Last week in Washington DC, Telesat announced it successfully conducted backhaul trials with Vodafone Group and the University of Surrey, including “advanced backhaul solutions for 5G” according to a company press release. Company officials also outlined a series of requirements it wants from suppliers as it looks to downselect to a single vendor to build its Low Earth Orbit (LEO) broadband satellite network.
“Providing cost effective, high performance backhaul services to MNOs seeking to extend their 4G and 5G networks is an important market for Telesat’s LEO program,” said Erwin Hudson, Vice President, Telesat LEO. “Telesat is collaborating with leading customers like Vodafone, who are experts in their markets, to perform tests and demonstrations on our Phase 1 LEO satellite that help us optimize the design of our LEO system to most effectively meet their future requirements.
Telesat said the first live test of 5G services using its pathfinder Phase 1 LEO satellite took place last month, connected to the University of Surrey’s 5G test bed network. Vodafone engineers supported the trial and the company provided some funding and arranged licensing.
“The use of LEO satellites provides an additional mobile backhaul option and can be an important part of the delivery system particularly to customers in our markets who live in rural areas,” said John Miller, Senior manager, satellite demand and customer design for Vodafone Group.
Among the test results included a “network reaction time” (round trip latency) between 18 to 40 milliseconds, among the lowest ever for a satellite connection. Application demonstrations included video chatting, web browsing, and simultaneous streaming of up to 8K video. The demonstration also transferred 4K video to the edge of the 5G network, demonstrating a “key” 5G use case.
The two vendors competing to develop and build Telesat’s LEO broadband satellite constellation are Airbus and the team of Thales Alenia Space and Maxar Technologies. Both manufacturing teams have completed the System Definition and Risk Management Phase of program, giving Telesat two ways to move forward, with the expectation the Canadian-based company will downselect to a prime contractor later this year.
Telesat plans and is licensed to launch an initial 117 satellite constellation, with options to scale upward to 512 satellites if needed. Going up to 292 satellites is what the larger business plan requires, with the ability to provide five to six terabits per second of global capacity.
Speaking at the Satellite 2019 conference last week, Telesat LEO Vice President Erwin Hudson expects the company selected to build its constellation to setup a dedicated factor capable of producing 20 to 25 satellites per month, with around 200 satellites produced and in orbit by the end of 2022 for broadband service delivery, reports Space News. Another 100 satellites are expected to be added six to eight months after the 200 mark, for a total of 300 in-orbit satellites in 2023.
Telesat anticipates the factory would be in the U.S. or Canada with the manufacturer owning it. The contract to build everything is estimated to be around $3 billion.
Each satellite is expected to have a lifetime of at least 10 years, with four inter-satellite optical (laser) links, thrusters for station-keeping in orbit, and multiple phased array antennas. Satellites would be launched roughly once a month until the entire constellation is populated, with Blue Origin’s New Glenn vehicle providing the bulk of the lift and Relatively Space’s Terran 1 providing a smaller and more-responsive capability to fill in coverage gaps.
Hudson said Telesat will target aviation, maritime, and stationary enterprise applications, such as cellular backhaul and connecting enterprise sites. The company is not interested in providing a consumer solution, which might put them at odds with the Government of Canada looking to enhance connectivity throughout the country.