Low earth orbit (LEO) satellites have the potential to revolutionize connectivity, particularly for those in rural and underserved areas, according to experts in the field. Dan York, director of online content for the Internet Society, spoke at an event hosted the Gigabit Libraries Network about the transformative possibilities of LEO technology.
LEOs offer a low-latency, high-speed connection that supports real-time communication, unlike traditional geostationary satellites which suffer from high latency. This makes LEOs suitable for applications such as video calling and online gaming. These satellites not only have the potential to connect the two billion people worldwide who are unserved but also to improve connectivity for the underserved.
LEO satellites can serve as an interim solution while fiber buildout takes place, providing redundancy during disasters and outages. They played a crucial role in providing connectivity in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and during wildfires in California. Companies like Starlink can easily deploy connectivity in affected areas using their trailers equipped with LEO antennas.
One advantage of LEOs is their ability to provide connectivity even in locations without a ground station, thanks to inter-satellite lasers. The LEO system consists of satellite constellations, user terminals, and ground stations. The satellites are arranged into “shells” at various altitudes, user terminals facilitate data transmission, and ground stations connect the satellites to the internet.
Advances in rocket technology, such as SpaceX’s reuse of rockets, have driven the increase in LEO satellites. The relatively smaller size of LEO satellites enables mass production using assembly lines. However, the affordability of LEO technology remains a challenge to widespread adoption. Competition for spectrum allocation with mobile telecom companies is another hurdle that needs to be addressed.
Despite some uncertainties about the capacity and limitations of these systems, York is optimistic about the promise of LEO technology. As more LEO systems become operational, there is great potential for connecting the unconnected and bridging the digital divide.
– Internet Society
– Gigabit Libraries Network
– Ookla Study.