Boeing [BA] could be joining the fray of satellite broadband competitors like SpaceX, Amazon [AMZN], and OneWeb, in the coming years, expanding its role in space beyond manufacturing. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a Boeing application for a license to construct, deploy, and operate a satellite constellation.
Boeing’s plan is for a V-band constellation of 132 satellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) and 15 highly inclined Non-Geostationary Orbit (GEO) satellites for broadband internet and communications services to residential consumers, government, and business users in the United States, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to the FCC order, it would also provide high speed data access on a global basis once fully deployed.
“Advanced satellite broadband services have an important role to play in connecting hard-to-serve communities,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We are committed to a careful and detailed review of all such applications and I thank the International Bureau team for their work completing this first round of NGSO applications.”
But the FCC denied part of Boeing’s application, particularly a request to operate inter-satellite links in certain portions of the V-band and in the Ka-band, because such operations are not consistent with an existing international allocation in the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Radio Regulations.
Boeing also asked the FCC to waive timeline milestones that require constellation operators to deploy 50 percent of their constellations within six years of receiving the license. This rule is designed to prevent spectrum warehousing. Boeing asked to launch only the first five highly inclined satellites within six years and deploy the rest of the constellation within 12 years. SES objected to this request.
The FCC denied the request. Therefore, Boeing is required to launch 50 percent of the constellation by November 2027.
A Boeing spokesperson provided a statement but did not answer further questions on Wednesday.
“We thank Chairwoman Rosenworcel and the FCC for granting Boeing the license, enabling us to proceed with launching and operating a non-geostationary satellite constellation in the V-band. Boeing sees a multi-orbit future for satellite technologies. As the demand for satellite communications grows, diversity will be required across orbital regimes and frequencies to satisfy unique customer demands, and we see V-band as helping to provide some of that diversity. While the application was in review with the FCC, we have continued work identifying compelling use cases for V-band and maturing the underlying technology.”
The FCC approved the application on Wednesday, but Boeing first revealed plans for the constellation in 2016 and submitted the application in 2017. At the time, Boeing executive Craig Cooning, president of Boeing Network and Space Systems, said the company was open to making it a multi-party effort with partners.
In 2017, Bruce Chesley, then vice president and program manager at Boeing Global Broadband System, said Boeing did not have a set go or no-go date where they will decide whether to fully commit to building such a network, but would make technical and regulatory strides to bring this concept to fruition.