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FCC Blesses Virtual Geo Construction of Non-Geostationary Satellite System

High-speed Internet access is easy to obtain in major urban areas and there are multiple satellite options available to rural customers even in isolated areas in 48 U.S. states. However, in many parts of the Earth and at extreme northern locations, such as Alaska, or extreme southern latitudes, such as Antarctica, where it is difficult or impossible to communicate with geostationary satellites, there have been few if any options for wireless broadband. Action by the FCC last week may change that.

The commission allowed Virtual Geosatellite LLC to begin building a non-geostationary satellite system that will use a network of satellites with highly elliptical orbits. The system is composed of three sub-constellations, each with five satellites. Two of the sub-constellations track the Earth's northern hemisphere and the third tracks the southern hemisphere. Each sub-constellation will have one spare satellite. To eliminate interference with satellites in geostationary orbits and terrestrial microwave systems using the same frequency band, Virtual Geo terminals and gateway stations will communicate with the satellites only when the satellites are above a certain elevation angle and the satellites in each sub-constellation will actively communicate with earth stations only when they are at an orbital position that is at a latitude greater than 45 degrees away from the equator in their respective operating hemisphere.

Virtual Geo was allowed to use 5925-6725 MHz, 12.75-13.25 GHz and 13.8-14.5 GHz for uplinks and 3700-4200 MHz and 10.7-12.7 GHz for downlinks. User-to-satellite links will use the 14.0-14.5 GHz band and satellite-to-user links will use 11.2-11.7 GHz.

For more technical information on the Virtual Geo system, see FCC Order and Authorization (DA 06-2560). The Ellipso Virtual Geo Web site and have additional information on the system, including a plot of coverage from Anchorage, Alaska. A table shows a maximum latency of 104 ms, far better than that achievable with geostationary satellites. The Web site lists video on demand as one potential service. As the satellite positions are continuously changing and the user terminals have to track them, it is reasonable to assume some sort of portable terminal will be available. If priced right, this could provide a superior alternative to BGAN for newsgathering in remote locations.