Plans for Boeing-built broadband satellite constellation stuck

Boeing hasn’t  done much in the two years after asking for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) licenses to build a massive low earth orbit (LEO) broadband satellite constellation, says reporting by Space News.  The hang-up isn’t clear, but the company has shown little inclination to proceed forward on its own.

“We have a filing but we haven’t really started developing it yet, so I would call that not really moving forward,” Dawn Harms, vice president of global sales and marketing at Boeing Satellite Systems International, said at the CASBAA Satellite Industry Forum in Singapore on June 25.

In its initial filing, Boeing asked for permission to launch between nearly 1,400 to almost 3,000 satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) to provide global Internet access  using V-band spectrum.  Space News reports the FCC has not approved the application while rumors have run rampant as to who Boeing might partner with to build and operate a constellation.

Aerospace company Boeing’s primary business is building planes and satellites, along with providing support for such hardware.  A services-based business delivering broadband for hundreds of thousands to millions of consumers would represent a significant challenge for the company, not to mention the expense of building a dedicated production line to build at least 1,400 satellites plus putting them into orbit on a regular and efficient schedule.

Since Boeing first applied for its licenses, rumors have swirled around it finding a deep-pocketed partner to share or foot the capital expense bill involved in building out the satellite constellation.  Reports in 2017 suggested Apple was interested in the concept, but Apple appears to have put more money and resources into large screen TV and cars than building its own worldwide satellite network.  Whispers have also paired Google up with Boeing, but Google has shown little inclination to become a network operator of any sort.

Potential partners may also be waiting to see how well other large LEO broadband networks do before making a commitment.  OneWeb will start launching hardware into orbit at the end of 2018 towards its 900+satellite constellation while both SpaceX and Telesat have launched pathfinder satellites for their respective networks, testing hardware and operational concepts. Throw in LeoSat for an enterprise-dedicated LEO network, giving a total of four LEO constellations competing for existing businesses while hoping/promising to push down pricing on both services and hardware to open up and expand currently underserved/unserved markets in developing economies.

Adding Boeing and a to-be-named/found partner into the mix would make for a (figuratively) crowded sky of LEO satellite options, assuming the market is capable of supporting one or more new entrants.


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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