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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Cheaper rocket launches and better technology may make satellites a more viable option for delivering fast, affordable consumer broadband services around the world.

The big picture: For nearly 30 years, satellites have been used to beam high-speed internet service to rural areas that are hard to reach with terrestrial networks. But that's often a last-resort option due to the limitations of the technology, including connection lag, spotty service, and lower bandwidth.

Now a handful of companies from SpaceX to ViaSat are launching satellites that orbit closer to the earth, which is expected to reduce the lag time — or latency — because the signal will not have to travel as far.

  • How it works: A broadband beam from a satellite behaves similarly to a beam of light from a flashlight. If a flashlight is farther away from an object, the beam of light is wider and less intense. The closer the flashlight gets to an object, the more focused and bright the beam of light.
  • Current satellites orbit higher above the earth, meaning they cover wider geographical areas but have less data capacity and thus can only serve a limited number of subscribers. Newer, smaller satellites are designed to orbit closer to earth, resulting in more direct signals and more capacity with 5G-like speeds.
  • But the closer the satellites are to earth, the narrower the signal beam. So providers need more satellites to cover a broad area. Even with more advanced launch strategies, deploying thousands of satellites is still a pricey proposition.

The FCC has tried to free up additional spectrum for satellite services and modify rules to allow new constellations of satellites to be launched.

Here's what a few companies are doing:

Bottom line: Lower-Earth constellations have the potential to compete more directly with cable or fiber networks on speed and price than the older satellite systems. But these companies will require a large number of subscribers — on the order of tens of millions — to recoup their costs, per an OECD paper.

Go deeper: Satellite TV’s tricky future in the cord-cutting era

Go deeper

Updated 10 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — Fauci says U.S. may not return to normal until 2022
  2. Politics: Top HHS spokesperson pitched coronavirus ad campaign as "helping the president" — Space Force's No. 2 general tests positive for coronavirus
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases — Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave France imposes lockdown Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Leon Black says he "made a terrible mistake" doing business with Jeffrey Epstein

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis/Getty Images

Apollo Global Management CEO Leon Black on Thursday said during an earnings call that he made a "terrible mistake" by employing Jeffrey Epstein to work on personal financial and philanthropic services.

Why it matters: Apollo is one of the world's largest private equity firms, and already has lost at least one major client over Black's involvement with Epstein.

4 hours ago - World

Jeremy Corbyn suspended by U.K. Labour Party over anti-Semitism report

Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The U.K. Labour Party has suspended its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, after a watchdog report found that the party failed to properly take action against allegations of anti-Semitism during his time in charge.

Why it matters: It represents a strong break by Keir Starmer, Labour's current leader, from the Corbyn era and one of the party's most persistent scandals.

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