Apple may be funding Boeing’s satellite system for global broadband coverage

Today’s report from Bloomberg on Apple’s latest high-profile hirings includes a passage that sheds light on Boeing’s alleged talks with Apple regarding a broadband satellite service. According to Boeing’s regulatory filing, the aerospace giant is planning to blanket the Earth with more than a thousand satellites providing fast Internet coverage throughout the United States and internationally. According to authors Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen, Boeing has talked with Apple about investing in or partnering on the project.

It’s unclear from the report if those talks might result in a deal.

However, industry consultant Tim Farrar recently quoted an insider who unequivocally stated that, yes, Boeing’s project is indeed being funded by Apple. Of note, Boeing’s former CEO and Corporate President, James Bell, joined Apple’s Board of Directors in October 2015.

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.

Internet from the sky?

What Boeing is basically proposing here is a NGSO (non-geostationary satellite orbit constellations) low-earth orbit satellite system with the aim of providing better-than-cellular broadband coverage throughout the United States and internationally.

To that extent, Boeing asked the FCC to consider the allocation and authorization of additional uplink spectrum in the bands 50.4-51.4 GHz and 51.4-52.4 GHz so that it could create a full five gigahertz of paired spectrum for V-band operations.

Here’s an excerpt from the filing (emphasis mine):

This new uplink spectrum will help create a five gigahertz block of uplink spectrum that, paired with fixed satellite service downlink spectrum in the 37.5-42.5 GHz band, will enable very high data-rate V-band satellite broadband services that will be deployed in the near future.

The system would feature low latency and faster speeds than existing cellular systems, bringing communications service to all users at the same cost regardless of location.

There are currently four gigahertz of allocated satellite uplink spectrum in USA:

  • 47.2-50.2 GHz: Not yet designated for fixed satellite service use.
  • 50.4-51.4 GHz: Shared between NASA/military and commercial entities, with co-primary allocations for fixed, fixed satellite, mobile and MSS services.
  • 51.4-52.4 GHz: Currently allocated for terrestrial fixed and mobile wireless services.

The 50.4-51.4 GHz and 51.4-52.4 GHz bands are well-suited for satellite use because they are not being used by terrestrial wireless, at least not in the United States.

Boeing explains that millimeter wave technology and phased arrays forming numerous small transmission and receive beams allow fixed satellite service systems to re-use individual frequencies many times within the beams of a given satellite transponder.

Potentially lucrative business

Nearly 100 million Americans, many in rural and remote areas, lack access to broadband.

More than 23 million American in rural areas have access to broadband Internet with speeds lower than 25 MB down and 3 MB up. And when it comes to the baseline 25 Mbps downstream service, three out of four Americans homes are served by a single provider or none at all.

The cost of deploying terrestrial broadband remains extremely high so the opportunity exists to bring ubiquitous satellite Internet access to those areas that remain underserved.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has forecast $30 billion in revenue from satellite internet by 2025.

Boeing’s filing sums it up nicely:

By bringing comparable Internet speeds, performance and prices to Americans regardless of where they live, satellite broadband systems also have the potential to create new national broadband competitors and re-invigorate the United States telecommunications marketplace.

Could Apple be funding Boeing’s satellite constellation so that it could sell its own high-speed telecommunications and data services to iPhone owners?

Only time will tell.

But we do know: Apple is starting a whole new hardware team for which it hired two Google executives who specialize in satellites for collecting images and those for communications.

Draw your own conclusions…

Source: Bloomberg