting businesses rather than consumers. The company is, however, planning a large new constellation called Lightspeed, which will consist of 1,600 LEO satellites.
In a Reuters report last year, Telesat said it was planning to launch the first Lightspeed satellites in early 2023, allowing it to provide partial service at higher latitudes that year, followed by total global service in 2024. On its website, it says it will deliver "gigabits per second" speeds and latency "on par with fiber networks."
Amazon is without a doubt the private company best positioned to rival SpaceX's Starlink services on a global level. In its own words, the company recently penned "the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history."
Eighty-three rocket launches, carried out by United Launch Alliance, Arianespace, and Blue Origin, will send Amazon's 3,236 Project Kuiper satellites into LEO.
Amazon claims it will "invest more than $10 billion to build" Project Kuiper, and it also says it "will leverage Amazon's global logistics and operations footprint, as well as Amazon Web Services' (AWS) networking and infrastructure" expertise to make its service more accessible.
The company aims to launch its first two Project Kuiper prototype satellites, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, aboard an ABL Space Systems RS-1 rocket later this year. In 2020, Amazon unveiled a small customer terminal capable of reaching speeds of 400 Mbps. On the flipside, the company says various of its launches will take place aboard rockets that have yet to hit the launchpad — including Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket.
6. The European Union
In February, the European Union approved plans for a €6 billion ($6.11 billion) satellite internet system to compete with SpaceX's Starlink and other satellite internet services. The plan was initially rejected twice, before the EU agreed the new system would be important in securing itself against outward influence in the future, according to The Irish Times.
The EU has commissioned private companies Airbus, SES, and Eutelsat to carry out a technical study for the project. It still requires approval from the European Parliament and EU member states, but once it is up and running it will have major backing.
It's not only rival companies and organizations SpaceX will have to contend with. The private space firm recently announced that Russia's government was "ramping up" efforts to bring down Starlink internet over Ukraine. Astronomers have also organized against the company, setting up the Centre for the Protection of the Dark and Quiet Sky from Satellite Constellation Interference.
With satellite internet projected to reach a market valuation of $18.59 billion by 2030, it's clear that SpaceX won't be the only major player in orbit.
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