New developments from satellite internet companies challenging SpaceX and Amazon Kuiper

Satellite internet companies making news in recent days include Telesat, Globalstar, Intelsat, EchoStar, and Gogo:

  • Telesat reduced the size of its planned low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation for global Internet services. The company still plans to spend a total of $5 billion on its Lightspeed effort, but now plans to operate a total of 188 satellites instead of 298.
  • Globalstar signed a term sheet with a “large, global customer” to start deploying some of its spectrum for terrestrial use in the U.S. and elsewhere. “We continue to believe Apple is the most probable wholesale satellite capacity customer but await further clues, with iPhone 14 release later this year a potential catalyst,” the financial analysts at B. Riley Securities wrote in a note to investors.
  • Intelsat, having recently emerged from bankruptcy, installed a number of new executives from defense contractor Raytheon, including CEO David Wajsgras. The company remains locked in a contentious legal battle with SES over proceeds from the FCC’s massive C-band auction for 5G spectrum.
  • EchoStar announced that the launch of its planned Jupiter 3 satellite will be delayed until next year. A number of other satellite companies have reported similar problems amid a tightening supply of satellite launch providers. EchoStar also has a relatively new CEO in Hamid Akhavan. Further, Anders Johnson, who was leading the integration of EchoStar’s operations with 5G, is leaving the company. However, the financial analysts at Raymond James believe that Johnson’s departure doesn’t necessarily signal a step back from EchoStar’s broader plans to integrate its satellites into terrestrial networks.   “We think hybrid solutions will play a major role in EchoStar’s future, including geostationary (GEO), LEO and terrestrial 5G connections, and we think S-band [spectrum] will also play a role,” they wrote. Finally, Gogo announced it’s still on track to deploy a terrestrial 5G network in the US by the end of this year. The network will beam Internet connections to airplanes.
  • Gogo executives reiterated their interest in adding LEO capabilities to the company’s overall networking offerings, though they stopped short of making any firm announcements.

These developments help show that a wide range of companies – beyond big-name satellite internet companies like SpaceX and Amazon Kuiper – are heavily investing in space communications. It’s worth noting that an array of big name telecom companies have been inking agreements with satellite operators.

For example, AT&T has an agreement with LEO operator OneWeb; Verizon has a similar deal with LEO hopeful Amazon; and Vodafone is working with upstart AST SpaceMobile to connect regular, existing smartphones to satellites.