Satellite Internet? Hmmm...
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2019-05-16 12:05 by Karl Denninger
in Technology , 162 references Ignore this thread
Satellite Internet? Hmmm...
[Comments enabled]

There's a chuckle factor associated with all of this "breathless reporting" on new attempts to bring "satellite" internet to the world.

Upcoming satellite technology could lower prices for Internet services, a new report predicts.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites from Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink project and Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper could save American households more than $30 billion per year by introducing more broadband competition, according to a report from BroadbandNow.

“The arrival of this emergent technology is likely to drive down monthly internet prices for hundreds of millions of Americans,” the report said. In short, the more broadband Internet services available in an area, the lower the price consumers will pay on average.

Weeeelllllll, maybe.

Wayback machine time.

When I ran MCSNet I had a little "skunk" project that was my personal pet and nobody else had access to, nor even knew existed.  I detected quite early on that the technological progression for Internet access was likely to go from dial-up (where we were when we started for ordinary consumers) into the monopolist-owned pathways.   ISDN became available quite early on but was still 64kbps per channel, or 128kbps in your house.  Plus compression it wasn't bad and latency was much better than a modem, but still.... and it was expensive, both for the terminal equipment and for the circuit, which was charged like a phone call (or 2 in the case of 128k bonded.)

The "promised land" was sold by many as DSL, but every analysis that I did said that the companies selling it at the time (Covad, etc) were all going to go bankrupt.  They did, ultimately, and I was very, very happy we never got in bed with them as the hit to customers when it happened was extreme.

The risk was from the cable companies which could (illegally) cost-shift much of their build-out into the cable TV space and just like today with health care and online product sales (e.g. Spamazon) I saw zero evidence that state or federal AGs would go after these guys on a competition basis.  This was an existential threat down the line a decade or so to the industry -- and a threat that I fully expected to materialize.

So I spent a lot of time noodling on ways to beat the monopolists without shooting their CEOs or the State and local governments and "regulators" for their refusal to do their job since shooting people was at the time (and still is) illegal.

One of the concepts I played with was building an embedded-system box that you'd buy and plug into your home.  It would run on unlicensed RF spectrum and, when plugged in, look for other reachable nodes and insert itself into a mesh.  At the time (pre-IpV6, which was ratified as a Draft in 1998 -- there was no generally-usable stack available prior to roughly 2000) we had moderately-severe constraints on IPv4 address allocations, and there were business-level "wars" that broke out from time to time.  There were also moderately-severe and recurring routing table problems, although the most-serious of them was quite-early when the first AGS+ routers simply ran out of addressable RAM space, and being VME/M68k based products couldn't have more RAM added to them (they got forcibly turned into "mid-level" and edge routers, and ultimately were scrapped -- at very significant cost.)

My scheme to address this was to layer an internal, network-private prefix in front and carry it only in the aggregate for the specific metro area; it would not be visible to anyone either end of the jack, but was essentially an extension of address space for the purpose of local area aggregation and traffic management.  The design was intended to deliver auto-configured Internet service out a standard Ethernet jack on the back of the box.

The problem that killed the project was the lack of a reasonable cost-and-availability solution for the processing and RAM required in each of the nodes to handle what was a non-centrally-controlled (that is, self-configuring, self-healing and self-modifying, yet secure against tampering) mesh.  It wasn't an unsolvable problem per-se, but on a reasonable money per box basis it was, considering that the mesh itself was worthless without external connections, which would have to be charged of course at various "touch points."  I still have working code and my notes; I never filed a patent on it or disclosed exactly how it worked to anyone because my calculations were that by the time the horsepower necessary to make it actually work in the consumer world was available the patent protection time would have either run out or been very close to expiration, and thus there was no way to make money at it.  As I expected would happen the cable companies indeed came in, leveraged their existing rights-of-way and monopolist access to same plus their ability to cost-shift and here we are.

These new LEO schemes share similar characteristics, except that of course today cheap wide-scale CPU and RAM power is not all that tough of a problem, and now you have formal IpV6, so at least in theory addressing isn't a problem either.  Unlike my idea of blanketing an urban or suburban area these systems would not care about density of customers on the land side at all.  But what IS a problem in the LEO space is that since the satellites "move" from the perspective of the ground station you need a phased-array antenna with a fairly decent amount of processing power to manage it and you also need the spectrum which by its nature is concentrated at the satellite end instead of being distributed as is the case with a mesh.  And finally the satellite side has constraints too -- much of them power-related, as flying birds up there have fairly severe energy constraints; you can't exactly plug something into the wall, so you're limited by what you can harvest with solar cell arrays.

