Huawei Eyes Connectivity Similar To SpaceX’s Starlink After Maiden Satellite Test

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Chinese personal computing and technology firm Huawei has become one of the few companies of its kind in the world to test out a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet network similar to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service. Starlink is the world’s largest LEO constellation, and it owes its size to SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, which has made rocket launches a regular occurrence of daily life in the 21st century. Details of Huawei’s test were shared on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, with slides from a presentation showing that the LEO satellite test delivered download speeds of as much as 660 Mbps.

Huawei Tests LEO Internet And Delivers High Downlink Speeds

The details of Huawei’s LEO satellite internet test were shared by Wang Jun, the chief scientist of Huawei’s 6G wireless technology laboratory, at the Aerospace Information Industry International Ecosystem Event that took place in Chongqing, China, earlier this month. Huawei has been interested in pursuing satellite connectivity for its smartphone, and the firm’s Mate 60 Pro smartphone comes with the capability to connect with geostationary satellites.

These satellites are much higher than their LEO counterparts, and the traditional size and design constraints on a smartphone make designing device to connect with the GEO satellites tedious. This higher altitude of the GEO satellites also limits their connection speeds, which is a key reason that SpaceX and others are building out LEO constellations.

LEO satellites are also significantly smaller than the GEO satellites, which reduces their manufacturing lead time and complexity. It also leads to higher network speeds and is environmentally sustainable since the spacecraft generally burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere in case of an anomaly.

Huawei’s Wang Jun shares details of a LEO satellite internet test in China earlier this month. Image: 曹梦-Aerospace/Weibo

Huawei’s initial announcement of the Mate 60 Pro’s ability to connect with GEO satellites was followed by critics pointing out that the industry was moving towards LEO satellites due to their several benefits. The firm published a research paper in response, which shared several applications for very low earth orbit (VLEO) connectivity. These included connecting with drones, airplanes and smartphones.

Crucial to the firm’s LEO internet platform is what Huawei dubs integrated network architectures.. Like SpaceX, whose Starlink is primarily intended to provide internet access to unserved and underserved areas, Huawei’s paper shares that satellite connectivity has the potential to bring connectivity to remote areas.

Starlink’s coverage density map presented by Huawei in its research paper. Image: Very-Low-Earth-Orbit Satellite Networks for 6G/Huawei 6G Research Team

Huawei also pointed out that coverage density is a key constraint faced by LEO satellite networks. Its research paper used Starlink as an example to point out that coverage density, which measures the internet capacity density available in a unit area, was wasted in LEO networks. According to the firm’s researchers, Starlink has optimized its network to ensure a capacity density of 3.6 Mbit/s/km2 at middle latitudes (in red above). However, this capacity is still wasted since most of it is on the ocean’s surface.

While it is unclear which satellites Huawei used to test LEO connectivity, China has started to launch its own LEO broadband satellites. One such launch took place in March this year when a Long March 2C rocket launched one sensing satellite and six LEO spacecraft manufactured by GalaxySpaceX. In June, researchers from the Beijing based satellite company tested these satellites in the South China Sea to mark China’s first such test.

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