Mobile World Congress 2023 will feature a demonstration of satellite internet services by SES.
On December 16, 2022, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carried two SES O3b mPower satellites into Earth’s orbit. EE World was there for the launch. At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2023 (February 27 to March 2) SES will perform a live demonstration of the O3b mPower ground equipment while the two satellites travel to their permanent middle-Earth orbit (MEO) locations. EE World spoke with SES Chief Strategy and Product Officer John-Paul (JP) Hemingway, who gave an update on the satellites and the company’s MWC demonstration.
The O3b mPower satellite constellation will, when fully deployed, consist of eleven satellites (see graphic). The constellation needs six MEO satellites to cover the Earth’s surface and become operational. SES expects that to occur in Q3 2023. Having eleven satellites lets SES scale its services to provide more internet connectivity at higher speeds than are possible with six, plus the extra satellites provide backup communications should something go wrong.
Because the first two satellites are not yet in position and the next four have yet to launch, SES will demonstrate at MWC its services using its existing O3b satellites (20 in all). The company will then scale up its services once the O3b mPower constellation is operational. The demonstration will, however, include the ground-station equipment, including antennas and modems, being installed around the world. The photo shows antennas currently installed on the Cook Islands.
“The O3b mPower satellites will provide some fifteen 5G and 4G services to our customers,” said Hemingway. “It will provide backhaul to internet service providers and enterprises, plus connectivity to cloud services from anywhere in the world.” The MWC booth demonstration will include SES partners Orange, British Telecom, Telstra, and Microsoft.
The O3b MPower satellites will let SES scale up its services from the current O3b constellation. In addition to 5G backhaul, Hemingway noted that the satellites provide what he called “5G on the move,” a service for emergency responders through trucks such as Verizon THOR.
The satellites also provide private-network services for heavy industries such as mining and energy, which often occur in remote areas, islands, or on water. Hemingway noted a private network for fire departments in Taiwan. The network uses on Open RAN from Taiwanese company Pegatron and a Microsoft 5G network core. Additionally, SES provided satellite communications for Amazon Web Services to study the impact of hurricanes.
Hemingway noted that the two satellites launched in December were lifted into low-Earth orbit and are now on their way to their MEO locations. Although SpaceX provided “a really good ride,” the initial orbit was hardly close to the MEO location, 8000 km from Earth. To get there, the satellites use ion propulsion. It’s much slower than using rocket boosters, but it does make for lighter and more energy-efficient satellites. “The solar panels have unfurled and charge the batteries,” said Hemingway. “We’ve been communicating with the satellites and will test them as a network when as the remaining satellites launch.”