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Starlink goes narrowband

A recent FCC filing by Starlink may finally give the answer to the purchase of Swarm by SpaceX. About a year ago, in the summer of 2021, SpaceX purchase California start-up Swarm that specializes in IoT with a fleet of 150 cubesats (1/4U size, quite tiny!) in the VHF band. Swarm has had its 15 minutes of celebrity when it was fined $900K by the FCC for laucnhing satellites without any authorization… pure start-up mindset!

After the purchase, speculation was all around for the reasons of the purchase. As a matter of fact, Starlink offers consumer internet connectivity in the Ku band while Swarm was offering B2B IoT services in the VHF band. So what gives??? A few answers: Starlink wants to go IoT, adding Swarm payloads to its satellites (my own bit), Starlink want to get a hold on some orbital planes (those of Swarm), the Swarm engineers are geniuses that need to be hired (the SpaceX explanation), etc…

The FCC filing (check here) indicates that Starlink plans to extend its frequency bands to the S-band in the 2GHz range. The idea is that this band is ideally suited for narrowband (IoT, M2M, maybe even voice) and that it is underused. SpaceX stresses the fact that Dish (which has quite a bit of S-band) is not really using it and thus it should allocated to Starlink. Probably not completely false but this reminds me of the hold-up of Motorola on the L-band in the 1990s to get frequencies for Iridium. And besides, Globalstar, not-in-a-great-shape-for-a-long-time-but-still-alive has also plenty of S-band in its hands….

Sooooo… let’s just say that this looks like another great move from Musk to extend its activities, synergize with SpaceX-Starlink, put a stone in someone else’s garden and surprise the whole community… As always, wait and see what happens next!

Article here and here.

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