Though satellite-based phone and internet services have developed reputations for offering slower service than terrestrial alternatives, the FCC recently approved next-generation satellite networks that promise improved performance. Now one of the approved providers, LeoSat Networks, says that it will offer 5G cellular-rivaling low latency service that could be used either as a premium 5G alternative or as a backbone for international commercial 5G services.
Next-generation 5G cellular service promises to improve at least four dimensions of telecommunications performance, but two — increased bandwidth and ultra-low latency, or responsiveness — are the technology’s biggest selling points. Compared with 4G networks, 5G will deliver between 10 to 100 times the data speeds, and cut latency from double-digit milliseconds or longer to as little as a single millisecond, eliminating perceptible lag.
According to an interview with FierceWireless, LeoSat is planning a constellation of 78 to 108 satellites that will have unique features — they’ll be 25 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, and connect to one another with a laser-based optical mesh network that’s 1.5 times faster than today’s fiber backbones. The company says it can send signals from Singapore to London in 119 milliseconds, roughly a third faster than today’s fastest cable connection.
Initially, the company’s motivation is to offer premium communications services to wealthy customers such as banks, governments, stock exchanges, and research centers that have a need for low latency data. These customers would use LeoSat-provided satellite communications hardware.
But LeoSat believes that its satellites could also be used by cellular carriers to handle 5G “backhaul” — the shifting of data that takes place behind the scenes, which otherwise would use either fiber cables or tower-to-tower wireless signaling. Customers would be able to use standard 5G smartphones and devices, but carriers would be sending their data through satellites, not just networks of cables.
The company says that its satellite network will be more secure than terrestrial networks, since its signals travel exclusively between its satellites before touching the ground, rather than going through fiber- or tower-based relays. This could be of particular interest to carriers interested in offering a secure tier of 5G services to corporate customers.
Until LeoSat’s network is actually in the sky and fully functional, it’s hard to know whether its real-world performance will match expectations. The company plans to begin its satellite launches in 2019, pending regulatory approvals in other countries.