LeoSat touts ultralow latency in planned LEO constellation

LeoSat says its satellite network in space will use a mesh network design. (Thales Alenia Space)

LeoSat Enterprises is just one of a handful of companies that recently got the FCC’s approval to provide non-geostationary satellite orbit (NGSO) services in the U.S., but it’s got big ambitions to handle huge quantities of data around the world—and to do so with very low latency.

Low latency is a big part of the 5G story—and not something usually associated with satellites given the distance signals need to travel into the sky. But improvements in satellite technology are changing that paradigm, and LeoSat is touting its low latency advantage even before its constellation gets launched.

LeoSat’s proposed NGSO system consists of 78 satellites initially, orbiting at 1,400 kilometers, or 25 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites, with the potential to grow to 108 low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Each satellite has four lasers interconnecting it with the other satellites, creating a mesh data network to cover the globe. Because the signals don’t touch the ground between handoffs, the system will be more secure than terrestrial networks, according to the company.

“With us, the signal doesn’t come down, it just continues across the satellites,” LeoSat CEO Mark Rigolle told FierceWirelessTech, adding that light travels faster in free space than it does in a fiber optic cable.

The company says its system of high-throughput satellites will create an optical backbone in space that is about 1.5 times faster than terrestrial fiber backbones. It will serve businesses—such as big multinational companies—whose livelihoods depend on getting data moved around the world and where latency is important, such as stock exchanges, banks, governments, research centers and the like.

“The prime reason we exist is to offer a premium service” to maybe a few thousand customers worldwide that have deep pockets and huge needs—and they’re prepared to pay for a premium service because it solves business-critical issues they currently can’t easily solve, Rigolle said.

The company also expects to serve the corporate customer divisions within telecom service providers. The company’s constellation could provide an answer to 5G service providers’ backhaul needs as well. “We are exceedingly relevant to any 5G low latency types of applications,” he said.

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“We see a huge business for ourselves and that’s totally different from normal satellites,” he added. Satellite firms typically see themselves as providing a gap-filling solution, he said, and as soon as someone terrestrially builds something out, they lose that market because satellite is not considered to be as good as terrestrial.

“But we’re actually better than terrestrial. We can get from Singapore to London in 119 milliseconds,” which is about one-third faster than the fastest advertised cable connection, he said.

While there’s a lot more work to be done to get approvals from government entities around the world, getting the FCC’s stamp of approval carries with it a certain degree of recognition. “That will help us getting landing rights in other countries,” he said.

It’s expected to start launching satellites in 2019.