O3b gets FCC approval to expand satellite fleet and serve U.S., world markets

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given SES approval to serve the U.S. market with its O3b fleet.  SES’s non-geostationary Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) fleet currently numbers 16 satellites, with FCC licensing opening the way to add 26 new satellites along with operations in additional frequencies.

“This important FCC grant provides SES with the means to grow and scale our network, connecting the planet and delivering world class solutions to our customers globally,” said Steve Collar, President and CEO of SES. “With the first 7 O3b mPOWER satellites, we will deliver a paradigm shift in performance, bandwidth and service. The FCC grant provides the platform to exponentially scale the network in response to surging demand for global data connectivity.”

Four satellites to be added to the existing O3b constellation are scheduled to be launched next year.  Seven follow-on O3b mPOWER satellites are under construction and scheduled for launch starting in 2021, with a total of 22 mPOWER satellites authorized.

The FCC licensing enables SES to deliver full global pole-to-pole coverage, with satellites to be deployed in inclined and equatorial orbits.  O3b is currently the only non-geosynchronous satellite constellation delivering high-speed, low-latency broadband services today, with users capable of getting multi-gigabit speeds at latencies in the range of 140 ms to 180 ms, depending on application.

SES’s announcement sets the table between it and the crop of low Earth orbit (LEO) constellations currently in the development stages.  SpaceX and Telesat have launched pathfinder satellites to verify technical and engineering operations before they ramp into building and launching large fleets of satellites while OneWeb  plans to launch its first group of 10 satellites at the end of this year.  LeoSat is still in the process of organizing funding for its network and hasn’t yet launched a pathfinder into orbit.

From a market standpoint. O3b would be in direct competition with LeoSat in some respects. Both companies focus on high-speed “fiber-like” business-to-business sales.   LeoSat may deliver lower latency and higher speeds than O3b and promises “unhackable” communications links, but O3b has the advantages of already having a fleet of satellites in the sky and tested and verified hardware on the ground. SpaceX, Telesat, and OneWeb will have lower latency and lower pricing with the trade-off likely to be in throughput in the gigabit range, rather than multi-gigabit speeds.

Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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