Race for rural connectivity

Canada has just announced a move to connect 98% of the country with a $1.75 billion program to improve internet connectivity, principally in rural and remote areas.

And in an era where Elon Musk’s SpaceX is developing a low-earth orbit constellation of satellites called Starlink to provide high-speed connectivity to rural areas around the world, the Canadian government is turning to a made-in-Canada solution, using Ottawa-based Telesat. Telesat’s model is to work with other providers to provide the consumer-facing product.

The company plans on expanding its low earth orbit constellation to 298 satellites by 2023, with plans to build out its constellation to up to 1,600 satellites down the road to meet demand.

Under the agreement, the Government has committed up to $600 million to secure capacity on Ottawa-based Telesat’s LEO satellite constellation. This capacity will be made available to Internet service providers at a reduced rate in order to provide high-speed, reliable Internet access to the most challenging rural and remote communities in Canada.

Most importantly are the inroads that those existing ISPs are making on the ground today. Besides the big telcos, there are hundreds of small independents who are capitalizing on the crossroads of cheaper fibre and wireless technologies mixed with a DIY attitude. One such ISP is Kaslo’s infoNet Society connecting a massive lake, rugged mountain and winter weather region of Canada. Now they are ready to export solutions to other communities.

The good news for those who have been waiting on the beta trial of the SpaceX Starlink service in Canada is that the Canadian government just approved its satellite spectrum license and SpaceX intends to roll-out its limited beta program right away. However, according to Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, the service in Canada does face another challenge. SpaceX also needs a license for each of its gateways, its ground stations in Canada. That could take longer. Now because SpaceX doesn’t have any licensed gateways in Canada, the initial beta program will be limited to areas where U.S. gateways overlap into Canada according to Musk. He also said that would “increase latency.”

Musk then said “we have good satellite coverage from ~57 degrees latitude to ~39 degrees. More gateways mean improved latency. Aiming to get it below 20ms over time.”

“As more satellites reach their target orbit, more planes come online. We should be at 36 planes with all faulty satellites replaced by spares by Jan. That will give us continuous coverage down to around 30 degrees. By the end of next year, we hope to have full global coverage, including the poles.”

On pricing, Musk said the cost would be “pretty much” the same as the U.S., though needing to take into account the exchange rate. Starlink terminal and accessories will cost US$499, and that the service will be priced at US$99 a month.

So far the beta testers have been very pleased with the results.

This is like twinning the highways to hundreds of new smart villages in Canada. Those communities equipped with modular prefab housing, greenhouse food technology and shared electric mobility, will ultimately lead us to crush the costs of living for all our communities – allowing us to focus on grand challenges like the climate emergency and artificial intelligence.

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