Boeing seeks permission to launch satellite constellation in same V-band spectrum as 5G systems

Boeing last week filed an application with the FCC to launch and operate a geo-stationary satellite orbit (NGSO) fixed satellite service (FSS) system operating in low Earth orbit (LEO) in the 37.5-42.5 GHz, 47.2-50.2 and 50.4-52.4 GHz bands, collectively known as the V-Band. In so doing, it's putting its hat into the same ring as companies like SpaceX and OneWeb.

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Boeing is proposing to launch a constellation
of up to 2.956 V-band satellites. Click on
image to enlarge. (Source: Boeing) 

Space News noted that Boeing does not estimate how big or costly the satellites would be but said they will have on-board backup for all vulnerable or critical satellite systems and bumper shields and debris blankets for debris protection.

In its application, Boeing said the proposed system will operate in the same V-band spectrum as 5G systems. Boeing believes technological advances make possible the effective sharing of spectrum for the delivery of global communications services, including satellite-delivered broadband and terrestrial 5G applications. For proprietary reasons, the company isn't providing additional details beyond what is contained in its license application, the company said in a statement after the Space News story was published.

Boeing's application said its NGSO system would consist of a total constellation of 2,956 NGSO FSS satellite to provide very high speed, low latency internet connectivity for user terminals via the system's network access gateways and associated terrestrial fiber network. The satellites, gateways and user terminals would be managed from a Global Network Operations Center using a series of regional NOCs to provide connectivity and management for multiple gateways within various regions worldwide.

In its initial deployment, the Boeing NGSO System would consist of a constellation of 1,396 LEO satellites operating at a 1,200 kilometers altitude. The initial constellation would consist of 35 circular-orbit planes operating at a 45-degree inclination, augmented with six additional circular-orbit plans operating at a 55-degree inclination. The NGSO System payload would use advanced beam-forming and digital processing to generate thousands of narrow spot beams to provide a cellular coverage on the Earth's surface.

Boeing traditionally hasn't been a direct competitor to terrestrial cellular operators. Its application noted that it is the world's largest manufacturer of commercial satellites and it has been a leader in the satellite industry since the launch of Syncom, the first geosynchronous communications satellite, more than 50 years ago. 

The application and a related petition for rulemaking come as a Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH)-led coalition is urging the FCC to change the rules for Multichannel Video Data and Distribution (MVDDS) spectrum. The MVDDS 5G Coalition is asking the FCC to initiate a rulemaking proceeding designed to permit MVDDS licensees to use their 12.2-12.7 GHz spectrum to provide 2-way mobile broadband services.

AT&T, which acquired DirecTV last year, said the MVDDS petitioners have not presented any technical justification for revisiting the rules or provided an explanation of how direct broadcast satellite (DBS) services might be protected from interference if MVDDS service were mobile and 2-way.

Satellite industry consultant Tim Farrar of TMF Associates said it's important to put Boeing's proposed satellite constellation in the context of the FCC's Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, which proposed further allocations for terrestrial wireless within the satellite service bands in a proposal that the commission will consider July 14.

By filing this application, Boeing can argue it ought to be grandfathered in and potentially seek operating restrictions upon future terrestrial systems, Farrar told FierceWirelessTech.

An NGSO system needs more sophisticated protection than a geostationary (GEO) satellite. For example, you can't just point all the terrestrial service antennas away from the GEO arc, as the sharing rules in the MVDDS band contemplate. So an NGSO system will impose more restrictions on terrestrial sharing than a proposed GEO system would.

Farrar also pointed out that it will be several years before Boeing would need to spend serious money to build anything, but that period likely will be filled with back-and-forth over what spectrum in the millimeter wave bands will be available for satellite and which will be reallocated to terrestrial.

In April, OneWeb filed an application with the FCC seeking access to the U.S. market for its planned low earth orbit satellite system. OneWeb, which is backed by Virgin Group's Sir Richard Branson and Qualcomm's Paul Jacobs, wants to use a unique non-geostationary satellite constellation that would provide broadband access to many individuals across the world who have limited or no access today.

When fully deployed, OneWeb's system will support a wide variety of services in the U.S. and globally, including cellular backhaul, mobility services, community and residential internet access and emergency communications. The system will operate at an altitude of 1,200 km, enabling low latency internet access comparable with terrestrial solutions. The company said its system will have low-cost, easy to install Ku-band user terminals, and a small number of globally distributed Ka-band gateway antennas. 

Last year, SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, asked the federal government for permission to begin testing a satellite-based internet service that would involve the launch of 4,000 small and inexpensive satellites to beam high-speed internet signals around the world, including remote areas.

For more:
- see this Boeing FCC filing (PDF)
- see this Space News article
- see this Los Angeles Times article

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