I'm not necessarily sold on the will be cheaper paradigm, even if Space-X manages to get the cost of lofting the birds down to the degree that Musk thinks he will.  The birds still cost a lot of money in capital expense to build and the bandplanning required for such a system along with the processing and protocol work so as to make the network functional and solve potential interference problems is not trivial.  It's not an unsolvable problem by any means, and the latency of a connection in LEO as opposed to working in geostationary space, never mind the slot limitation issues with geostationary orbits (at 1/2 degree spacing you only have 720 of them, etc) that evaporate with an LEO constellation do help a great deal, but in the end it all comes down to actual deliverable bandwidth .vs. cost.

One of the problems with the existing option -- HughesNet -- is that not only is there a latency issue due to geostationary satellites being used but in addition there are extremely severe uplink speed limits and a "fairness" algorithm that prevents the sort of use that people enjoy today on cable systems -- such as watching 4k Netflix shows.  Additionally, due to the inherent technology with geostationary birds and that you're running a licensed-band transmitter there is a very real potential issue with interference and as a result "professional installation is strongly recommended" (so to speak.)

For this sort of system to replace HughesNet those issues have to be resolved in a way that actually makes sense.  The service has to be cheaper, latency lower, the "fairness algorithm" either gone or greatly attenuated and real two-way (that is, I have to be able to get a reasonable uplink speed that I can actually use) service has to exist. These are not trivial problems.

However they're also not unsolvable problems, providing the financial side works, which I'm not sold on.

In any event were I someone with a financial stake in Hughes I'd be real worried about right now -- if any of these systems actually go online and work as the developers think they will those folks are done.  If two or more them get operating, and they're not connected in some business sort of way, then real competition might show up.  Maybe.

However, and this is a big however, I'm not sold on this being a better mousetrap all-in cost-wise than, for example, mixed-band 5g.  Much is going to depend on installed density; in a rural part of the nation, for example, it is not established which gives you a better all-in cost structure.  Installing terrestrial backlinks and transmitters of course only serves that specific area, which is where the LEO system appears to "win", but the density required for real service to work in an LEO constellation is quite large because by definition those satellites are not in fixed relationship to a space on the surface and thus they only work when the necessary density is present so that the earth and space sides all can "see" each other and be able to pass traffic on a reliable basis, handing off and even passing traffic between satellites as necessary before the relative motion of the antenna on earth and the one in space degrades the signal to the point that the user notices it.

Again -- this isn't a "mobile internet" sort of application that will talk to your phone, as the phased-array antenna requirement (we're talking antenna sizes of perhaps a foot or two on a side, plus the power to operate it) will prohibit it from being used to connect to mobile devices.  But it's certainly something that could trivially blanket rural and even very rugged areas where horizontal "lines of sight" for terrestrial RF is a problem with quality, low-latency service.

IF the numbers work -- which remains to be seen.

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Spanktron9
Posts: 4836
Incept: 2009-03-13

Reality.
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I'll take the under. I wouldn't trust Musk to not F up a ham sandwich. Yes, Shotwell runs SpaceX and they have good engineers. I know one through twitter. This engineer, after hearing the CC with Musk yesterday, replied "Its BS." Plus, $TSLAQ is going supernova, and anything tied to Musk will be plutonium.

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Emupaul
Posts: 38
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Pass.

When I upgraded my DirecTV to HD (and their junky hardware) it would quit when it rained. One repair guy suggested I cut down a tree. No, ain't cutting down a live oak with an 18 inch trunk. Idiot.

When I first got DirecTV I bought the system on eBay. Made by Sony. The only time the picture went out was when we had 6 inches of rain in 2 hours.

All that junk is gone. I have an antenna for locals and the Roku for more. Not paying $140 a month anymore, either.

My brother had Hughs. It would quit working. When he called it would magically start working 10 minutes later. Now he has fiber to the pole.



Rokwell
Posts: 5
Incept: 2008-10-23

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RF internet sounds familiar. Back around 2001 I hired into an AT&T R and D site called Fixed Wireless. It was the same concept you describe, get around the pipeline using RF. They pulled the plug a couple of months after I started so I didn't get a good feel for the technololgy. I got the sense they were having serious issues. They had a network up and running though, I think the main market was somewhere in Texas.
Krindc
Posts: 2
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Around DC and Baltimore
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Any info on how well these LEO satellite will handle a solar storm/flare or CME? If they're all junk after a bit hit, this might not be the answer.
Tickerguy
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A big CME? I wouldn't be surprised if essentially ALL of the satellites up there right now would be scrap under such a scenario.

