October 7, 2022

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All The Technology

Boeing Wins FCC Approval for Satellite Internet

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay on Feb. 7, 2021.

This long-exposure image shows a trail of a group of SpaceX’s Starlink satellites passing over Uruguay on Feb. 7, 2021.
Photo: Mariana Suarez / AFP (Getty Images)

SpaceX’s Starlink will eventually have more competition in the satellite broadband business—and rural Americans will have more providers to choose from. The FCC on Wednesday gave Boeing the go-ahead to launch its own satellites, which SpaceX complained would cause interference with its network.

With the approval, Boeing can now start building out its satellite infrastructure, beginning with 147 satellites. Boeing will deploy 132 low-Earth satellites orbiting at an altitude of 1,056 kilometers. The other 15 will be non-geostationary, which means they follow the rotation of the Earth. Those types of satellites orbit at a much higher altitude—between 27,355 and 44,221 kilometers, according to the FCC filing.

Boeing will offer broadband to the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands as it’s building out its network, then plans to expand its satellite internet service globally. The company has six years to launch half of its satellite constellation and nine years to build out the rest of the network. Boeing had asked for a waiver to extend the build-out to 12 years, but the commission denied it.

Boeing has a bit of an advantage over SpaceX’s Starlink network, at least in terms of faster data transfer rates. Boeing’s 147 satellites can broadcast in the V-band, which is a high-frequency wireless spectrum. Starlink uses Ka- and Ku- bands, which commercial airlines utilize for in-flight internet access.

SpaceX filed a petition to the FCC about a year after Boeing had initially submitted its application in 2017. It claimed that Boeing’s deployment plan would cause interference with its satellites and that it would crowd the low Earth orbit. But the FCC denied SpaceX’s claims.

However, SpaceX still has plenty of reasons to boast. It has about 1,730 low-flying satellites in orbit currently serving more than 90,000 users on its Starlink satellite internet service, with average speed tests ranking it as fast as broadband. Starlink and Boeing have other competitors, too, including Amazon, which will launch two satellites in late 2022 as part of its Project Kuiper satellite broadband effort. The FCC approved Amazon’s satellites last year.

The tech giants are also up against existing satellite internet providers like HughesNet, Viasat, and OneWeb. Hopefully, this translates into more viable satellite broadband and narrows the digital divide in America. More competition can only be good for consumers.