Perhaps the most intriguing news yesterday in telecom came from outside telecom. SpaceX and its visionary founder Elon Musk have filed with the FCC for permission to possibly compete with the likes of Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T. How? From space of course, where else?
In what is definitely not a new idea, SpaceX is proposing to put some 4,000 cheap satellites into low earth orbit and use them to offer broadband to consumers around the world. They'd be using their own rockets to do the job, thus cutting a rather major middleman out of the picture. Satellites in LEO are close enough not to have the latency issues that higher up ones do, yet are higher than the balloons Google's Project Loon is working on and would be moving around even faster.
Yet while the media croons over the latest billionaire project to fix the world and liberate us all from the pesky wires people keep stringing up and digging holes for, the engineer in me cringes a bit. LEO is already full of space junk, who needs oblivious backhoes and fishing trawlers when we can have a half million rocks and other debris whipping around at 17,500mph. And internet via satellite's other problem is basic physics. On the ground, when you run out of fiber, you can add more almost infinitely. Spectrum through the air (or vacuum), not so much. When you want to upgrade or repair or debug the gear, it's a bit easier when it's on a tower or in a cabinet than in LEO, and your technicians don't need to be actual rocket scientists.
But heck, I'd love to see them try. Just trying will teach us something, and I like the way Elon Musk is willing to risk the pieces of his fortune he doesn't actually need in order to accomplish just that. More billionaires should do that, rather than spending it on politics and other... bah, never mind.
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