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Wa9jml
Posts: 388
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DeKalb, Illinois
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Count me out of anything these charlatans come up with.
My installation of Brave keeps telling me to upgrade, but the upgrade consists of Google Chrome. No thanks.
Emg
Posts: 362
Incept: 2012-11-20

Canada
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"When I upgraded my DirecTV to HD (and their junky hardware) it would quit when it rained."

Yeah, the satcom system we use can be affected by bad weather. But I understand Starlink uses higher frequencies that aren't as badly affected.

I'm hoping they can get it to work because one of the problems with finding a rural property to move to here is the often lousy or non-existent Internet.
Tinman
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I think this is already a thing (The LEO), it's called Iridium. On the terrestrial site, one of my coworkers worked for a startup ten years ago doing a mesh RF network in Philly. They failed and he was out six months pay. Who wants to live in a collision domain?
Elkad
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It MIGHT drop prices in the more expensive areas of the US if it works. I wouldn't count on it. Or not past the basic 25mbit tier anyway.

However, it'll be nice for the portions of the world without wires, whether that is in undeveloped Montana or Mongolia or Micronesia.

And of course that assumes it works.
Djloche
Posts: 3916
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Vancouver, WA
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I think the financial numbers will work because people will opt to pay Starlink (or other competitors) internet service vs their local cable monopoly

I think telsa is cooked as a goose and their books are more crooked than Hilary, but spacex will continue on pushing space industry, especially without elon mustard.

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Bodhi
Posts: 1103
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Georgia
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When I lived in rural Oregon satellite was the only option other than dialup. I had HughesNet and it wasn't even as fast as DSL. Because of the latency of the signal having to traverse 22,000 miles up and down VoIP is not an option. Massively overpriced for the amount of bandwidth you get, and I had to sign a 2-year contract. Better than nothing, but ugh.
Tickerguy
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Quote:
I think this is already a thing (The LEO), it's called Iridium. On the terrestrial site, one of my coworkers worked for a startup ten years ago doing a mesh RF network in Philly. They failed and he was out six months pay. Who wants to live in a collision domain?

Well, you do every time you use WiFi. It's just a smaller collision domain.

The issue with those designs revolves around how you structure it; a "free for all" doesn't work very well but that's the magic of the way you build the protocol. There are folks who have tried to essentially take WiFi and "widescale" it -- that doesn't work well for a whole host of reasons, mostly because WiFi was never designed to be used that way. PTP however, even using base WiFi protocols works quite well but is a "special case" sort of thing simply because you have to point your antennas at each other and the alignment and line-of-sight requirement makes it tough for a 'self-install' world.

And yeah, this problem (no access other than Hughes) is materially complicating my "where do I move to" problem. Knowing how Hughes works I won't buy from them and anywhere that's limited to their service is a flat-out "No."

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Goldmanssack
Posts: 2249
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38320 / 07849
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The double NAT on my Hughes satellite connection (plus data caps) has turned me off from satellite unless i'm forced to use it, which I am at one of my properties. I didn't spend too much time trying to get past it, but didn't have much luck using a VPN to mitigate the double NAT. I don't know enough to know if a VPN would resolve that.

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Tickerguy
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The problem with using a VPN to get around it is that it would have to be initiated from inside the double-NATted location and that's somewhat of a PITA to set up and use, especially if you're not there and the link goes down for some reason. Then you have the maintenance traffic (small but not zero) which Hughes could detect and intentionally interfere with, as it's clearly intended to get around how they set up the network to stop you from doing that.

My understanding is that at least with their newer gear ("Gen 5") Hughes DOES hand out an IPv6 address IF your equipment asks for it, AND that's globally unique -- which in theory at least, would work. IN THEORY. However I've yet to screw with this in practice, and there are other issues that will come up with the most-serious of them being that Hughes internally caches and plays with the data stream (e.g. compression) both to accelerate what you perceive as the performance level and to keep the actual satellite bandwidth consumed down -- using a VPN will violate that since the data is encrypted and thus their caching/compression/forwarding stuff doesn't work, so perceived performance will be quite-severely impacted.

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Wa9jml
Posts: 388
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DeKalb, Illinois
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There are also FCC Part 15 terrestrial data networks that seem to work fairly well. One of my friends in West Bend Wisconsin discovered that the tower on the hill behind his house was one of the nodes of this sort of system. So, he signed up and is now happily basking is its much superior performance.

He was on a similar system before, but since this one is much closer to him, the signals are much stronger.

