Facebook might be hatching covert plans to make an entry into satellite-based internet


Joining OneWeb and SpaceX, Facebook might soon be able to provide internet services using satellite.

An inquiry filed with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the week before, brought to light details regarding an experimental satellite from a not so well known company by the name of PointView Tech LLC. Named Athena, the spacecraft will provide data at a rate which is ten times as fast as SpaceX’s “Starlink Internet” satellites, the first one of which had been launched in February this year. However, it seems that PointView exists on paper only. The company appears to be Facebook’s subsidiary and has been formed to create a front which will help in keeping obscure, Facebook’s plan to make its foray into space.  As per records found in Delaware, PointView materialized in April 2017. It has no known shareholders and directors, nor any annual reports. It was traced back to Facebook in California via a paper trail.

Several technology companies are of the impression that Internet services delivered via satellite will be the solution to its low penetration in developing countries and rural areas. People living in such places lack access to Broadband internet connectivity. SpaceX will launch around 12,000 Starlinks into the low Earth orbit (LEO), to deliver high speed (in the range of gigabits) Internet to the Earth’s surface. OneWeb, funded by SoftBank, as well as Qualcomm and Virgin Group, plans to provide similar coverage globally using around 2,500 LEO satellites.

Estimated to be launched in 2019, Athena will head to LEO on an Arianespace Vega rocket. Having about the same weight as the satellites belonging to SpaceX and OneWeb, Athena will make use of high-frequency millimeter-wave radio signals which will ensure quicker data rates. The company’s E-band system is estimated to be capable of delivering speeds up to 10 gigabits per second. However, there are problems with using E-band radio. High-frequency millimeter waves tend to fade quickly and are absorbed by rain and particulate matter in the air.

The aim is to achieve download speeds of 10 Gbps and upload speeds above 30Gbps. Since Athena will remain in LEO, it can fly above around three ground stations for a few minutes each day. It is not enough to attain global connectivity. To provide fierce competition to OneWeb and SpaceX, PointView needs to have thousands of those satellites in orbit. It again might result in orbital collisions and will be looked into by the FCC.