what could possibly go wrong?

So someone’s trying to raise $150,000 to buy a satellite from the bankruptcy of TerreStar, in order to “Connect Everyone”. I admire the aim, but I’m concerned that this is going to be a round of forgetting that a lot of perfectly good GSM operators are doing just that. Also, I can’t find any reference to what they intend to use for the customer-premises equipment except that “we’re building an open source low cost modem”, which would be better if it came with a link to the source repo, right, or at least some requirements documentation? I’m also a little concerned that the team includes this guy:

Fabian is a NYC based Swiss wanna-be-entrepreneur who spends all his time trying to make meaningful connections between ourselves and business.

(and I chose charitably) but not anyone whose potted bio mentions being an RF engineer.

Actually, I think that it would be more worthwhile to start off with the low-cost open source satellite radio, as this may be the difficult bit and would be highly reuseable in other projects. A lot of Indian or African GSM people would find a cheap satellite radio very useful for their backhaul requirements. Depending on the spec it could be used with things like the amateur radio AMSATs, the transponders on the ISS, and the spare US Navy FLTSATCOMs. USRP is way too expensive at the moment (they cost more than a cheap netbook) so that one’s out.


  1. SimonF

    Interesting thought but not really a short term reality. We already have open standards, and for a number of reasons radio and satellite systems have to be standards based.

    To comply with those standards it is more than likely you will infringe some IPR as satellites use a CDMA based spread spectrum technique and Qualcomm and Ericsson just about have the technology stitched up and are quite aggressive in enforcing their IPR. Qualcomm are also quite expensive, when I last looked in to it they demanded a % of the final price of the unit but were under pressure to come in to line with other companies.

    Then you have the problem of the hardware. Although there are soft radios about they are still too big for consumer terminals. This means going through the design stages of gate array systems and usually around 3 spins of VLSI development before you get the level of integration and low power consumption that gives you a chance of a low cost consumer unit – that’s assuming you have the market size in the first place.

    Then there is the cost of standards compliance. You have to make sure your design doesn’t cause co and adjacent channel interference ie doesn’t disrupt other users of your or neighbouring systems. Being spread spectrum there is always the danger of spurious emissions outside your band and these have to be identified and designed out. I’ve come across more than one radio development where they cropped up at the 2nd level of VLSI integration and the whole thing had to start again – very expensive.

    Its the same problem, BTW, for GSM/3G/4G and all other radio systems.

    • I’m well aware of the CDMA licensing position – I used to report on this stuff. And the whole “mystery brassplate company in Brighton” thing in GSM…

      WRT software radios, I’d be happy with a unit that wouldn’t fit in a mobile device as long as it was cheap. (There are reasons why so many mobile-satellite projects have failed.) Essentially all ZTE’s base stations these days are SDR, or at least that’s what they say. And the OpenBTS guys are an example of what is achievable, although they’re using the USRP, which is still pricey.

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