When I was a city administrator out in Western Illinois, we had a similar system installed on the city water towers, and that seemed to work very well. A local law firm was able to use it with a VPN circa 2004.
Hot-dog-guy
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I have this building sense of irony reading this as PG&E just announced possible wide scale shutdowns of it's grid to prevent wildfires. Wildfires possibly attributable to their neglected infrastructure. Here's you guys stepping off the planet in communications terms but meanwhile in California....paging George Westinghouse...
Mtdm
Posts: 616
Incept: 2009-07-23

NH
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Yeah, as I understand it they want to use Li-Ion batteries to power little sections of the grid and only power up the distribution lines intermittently, when weather is calm, to reduce arcing from tree branches etc. and hence fire risk. I assume this is part of a master plan to demonstrate that Tesla batteries are a net reducer of fire hazard rather than a lethal tinderbox.
Peterm99
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I expect it's merely a strategy to make life as uncomfortable as possible for PG&E customers so that they will complain to the PUC and thereby "encourage" the PUC to allow huge rate increases, ostensibly to improve the company's infrastructure.

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Inventive
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Missouri
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We moved to an area of NW Missouri that technically only had HughesNet as a provider. Pretty much akin to going back to dialup, stupid low data cap, expensive and high latency.

We did some poking around and found out that ATT and Verizon both had/have a "rural wireless" plan. They don't advertise it, but if you live in one of their specified zip codes you can get a good deal on a 4g data plan. 250gb for 60 bucks.

I'd love a better alternative, but it's enough to stream some YouTube, and do some video calling, so it'll work for now.
Asimov
Posts: 111162
Incept: 2007-08-26

East Tennessee Eastern Time
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Just in case anybody isn't aware... There's a rural county in east TN called Hawkins. The power company is a coop. They are currently installing 1gb/1gb fiber to every house they service. They'll be done in 2-3 years.

It's pretty amazing. In one of the cheapest places in the whole country to live.

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It's justifiably immoral to deal morally with an immoral entity.

Festina lente.
Tickerguy
Posts: 157213
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An awful lot of places that are in Hawkins County I've looked at are NOT part of the expected service area according to the coop's "can you connect me" page.

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Asimov
Posts: 111162
Incept: 2007-08-26

East Tennessee Eastern Time
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As far as I'm aware, everywhere that gets served by their power will get it. That's what they've been advertising. Some places they can't even give you an estimated date yet though, like the ones they don't even have a plan for construction yet and that may be why you were getting that response (where were you looking?)

If you look at the "zones" map, they just added a huge chunk that's in the next phase of construction (green) which is rogersville north, moorseburg south and goshen valley (mainly.) According to the comments, these are to be completed late-2021.

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It's justifiably immoral to deal morally with an immoral entity.

Festina lente.
Tickerguy
Posts: 157213
Incept: 2007-06-26
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I had several places technically in their shared areas that they didnt even list as an expansion, but no date yet, address...

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Frieza
Posts: 2
Incept: 2019-03-09

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I would be hesitant to have any significant portion of our domestic communications rely on satellites. Karl has written before on the potential of a bad actor flooding their orbit with debris and taking the whole network out, and obviously a number of our potential enemies have the ballistics to bring them down. There are also concerns that something like Russia's Kosmos-2499 or Kosmos-2519 could be used to sabotage them, and even rumors of cargo plane mounted lasers that could damage LEO objects. Heck, if these actually ended up creating competition then I wouldn't be surprised if the existing telecoms paid someone to disable a few of them. Destroying satellites isn't cheap, but it's much cheaper than producing and launching new ones.

Every once in a while I devote some thought to potential ways of creating a decentralized network to circumvent both corporate and government control over communication - some kind of Pandora's Box system that a few entrepreneurs could set up that would be effectively impossible to suppress without full totalitarian control. My last such daydream involved floating server banks in international waters and having them communicate through a mesh of on-shore clients using some kind of RF, running open source code so that anyone could take it upon themselves to add more server nodes or restore destroyed ones. The first major problem with that (even assuming perfect software) is that the power requirements would be too much to handle with just solar and tidal motion unless you built it on a very large floating platform. Obviously that would be expensive and laborious to replace and require regular maintenance, and if this network was actually usable enough to cause major disruption to governments and industries globally then it would inevitably be targeted. And then there're hurricanes, rogue waves, and (traditional) pirates breaking into your server room and installing malware.

I had hoped that quantum entanglement would be the holy grail of untraceable, uninterruptible, instantaneous communication over infinite distances, but I'm told the physics doesn't work in a way that would allow any kind of data transfer. I guess I'm stuck dreaming of something like the Sub-Etha tech from Hitchhiker's Guide.
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