back to article Boeing swipes at Starlink as it finishes two internet slinging satellites

Boeing has delivered a pair of O3b mPOWER satellites to telecom network provider SES – and had a dig at rival space broadband technologies along the way. The spacecraft are scheduled for launch into a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) of about 5,000 miles (8,000km) next month. Once in orbit, the satellites "will provide low-latency, …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why would they have to be launched in "...pairs, or groups of threes?"

    1. drand

      It's lonely up there in MEO...

    2. Bubba Von Braun

      To spread the launch cost over more birds. Not rocket science just simple accounting


    3. Justthefacts Silver badge

      It’s the (fixed) size of the selected launcher divided by the size and mass of each satellite. Most (not all) launches contain two satellites sometimes of different owners - it’s a bit more cost-optimal to develop larger launchers and share, but does cause problems when one satellite owner has to wait due to a production hitch on the other

    4. elsergiovolador Silver badge

      At least one is a sacrifice or a gift for aliens. You can't simply launch one - it's disrespectful.

    5. Danny 14

      cost saving over the long run. When one MEO satellite meets another MEO satellite a little MEO satellite is born a few months later.

    6. Gene Cash Silver badge

      To cover the entire planet. You can't do that from just one satellite.

  2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

    Apples and oranges though.

    Lose one satellite and Starlink can compensate and/or launch more cheap boxes. If SES lose one they lose the entire "constellation" of 5000 beams and it is both difficult and expensive to replace it but, arguably, they are less likely to lose a satellite.

    I would assume you'll need a much bigger dish for MEO too - so no roaming. It will be interesting to see what the beam footprints are and whether there's overlap to preserve "reasonable" signal strength across the entire coverage area eg Europe or whether it's designed for higher bandwidth, specific targets - Paris, Amsterdam, Skegness ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

      "Roaming" is perfectly feasible with redirectable beams. Just because it isn't as convenient to move the dish doesn't mean you can't.

      1. UCAP Silver badge

        Re: "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

        Besides, the satellites are in MEO which means they are constantly in motion relative to the Earth. So any terminal is going to "roam" from beam to beam and satellite to satellite.

    2. Tubz Silver badge

      Re: "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

      Hopefully all those new bandwidth hungry datacentres and killer droids C&C killer Centers in Skegness, will soon have all they can eat and stop interfering with home broadband.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

        Nurse! Tubz has forgotten their dried frog pills again!

    3. UCAP Silver badge

      Re: "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

      They are launching in-orbit spares, so if they do loose a complete satellite (something that happens, but not often) then they can rejig the constellation to cover the gap.

      You don't necessarily need a bigger dish on the ground terminal - depends on how they have closed the link budget. Most likely they put a bigger dish on the satellite with a huge gain; entirely feasible given modern antenna structure technology (look at the size of the antennas that the likes of Intelsat and Inmarsat are using on their current-generation GEO satellites).

      I personally worked on an experimental terminal that used an antenna that was only about 60 mm high and weighed in at about 30 g. We used this to transmit terminal-to-terminal over GEO, passing IP packets back and forth, albeit at low data rates.

    4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: "Having a swipe at SpaceX"

      "Apples and oranges though."

      Yep. Also worth mentioning the different target markets too. Boeing/SES are after government contracts where latency from MEO will likely be less of an issue than the consumer oriented target market and even lower latency of Starlinks LEO based kit.

  3. xyz Silver badge


    Is this the same bunch whose excellence in software development made planes fall out of the sky? I'll stick with the mad bloke for the mo.

    1. Timbo

      Re: Err....

      At least when it comes to de-orbiting these SES birds, the manufacturing "bunch" have some previous history of how to do it :-(

    2. Happy_Jack

      Re: Err....

      Yes, the same bunch that made life-saving warning lights a paid-for option.

  4. Geoff Campbell Silver badge


    I wonder why they felt the need to repeat "low-latency" quite so often? Starlink is up around 500kms, and that gives 30-50ms round-trip latency depending on a bunch of stuff. Assuming some of that is routing on the ground, and waving a finger vaguely in the air, I reckon that puts this service at, what, 3-400ms round-trip latency?

