White Paper – GEO Satellites vs. LEO Satellites

Abstract

The socioeconomic benefits of broadband are well established.   To compete in the modern economy, broadband services are essential.  Populations with high broadband penetration generally excel and those with limited access decline.  As such a robust, cost-effective, broadband infrastructure that can serve all of Alaska is vital.

Currently, Alaska has significant gaps in its broadband coverage, particularly in rural and remote areas where adverse topographical and weather conditions make terrestrial network buildout not economically viable. As a result, a significant portion of the population in Alaska has no access to broadband, or has broadband that is deemed by the US Federal Communications Commission to be inadequate. Despite heavy federal subsidies to Alaska’s carriers to extend their terrestrial networks, many Alaskans will remain unserved or underserved after the subsidies expire 10 years from now.

This paper considers the use of a new generation, high throughput satellite as a complement to the existing terrestrial network, to create a complete, seamless Alaska broadband solution. Fortunately, there are a wealth of case studies across the globe from which Alaska can benefit, many of which involve similar challenges as those faced by Alaska, such as a highly non-uniform and widely dispersed population spread across challenging geographies, often with extreme weather conditions.  In all these cases, satellites have played a major role in reaching the portion of the population that cannot be economically served by other means.

We review the global literature regarding holistic broadband offerings, and then analyze the satellite component.  We discuss the key differences between satellite offerings including the next generation of high-throughput geostationary (GEO) and Low-Earth-Orbiting (LEO) satellite systems.  We compare both the key technical and business aspects of the Aurora IV GEO HTS system currently under development by the Alaska-based Pacific Dataport, Inc. (“PDI”), with the planned OneWeb global LEO system being developed by the Virginia-based company WorldVu Satellites Ltd.

Our findings are that both Aurora IV and One Web coexisting and competing in the marketplace is not only beneficial, but essential to secure a competitive, reliable and affordable broadband future for Alaska.

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