Samsung proposes 'space internet' to beam the web to the world

Technology giant describes beaming internet to five billion people worldwide using thousands of tiny satellites.

Samsung is proposing launching thousands of tiny satellites that could provide superfast internet to five billion people worldwide.

In a research paper, the Korean technology giant suggests that 4,600 micro-satellites could stream one zettabyte of data per month - enough capacity to provide 200GB per month to five billion internet users.

The Samsung research follows Facebook's unveiling of a drone with the wingspan of a Boeing 737 to broadcast internet to remote regions of the world.

Samsung president of R&D America Farooq Khan, the paper's author, argues that, based on current mobile usage, demand for mobile data will hit one zettabyte per month by 2028.

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"As more people connect to the internet, increasingly chat to friends and family, watch videos on the move, and listen to streamed music on their mobile devices, mobile data traffic continues to grow at unprecedented rates," he said, adding satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles will be needed to "connect the remaining two-thirds of humankind that currently do not have access to the internet".

Khan sets out a vision for what he calls "space internet", delivered by a network of micro-satellites - typically defined as weighing less than 500kg - situated below 2,000km altitude.

Such craft "use less power due to proximity to Earth, are smaller in size, lower in weight, and therefore are easier to launch", according to Khan.

Placing satellites in low-earth orbit would prevent the connection from suffering the latency issues people associate with satellite internet, which stems from data being streamed from far higher altitudes, Khan argues, saying a signal round-trip time to a low-earth orbit satellite would be about 20ms for short-range communications.

The cost of running the network could be another barrier, but the paper says the price of running a space-based system of this sort will drop, following the widespread adoption of 5G wireless technologies in the near future.

"With the 5G vision of providing wireless access in the millimeter wave spectrum, a single standard-based wireless technology can be developed for access, backhaul and satellite communications, eliminating fragmentation and thereby reducing costs of providing wireless services."

Satellites would be tracked by ground stations as they moved across the sky, and the number of satellites should mean a region would always have coverage.

Rather than beaming data directly to mobiles, the satellites would connect to cellular base stations or Wi-Fi access points, which in turn would provide connectivity to mobile devices. Use of phased-array antennas on the satellites and on the ground would also allow for better coverage and reduced interference.

The network of sats would use an energy-efficient multi-comm-core radio architecture, which Khan says would process signals using multiple small blocks of cores, operating at lower clock frequencies, to achieve the high data-transfer rate.

Rather than being a near-future project, the paper appears to be a proposal for a way to meet the wireless traffic demands of the 2020s. Putting the project into effect would depend on technologies still being developed, such as radio-frequency circuits capable of effectively handling millimeter-wave frequencies.

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