    Which, OK, is way better than the 1100ms I "enjoyed" with our first satellite service many years ago (actually, that was hilarious, made Telnet sessions feel like a 110baud teletype), but definitely isn't low.


    1. Justthefacts Silver badge

      Re: Latency

      TLDR; No, LEO or MEO satellite are both rather low-latency, hedged around with the usual “it depends”.

      How are you calculating 30-50ms round-trip latency? If all you are considering is radio time-of-flight, I reckon you have a decimal point in the wrong place. 1000km round-trip is 3ms, not 30ms. However, RTT processing delay in any 4G telecom system is going to be in the 10-20ms range, so you are sort of right…..but then that has nothing to do with MEO etc.

      And then finally, if you are looking at global hops via inter-satellite links, then yes by definition that’s up to 15000km, and dozens of milliseconds....but that’s actually *faster* than undersea cable. Because signal-speed through cable is slower than light in a vacuum ( although also, the cable usually goes in the right direction, while ISL will typically have to triple-hop in a bit of a zig-zag).

      1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

        Re: Latency

        I'm not calculating it, I'm observing it on my Starlink installation here.

        Do remember that the satellites are not directly overhead, they traverse the sky.


        1. Justthefacts Silver badge

          Re: Latency

          I understand what you are doing, but you are mis-applying your measurement. You’re on my lawn: I’ve been responsible for the design and implementation of a major global satellite Internet system myself, plus more than one terrestrial telecoms system.

          You measure 30-50ms on Starlink, and assuming that this is $BecauseSatellite. You assume that if the 30-50ms is radio flight-time to Starlink LEO, then a MEO must be multiples higher. Whereas actually, almost all of the 30-50ms latency you are seeing is digital processing delay in the satellite receivers, not radio flight-time. Therefore MEO satellites won’t necessarily be noticeably higher latency. Going from LEO to MEO is single-digit milliseconds, even given that satellite systems have two up-and-down trips per data round-trip. The main thing being doubled by satellite, is processing delay (four radio-receivers-worth), unless you are going to GEO, plus satellite radio-receivers are typically a few generations old in terms of technology.

          I’m well aware of the slant distance issue. But you don’t connect to a low-azimuth satellite, because blocking by trees and buildings, therefore, unlikely to more than double the slant distance.

          Satellite constellation design is complex, and depending on what you’re doing MEO can actually be lower-latency than LEO, if it can mean fewer inter-satellite-link hops due to the horizon.

          1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

            Re: Latency

            I assumed that 20ms was transmission time, then multiplied up for greater distance - and I did make it clear that was an extremely hand-wavey estimate, not a scientifically accurate calculation.


          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Latency

            "depending on what you’re doing MEO can actually be lower-latency than LEO"

            IIRC early Starlink proposals included MEO relays. This might still happen

      2. Wu Ming

        Re: Latency

        This is interesting. To add some data points Ookla estimates in the US Starlink’s “Median latency rose from 40 ms to 67 ms” in one year. In Canada “latency was 77 ms” in the previous quarter. It appears about 95% of latency is not attributable to rf propagation in to vacuum.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Boeing swipes / digs at Starlink

    It's good to see competition in this area, but wouldn't it be wiser to have a dig at Starlink after the things have been successfully launched?

  6. Death Boffin

    End of life?

    What is the plan to deorbit these birds at end of life? Orbital lifetimes in MEO are measured in millennia. Much delta v is also required.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: End of life?

      One could do it the way Kosmos 2251 did...

      More seriously: This is wel beyond range for a laser broom to be effective (and yes, we should be developing these), however it's an ideal task for an ion tug such as MEV1

      You don't actually need much delta-V. Simply tweak the orbit to go highly elliptical (relatively easy to do) and the atmosphere will do the rest for you

  7. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Swiping at SpaceX

    If we really want to compare apples to apples... how's that 'ol Starliner capsule going? Against SpaceX's 7 crew launches and 20 cargo launches...

  8. xyz123 Silver badge

    low bandwidth, MINIMUM 500ms ping round-trip, and only $40/gigabyte. whats not to love?

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Other stories you might like