FCC plans to free up more spectrum for Starlink to improve downloads

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The next regulatory battle over SpaceX’s Starlink could involve the 17 GHz radio band, which the FCC is considering opening up to satellite internet providers in low Earth orbit.

The FCC updated today(Opens in a new window) its rules to allow geostationary satellites in higher orbit to use the 17 GHz band for downlink purposes. This means they can share spectrum with existing satellite television services to transmit data to Earth, including for Internet access.

The change promises to provide “additional downlink capacity for high-speed satellite communications,” according to the FCC. The US regulator is now considering expanding 17GHz access to non-geostationary satellite services (NGSO), including SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s upcoming Kuiper project.

In its regulations, the FCC notes that it requests input, including technical studies, on how it should allocate spectrum without affecting incumbent users. Prior to Wednesday’s decision, SpaceX, Amazon and UK satellite internet provider OneWeb, among others, had sent letters to the FCC asking the commission to open up spectrum to satellites in low Earth orbit.

“SpaceX agrees with Amazon that fast access to the 17 GHz band is essential to enable satellite operators to meet growing US consumer demand for next-generation broadband connectivity wherever they go. are found,” the Elon Musk-led company told the FCC in April.

According to SpaceX, the company faces a potential bottleneck in delivering high-speed, low-latency internet through Starlink due to already regulated access to other radio frequency bands. The Starlink system can currently provide download speeds as high as 200 Mbps for residential users. But in the long term, SpaceX aims to upgrade speeds to 1 Gbps.

In its own May letter, Amazon said freeing up the 17 GHz band would “provide more reliable connectivity for the benefit of Americans.” On Wednesday, the company added in a Tweeter(Opens in a new window)“We welcome the FCC’s decision to consider expanding access in the 17 GHz band for NGSOs.”

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“Expanding the capacity of next-generation broadband satellite services will help bridge the digital divide, especially for customers in rural and remote areas, which is a core mission of Amazon’s Project Kuiper,” said added the company.

However, AT&T, which owns DirecTV, opposes the idea; he fears that spectrum sharing will lead to interference problems with satellite television services. The company told the FCC “neither the Commission nor international bodies have studied the technical feasibility of NGSO operations in the 17.3-17.7 GHz band.” Meanwhile, the company behind HughesNet said non-geostationary satellites should only have access to spectrum on a “secondary basis”.

The news comes as SpaceX battles to secure radio spectrum in the 12 GHz band against Dish Network, which wants to build a 5G cellular network using the same spectrum. However, SpaceX has warned that this risks rendering Starlink unusable. The FCC is currently reviewing the matter as both sides make their case with regulatory filings and public statements.

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