SpaceX requests spectrum to upgrade Starlink mobile services

TAMPA, Fla. — SpaceX has applied for more spectrum to upgrade Starlink satellite broadband services for mobile users.

The company asked the US Federal Communications Commission July 25 for permission to use the 2 GHz spectrum band to “augment” its mobile satellite services (MSS).

Specific details about the next-generation services Starlink plans to provide were not disclosed.

David Goldman, SpaceX’s senior director of satellite policy, told the FCC its planned “next-generation services for mobile users” would operate with latency below 50 milliseconds, “which is nearly unnoticeable to consumers.”

A modular payload would be added to future Starlink satellites to transmit transmitters in the 2 GHz band under the plan. The constellation currently uses higher frequencies in the Ku and Ka spectrum bands to provide broadband to mainly fixed users.

The 2 GHz MSS system will leverage “existing ground equipment and user terminals,” Goldman said, and “will also add new earth-station equipment to optimize performance for consumers.”

However, the company also pointed to plans to expand its mobile services after last year acquiring Swarm Technologies, a narrowband MSS operator that connects small and portable Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

In June, the FCC granted SpaceX permission to operate earth stations in motion (ESIMs), enabling broadband services on moving aircraft, ships, and motor vehicles that can support SpaceX’s directional antennas.

“While these assets will enable SpaceX to provide unprecedented broadband capacity from its space-based platform, Americans are increasingly demanding connectivity wherever they are whenever they want, and whatever they are doing,” Goldman said.

“In particular, they have grown accustomed to being able to connect using small, hand-held devices that they can carry with them or affix to mobile platforms.”

Another spectrum battlefront

Satellite broadcaster Dish Network has permission from the FCC to use 2 GHz and other spectrum bands for its US-based terrestrial wireless network.

“While DISH Network is currently licensed to operate in the band, there is scant evidence that DISH is actually providing MSS service to anyone, anywhere,” Goldman told the FCC.

“Moreover, its two aging satellites, launched over a decade ago, will reach the end of their license terms in the next two years and there is no indication of plans for replacements to continue, much less enhance, its meager-at-best MSS services.”

Starlink would also use the 2 GHz band to provide services in rural regions that Dish’s network would not cover, according to Goldman.

He added that the MSS system would not interfere with other users of the band, including replacement satellites that Dish could order.

SpaceX and Dish, respectively controlled by billionaires Elon Musk and Charlie Ergen, have also been battling over spectrum in the 12 GHz band, which is part of the Ku-band that Starlink and other non-geostationary satellite operators use to connect user terminals.

Dish is asking the FCC for permission to upgrade a license it has in the 12 GHz band to support its 5G network plans.

SpaceX told the FCC the plan would create interference that would make Starlink unusable for most Americans.

British satellite operator OneWeb and US satellite broadcaster DirecTV have also raised interference concerns about Dish’s proposal.

According to Dish, its plan to use 12 GHz for 5G can coexist with other users of the spectrum band.

Dish spokesperson Meredith Diers said SpaceX is “trying to bully the FCC for even more free spectrum by going after DISH’s 2 GHz transmitters in an anticompetitive attempt to harm DISH and deprive consumers” of its 5G network.

“SpaceX, a company led by the richest person in the world, has already received authorization to use 15,000 MHz of spectrum – free of charge – from the FCC,” Diers said.

“DISH, on the other hand, has purchased spectrum for over $30 billion, the vast majority of which was paid directly to the US Treasury.”

She said Dish was offering 5G to more than 20% of the US population in more than 120 cities with its terrestrial network as of June 14.

The network continues to “improve and grow weekly” toward its next regulatory milestone, to reach 70% of the US population by June 14, 2023.

“SpaceX appears to have a desire to utilize all the spectrum in the world, as long as they can manipulate it for free,” Diers added.

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