All you have to do is ask rural residents about their internet connectivity to be on the receiving end of a big conversation. Yet as rural area residents yearn for faster and more reliable internet service, about one-half of the world’s population does not have access to internet service at all.
But the news that Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company has applied for a licence from Canada’s telecom regulator and has plans to offer high-speed internet to the country’s rural areas via satellite may not be quite the answer to internet problems.
Musk has earlier communicated that he plans on launching almost 12,000 Starlink satellites that will envelop the Earth and will allow for high-speed, low-cost internet access. An additional 30,000 satellites are in the works, according to some sources. Visit https://findstarlink.com/ to find out when you can see the satellites in the night sky.
The SpaceX application for a Basic International Telecommunications Services (BITS) licence was posted on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s (CRTC) website on May 20th and the CRTC had until June 19 to make comments on the application. No one knows how long it could take to approve the application.
The company will face huge costs to launch a satellite service and follows on the heels of a few companies which simply couldn’t make it work and went bankrupt in the process. And satellite internet faces competition from existing land-based and fibre connections. The cost of satellite internet to users may be much higher than the fees currently charged by internet service provides.
We spoke with Jamie Bogue, a part-owner of IGS Hawkesbury, who recalled that the IGS application to the CRTC took six months to get approved and noted that the SpaceX application was likely considerably more complex.
Bogue says SpaceX will not be targeting near cities or areas that are already serviced.
“Their target will be people who have no other option, as in remote communities and government,” Bogue said, emphasizing that it will be costly and that SpaceX is aiming for the bottom four per cent of internet demand.
Internet service from satellites has had its own challenges in terms of delays, because the signal has to travel across thousands of miles of empty space to Earth and back again.
According to Bogue, Starlink is an LEO constellation, which means its satellites are about 500 kilometres above the Earth’s surface, not thousands of kilometres away, like traditional satellite service. Bogue says that LEO constellations will not suffer from the same latency problems that current internet satellites do, but latencies will still be significantly higher than terrestrial services, despite what Elon Musk is saying.
Bogue says there is hope for the technology becoming an important tool when it matures, in terms of solving the rural/urban internet divide, but says not to expect this project to be a major player in the industry anytime soon.
Satellite service is also vulnerable to extreme weather conditions.
For his part, Bogue said IGS has been extremely busy since the onset of the pandemic, and says that thanks to recent upgrades done by IGS, his company was ready to take on more customers.
While people were working from home and needed good home internet service, Bogue points out that often, servers, government offices and companies were not built to cope with remote work teams. There is some improvement needed there, he thinks.
Speaking of improvement — the retail business at Bogue Photo (Zone Image) has shown growth.
“I am really getting the sense that people are supporting local. They are coming in and say they want to do business with us,” Bogue said.
He noted that while big companies have closed their doors recently as a result of the pandemic exacerbating, for example, challenges for companies that were already on the edge. He said he hopes people continue to support local as we continue to move through the pandemic.
“It’s really tough out there. There is a lot of heartbreak and a lot of stress because of the pandemic. Hopefully, we can all keep on going,” Bogue said, adding that new infrastructure is in the works for Vankleek Hill in the fall of 2020.