TOKYO – KDDI, Japan’s second-largest mobile provider, has become one of SpaceX’s partners in deploying high-speed wireless coverage via satellites, Nikkei has learned, as part of the goal of SpaceX CEO Elon Musk to connect the whole world to the Internet.
SpaceX has launched hundreds of Starlink telecommunications satellites with the aim of fully launching services in Japan by the end of the year. KDDI and SpaceX will begin a network test in Japan this month, and the coverage is expected to be commercially available next year.
The pair will begin by offering internet service to customers living in mountainous areas and islands at no additional cost. The satellite network will also serve as a back-up in the event of disruption of terrestrial telecommunications lines during natural disasters or power outages.
Once the Internet of Technology is launched, Starlink could set up a network for smart devices, which would be used for data collection in sparsely populated places or for drone operations in otherwise hard-to-reach areas.
The transmission of visuals and other large data will allow authorities to remotely monitor volcanic eruptions or floods or inspect bridges and power towers.
For farmers, Starlink will allow them to monitor weather and harvest conditions so that they are better informed about when to fertilize or when to harvest.
Terrestrial telecommunications infrastructure includes a network of base stations, switching stations, fiber optic cables and backbone networks. Starlink will connect data transmissions between phones and base stations to backbone networks via satellites.
The new service is expected to provide a low-cost communication infrastructure for low-population areas, as it makes fiber optic cables unnecessary. KDDI will add satellite communication antennas to base stations and install a new SpaceX transmission station at the Yamaguchi Satellite Communication Center.
Japan still has a few areas with incomplete telecommunications networks. At the end of March, around 9,900 people were living in places without mobile coverage. Even in areas with wireless coverage, it is often difficult to connect with devices on islands.
KDDI covers more than 90% of the population with 4G communication, but the so-called platinum frequency band extends only to 60% of the earth’s surface.
A Starlink satellite can exchange signals over 1000 km with little latency. The satellites orbit at lower altitudes than conventional communications satellites, which hover about 36,000 km above the ground. Lower altitudes are said to allow faster communication compared to normal satellite services.
Such satellite network services must be approved by the Japanese Ministry of Communications before they can begin. The ministry changed the rules in August that opened the doors for SpaceX to launch internet services in Japan. SpaceX and KDDI both plan to obtain licenses by the end of the year.
Back in the days when KDDI was strong in satellite control signals since the company was known as Kokusai Denshin Denwa. The carrier has been working with SpaceX technologically for the past year.
This current partnership involves SpaceX providing the satellites while KDDI takes care of the terrestrial telecom connections.
Musk mentioned “two fairly important partnerships with the countries’ major telecommunications operators” in June at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. While Musk has not disclosed the names of the companies, it turns out that KDDI is one of them.
SpaceX will use the service’s deployment in Japan, where customers expect high-quality connections, as a model for a global network.
SpaceX has launched Starlink satellites at a rapid rate. About 400 units alone were sent into space over a 12-month period starting in May 2019, according to NASA. More than 1,500 of the satellites are said to be in orbit today.
Musk’s company will continue to launch satellites until it forms a constellation of over 10,000 units. There are over 3 billion people in the world without Internet access. The expansion of services would allow the global diffusion of digitization.
A satellite network will be essential to make sixth generation communication a feasible reality. Driverless vehicles and similar applications will use 6G. To avoid latencies and service interruptions, ground base stations will have to work with air communications satellites and drones.
Other players are entering the satellite telecommunications sector. Amazon.com is spending $ 10 billion to create a network of more than 3,000 satellites. Its Japanese counterpart Rakuten Group has partnered with an American startup with the aim of launching mobile satellite services in the next fiscal year.
NTT, Japan’s largest telecommunications group, has partnered with Sky Perfect JSAT Holdings to develop what are essentially data centers in space. These services are expected to be operational in 2026.