Samsung has joined the likes of Google, Facebook, SpaceX and O3B with a proposal to bring the Internet to those who don’t yet have it.
While it’s not an official Samsung policy document, the proposal is under the signature of Farooq Khan, who is president of Samsung R&D in Texas.
In his paper at ArXiv, Khan proposes low-cost low-Earth orbit (LEO) micro-satellites as the solution, at orbits of around 2,000 km (1,243 miles) to keep latency to a minimum.
The ambitious idea would see 4,600 of the satellites deployed, so as to support traffic at a zettabyte per month, equivalent to 200 GB per month for each of the five billion users he wants to connect.
The zettabyte requirements of the future (since five billion users would suck down an awful lot of data) can’t be met by the sub-3GHz frequency bands common in the mobile biz, he says, so the micro-sats should be designed to use millimetre-wave spectrum over 100 GHz.
Rather than users communicating directly with the satellites, Khan envisages the satellites providing the backhaul that’s currently provided by fixed networks.
Since LEO satellites don’t conveniently hold one position in the sky, the paper says the system should use phased array antennas. This would let the satellites form multiple beams for both space-to-ground communications and satellite-to-satellite signals “by generating multiple independent beams and scanning them in the two orthogonal planes”.
The millimetre-wave frequencies Khan has in mind would provide enough spectrum to separate space-to-ground and space-to-space links, so the payload doesn’t need to include electronics to avoid interference.
Communications between satellites could also use spectrum in the “oxygen-absorption band”, which isn’t useful within the atmosphere.
The super-high frequencies Khan proposes yield another benefit: as frequency rises, antennas shrink: “We note that with antenna array size of about 1m2, we can achieve gain of up to 70dB at 150GHz frequency,” he writes.
High antenna gain also reduces the amount of power the satellite needs to supply.
One of the biggest challenges, Khan notes, is that current electronics have trouble at such high frequencies, “because the parasitic effects that are negligible at lower microwave frequencies become problematic at millimetre waves”.
However, since the proposal anticipates reaching full service in 2028, Khan expects research now under way at the chip level to deliver the necessary performance.
This is not a first attempt by large companies to bring a worldwide internet service. Before the initiatives started by thinkers like Elon Musk’s Space X and Richard Branson’sOneWeb, Bill Gates and GlobalStar attempted to bring universal Internet access via satellites as well. It all faltered to pieces when the actual costs of ferrying technology regularly in space showed their ugly face.
There are many issues that could be posed by such rapid and en mass advancement. First, the fuel costs should drop by at least half the price it costs today, secondly the satellites should be easily disposable from the orbit without turning into a damaging wreck for the rest of the network. Keeping in mind how dangerous the blanket of junk and disabled satellites that surrounds our Earth is, the one thing we need now is another couple of thousands satellites just to provide Internet in the steppes of Asia.
This is not an easy task to complete, however, since such endeavors may cost too much even for tech giants like Samsung or Microsoft.