EchoStar prepares for key launch

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EchoStar, a business owned by Charlie Ergen, has a crucial date on June 25th for a rocket and satellite launch. If the satellite is successfully put into orbit then Ergen will secure near-global rights to S-band licences. If it doesn’t work – and two previous attempts have failed – then Ergen’s permissions to use the satellite spectrum will be lost.

The launch, including a Tyvak-built small satellite, and using a SpaceX rocket, will lift off at 18.56 UTC (14.56 Florida-time) and will be carrying around 100 small satellites for a variety of clients. SpaceX has named the flight ‘Transporter-2’.

Ergen is facing an ITU obligation on S-band implementation which has to commence (and be ‘brought into use’) by August 10th. Two nano-satellites, designed to operate in S-band and launched for EchoStar, both failed to reach orbit.

The ITU-granted licences for S-band give EchoStar global rights to the spectrum which is especially useful for Internet of Things customers and given that the rights extend to terrestrial as well as orbital usage makes it doubly valuable. And the prospects are immense. EchoStar bought Helios Wire back in October 2019 and the asset included Sirion Global. Sirion has global rights to 30 MHz of capacity and is said to be enough spectrum to handle at least 5 billion units which could range from low-cost home automation and security to – it is claimed – even 8K streaming video.

Assuming a successful launch then EchoStar will be able to link the new satellite and tap into its existing rights to European S-band coverage. It acquired those rights when it bought Solaris Mobile back in 2013 from the SES/Eutelsat consortium operating the service.

However, the major prize for EchoStar and its subsidiary Hughes Network Services is the US and where the FCC granted in 2012 a modification to adapt EchoStar’s S-band licences for terrestrial usage. Indeed, the so-called AWS-4 band (Band 70) is intended to be in use in Las Vegas for Ergen’s businesses by this autumn and for 5G services.

The idea is simple in concept, but a little tougher in practice. The idea is that while in an urban area the user’s phone uses terrestrial cellular signals. But as the user moves into rural areas then the device switches to satellite.

But the key to this implementation is June 25th’s SpaceX launch.


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