Last week, Telesat and C-Spire jointly announced the Canadian satellite operator was joining C Spire’s rural broadband access coalition. Mississippi-based C Spire is working with a number of companies to build rural broadband access solutions. Telesat’s current fleet of geostationary satellites may be a part of the puzzle, but its forthcoming Low Earth Orbit (LEO) network is likely to be much more attractive.
C Spire launched the initiative last year, joining with firms including Airspan Networks, Microsoft, Nokia and Siklu. The working group have been testing technology solutions, creating and building new business models and providing training resources for individuals and communities in digital skills to help improve access in rural areas.
Telesat is no stranger to rural access. The Canadian government has made a multi-year commitment to purchase Telesat services from its’ LEO constellation for extend broadband connectivity to the 2.2 million unserved households around the country. Among the contributions Telesat will make to the C Spire consortium will be analysis tools and its knowledge and experience with LEO technology.
Benefits to Telesat’s LEO project include low-latency and gigabit-class speed availability. Joining with C Spire enables Telesat to test technology bundles and observe different business models for deploying broadband into unserved community. Telesat can provide backhaul for mobile operations and internet service provider but won’t manage the last mile.
Working with C Spire and others also enables Telesat to establish and build relationships and ecosystems of partners, a key for worldwide service deployments into new markets. Telesat plans to offer services by 2022, with an initial constellation of 192 satellites and will scale upward to 298 spacecraft over time.
Telesat’s partnership with C Spire comes at a time when it is likely more money will be invested into U.S. rural broadband through federal and state programs, but the Federal Communications Commission hasn’t shown much enthusiasm for LEO-style satellite broadband delivery. SpaceX has suggested its Starlink system could provide rural users with broadband access and has hoped to convince the FCC to allow funds to be spent on Starlink services.
The next big technical milestone Telesat has to complete is selecting a vendor to build its LEO satellites and ground station network. Telesat was first expected to select an equipment manufacturer last year, but has pushed the date forward several times, with the most recent promise to announce a vendor selection later this year once there’s a bit more market stability from coronavirus shutdown shocks.