Satellite operator EchoStar has announced that it will begin creating a global network comprised of 28 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites in partnership with supplier Astro Digital that will transmit signals within the company’s S band spectrum assets. The network will initially be able to support the LoRa protocol to support Internet of Things (IoT) applications, however EchoStar stated that this move is part of a longer-term ambition to build “a global 5G network that is non-terrestrial and not based on space.”
“With assistance for the 5G Non-terrestrial (NTN) services The constellation will serve as a basis for EchoStar to design the 5G New Radio (NR) based NTN capabilities in accordance with 3GPP Release 17 specs,” according to EchoStar’s announcement last week.
The financial analysts of Raymond James cheered the move. “We think there’s a significant value in the S-band spectrum of EchoStar that is not fully appreciated,” they wrote in an investor note recently. “We believe that the LEO network is an exciting way to unlock some of the value.”
The analysts suggested that it would take EchoStar around $100m to $200 million to build and launch the satellites in the next few years.
Echostar Spacial goals
EchoStar was spun off of Dish Network in 2008 – is among a small group of satellite companies with a long history looking forward to a fresh start from 5G. Alongside Iridium, Globalstar and others, EchoStar owns valuable S-band spectrum licenses within the 2GHz band which could be integrated in terrestrial networks.
In pursuit of that final goal, EchoStar late last year announced the launch of its LoRa service for customers across Europe.
“The network, which is operating within EchoStar Mobile’s licensed spectrum S-band that is part of the EchoStar XXI satellite it is the first network to provide bi-directional real-time, LoRa-enabled connectivity across Europe through one system,” the company said in the press release.
The announcement aligns the EchoStar distribution agreement in partnership with LEO the satellite company OneWeb, inked in 2021.
However, those actions appear to be the foundation of EchoStar’s larger strategy. For instance, in the in the year EchoStar CEO Hamid Akhavan declared that the company was examining the growing market for phone-to-satellite connections. “We are extremely focused on this,” he said, without providing any specifics.
This isn’t the only occasion that EchoStar executives have talked about connecting their smartphones to satellites. The billionaire Charlie Ergen, who owns the majority of voting shares of both EchoStar as well as Dish Network (a company that is building a 5G satellite network for terrestrial use within the US), has frequently made suggestions for the possibility of a future partnership between both companies.
A regulatory perspective
EchoStar’s top executive in policy, Jennifer Manner, offered some more details about the company’s plans in an Congressional hearing earlier this week. Manner was able to testify that EchoStar intends to provide “3GPP solutions” at some point in the near future.
“3GPP is the forum for industry that develops specifications for technical specifications for 5G services that include satellite. Many MSS (mobile satellite services) providers have made announcements about direct-to-device services and other new ones,” Manner said. “EchoStar itself is an operator of mobile satellites that supports LoRa IoT and in the near future will offer 3GPP service.”
Manner claimed that US regulators must give additional spectrum for satellite companies such as EchoStar. She also suggested that satellite operators should be able to coordinate their use of the fixed satellite service (FSS) spectrum in conjunction with the other satellite operators as well as the terrestrial operator.
It’s not a surprise that Manner was able to take this stand, as EchoStar’s partner company Dish, is urging US spectrum regulators to allow satellite and terrestrial operations within the band 12GHz.
If regulators come up with new, modern guidelines for the use of satellites, Manner said the US could remain competitive with other advanced countries , such as China.
“By adopting the lead today in the process of having satellites integrated into the 5G ecosystem and the US will be able to ensure being a leader for the next Internet that is a combination of senses which is where satellite networks will become more crucial,” she told the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
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