Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites

As Alaska's leader in satellite connectivity, our goal is to enable our customers to get reliable, cost effective connectivity and we will be ready to provide LEO to our customers when it is ready for market in Alaska.


Updated 11/19/21

We commit ourselves to staying appraised of the latest advancements in communications technology. LEOs propose an opportunity to deliver reliable, cost-effective connectivity in Alaska. As next-gen LEO constellations come online, we will continue to closely monitor the major providers and evaluate the best options to meet the unique challenges of Alaska and our customers.

Our priority is always to deliver the best available services to our customers — whether satellite, terrestrial, or a new alternative.

What is LEO?

LEOs (Low Earth Orbit) satellites operate from approximately 200 to 1,200 miles above the earth's surface, constantly moving and communicating with each other to create a constellation of satellites that continuously moves traffic across the network. Traditional communications satellites are in a geostationary earth orbit (GEO) and operate at approximately 22,000 miles from Earth.

Because LEO satellites are closer to Earth, the round-trip delay to and from the satellite, is shorter than a satellite in GEO. That translates to data and voice communications that are faster and have lower latency than they would with a traditional satellite. An added advantage of LEO is that signals travel faster through the vacuum of space than through fiber optic cable. This means LEO satellites have the potential to be comparable to the performance of terrestrial networks.

20_02_LEO_ slantmodule_LEOvsGEO

Who is bringing LEO?

Elon Musk's group, SpaceX, has started to launch its Starlink constellation. The company has a planned launch date in Alaska by late 2022 to early 2023.

OneWeb had planned to be operational in Alaska in 2020. However, on March 27, 2020 the company filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection. OneWeb has successfully sold their company to the UK government and a consortium of telecommunications operators, and they resumed launching satellites. OneWeb plans to bring LEO satellite connectivity to Alaska in late 2021.

Telesat plans to provide LEO satellite connectivity to all of Alaska. Based on their current plans and estimates, they will be operational in the state in 2024.


What hurdles do LEO providers face?

GCI is the leader in satellite connectivity in Alaska. As LEO satellites come online, we are in active talks with every major provider. Our goal is to enable our customers to get reliable, cost effective connectivity and we will be ready to provide LEO to our customers when it is ready for market in Alaska. 
More specifically, as we monitor the progress of proposed LEO satellites, we're evaluating:

  • Capital funding
    We look at the total cost required to launch and operate a constellation, and how much committed capital companies have raised.
  • Legal and regulatory challenges
    We check to see if companies have applied for all State and Federal permissions and permits to operate their constellations. We also evaluate any outstanding legal challenges.
  • Tracking progress against schedule
    We look at providers’ published schedules for launch dates and track their progress against those schedules.
  • Equipment developments
    There is more to LEO satellites than objects in the sky. All satellite connectivity requires earth stations for communication with the satellite. We monitor progress related to the development of specific earth station hardware and software required for LEO connectivity.
  • Service cost
    There is significant capital cost related to launching and maintaining LEO satellites, as well as significant investment in earth stations. It is yet to be determined if LEO service in Alaska will be an affordable alternative to existing connectivity.


Alaska brings unique challenges

In any region, LEO is an expensive technology to deploy. This is because LEO constellations require a high number of satellites to function, all of which need to be launched and maintained. Additionally, earth stations will need to be established and maintained—a timely and expensive logistical and technical challenge when working in an Arctic climate.

What is the bottom line?

Satellite technology is advancing quickly, and LEO satellites are an exciting part of the mix. GCI will continue to work with every major provider of LEO satellite technology and will offer LEO connectivity to our customers when the constellations are operational, tested, and ready to provide consistent and continuous service at a reasonable cost.

Contact Us

See GCI Business In Action

For more than 40 years, GCI has partnered with organizations small and large, to pursue their goals and overcome technological barriers to success. Get in touch to learn about the ways we can help your organization meet its objectives.

Contact us today