Space X is on a roll, at least at the FCC. The company received a favorable ruling yesterday, despite vehement opposition, that will likely improve the performance of its emerging Starlink satellite broadband service.
The ruling is very technical and complex. In effect, it will allow Space X to use Starlink satellites in a lower orbit and allows a lower elevation angle for its earth-based antennas and receivers, thus potentially improving performance and latency for the satellite broadband service. Space X also says the FCC ruling will allow it to better serve the state of Alaska.
Specific performance improvements weren’t offered. Starlink beta testers are reporting download speed ranges of 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps or more. Space X CEO Elon Musk has promised those speeds should hit 300 Mbps soon and promised complete national coverage by the end of 2021.
It’s a big victory for Space X, given the fierce opposition it received at the FCC from a variety of companies including Dish, Amazon, Viasat, Hughes, and others. Various technical arguments were offered as to why this change is not in the public interest, but also raised concerns around interference. In the end, Space X prevailed.
Perhaps Space X’s biggest foe is Dish. There are a variety of reasons that Dish is fighting against Space X and Starlink, but one main issue revolves around the use of the 12.2-12.7 GHz spectrum band. Dish is the largest holder of this spectrum and Space X uses it for Starlink.
Dish has aspirations to use this spectrum for terrestrial 5G, which FCC rules currently prohibit. There is a rulemaking in process that could change that. Given the value of 5G spectrum, it’s a high stakes battle. Dish argued that the pending rulemaking is one reason to deny Space X the lower earth orbit ruling it just won.
Space X does need to pay particular attention to one aspect of the favorable FCC ruling. The FCC did issue a caveat. Even though it granted this petition, it warned Space X that the ongoing FCC rulemaking for 12.2-12.7 GHz spectrum may impact the satellite broadband operator’s ability to continue to use that spectrum.
“Therefore, SpaceX proceeds at its own risk,” yesterday’s order notes. Space X will probably take those odds, given its record at the FCC
The company notched close to a $1 billion in rural broadband funding through the FCC’s RDOF program. Add this and other victories the company has had with federal regulators and maybe they see nothing but smooth sailing ahead.