Several global technology companies, such as SpaceX and Amazon, have started a war in space with telephone operators targeting the launch of low-altitude satellites for the exclusive offer of internet.
Brazil became an early stage of this dispute that has already led regulatory agencies in the United Kingdom and Germany to put this fledgling business under surveillance.
Anatel (National Telecommunications Agency) is currently evaluating five license applications from companies — SpaceX, Kepler, OneWeb, Swarm and Lightspeed.
In all, companies must use at least 4,800 low-altitude satellites to sell internet in places where telecoms do not reach today, especially to the poorest.
British OneWeb’s commercial strategy, for example, is to bring the internet to the approximately 3 billion inhabitants of the planet who are offline today.
Most of the satellites (4,408) that will fly over Brazil, however, belong to SpaceX, the company of billionaire Elon Musk, which plans to invest US$ 30 billion in the construction of Starlink, a constellation that will spread around the Earth at a distance of about 570 km.
The businessman’s idea is to complete this network by the end of 2029, according to official company statements.
These devices will remain for up to a decade traveling around the planet. Each tour lasts a maximum of two hours and, along the way, internet connections will be maintained throughout the countries.
As long as one satellite is moving out of range of a particular country, others from the same company are already arriving — a permanent relay between them.
With this technology, signals arrive on the ground to clients with a delay of at most 40 milliseconds—a blink lasts a tenth of a second, for example.
SpaceX’s proliferation through space worries governments and telecommunications companies, basically TV broadcasters and telephone operators that have geostationary satellites (fixed to Earth) more than 35,000 km from the surface.
These devices take longer to get their signals to the antennas on the ground — this path can take up to a second.
When contacted, Sindisat, an association that represents companies that operate with satellites of this type in the country, declined to comment.
Although it is in favor of advancing the new technology, the Ministry of Communications assesses the arrival of these new groups with concern.
Advisors to Minister Fábio Faria have received alerts from the AEB (Brazilian Space Agency), responsible for organizing and controlling orbital space over Brazil.
Technicians consider that, with such a wide network of low-altitude satellites — up to 2,000 km —, there could even be problems with launching rockets and satellites at the Alcântara Base (MA).
Another concern refers to Telebras, a company active even after 23 years of privatization and which, during the Bolsonaro government, gained autonomy to sell internet via the Brazilian geostationary satellite SGDV launched in May 2017 and which the state-owned company shares with the Armed Forces.
The military, which controls 70% of the equipment’s capacity, does not want to have interference in the signals emitted by this satellite, used for national security purposes.
Despite the excitement over the arrival of such a large foreign network of internet providers, Anatel advisers who analyze the requests of foreign companies are also cautious.
They want to better assess whether the new low-orbiting satellite constellations can cause interference in the emission of signals from equipment farther away from Earth, those in medium orbit and geostationary.
The agency’s president, Leonardo Euler de Moraes, believes that satellite technology has advanced both in terms of increasing the capacity and speed of internet connection, and in reducing the costs associated with its adoption.
“This has made access to the internet via satellite stand out prominently as an important technological solution for public policies of massification and universal access, especially in countries with larger dimensions and geographic challenges,” he told sheet.
“The arrival of new medium and low orbit megaconstellations is a new step in this evolution, which will increase competition and the offer of connectivity solutions.”
For him, however, its massification requires some organization and technical coordination efforts, “so that its coexistence with the networks already established and in operation, particularly the geostationary ones, can be guaranteed”.
Moraes also states that Anatel tries to establish rules and technical-operational conditions for the “efficient and harmonious exploration of the two solutions”.
In the United Kingdom, Ofcom, the British agency for the sector, prepared a consultation on necessary changes in the current rules for the operation of satellites in the country.
The objective is also to assess the extent of interference and whether there are ways to mitigate them. The consultation will be open until the end of September and will serve as a reference for Anatel.