TIM Brasil cites promise for Telesat LEO after 4G backhaul tests

Canadian satellite operator Telesat tested low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity as effective backhaul for 4G applications with mobile operator TIM Brasil, achieving average round-trip latency of 38ms.

The five-day testing in Rio de Janeiro used Telesat’s Phase One LEO satellite. It will still be about two years before Telesat starts launching more advanced satellites for its LightSpeed LEO initiative.

TIM Brasil’s Innovation Department staff was involved as teams measured 4G mobile data traffic over LEO. Applications included streaming YouTube video at 1080p, video conferencing, WhatsApp voice over LTE and interface compatibility. An 85 cm Intellian parabolic antenna provided uplink and downlink to the LEO satellite. 

Everything ran smoothly, according to Telesat, without interference, fading or breaks in performance during the test period.

The aim was to show that Lightspeed LEO could deliver high-performance backhaul connectivity to help expand mobile service to remote communities where it's not viable to use fiber or more cell towers due to barriers like cost, distance and terrain.

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Silma Palmeria, director of architecture, innovation and technology at TIM Brasil, said in a statement that following tests, the operator sees Lightspeed as a promising way to expand geographic coverage for both 4G and 5G. It’s aiming to reach 100% 4G network coverage by 2023.

“Telesat’s Phase 1 LEO satellite performance delivered mobile experiences comparable to terrestrial networks and we believe Telesat Lightspeed, with a mobile-optimized hardware ecosystem, has the potential to become a core component in our future infrastructure,” Palmeria continued.

The Phase 1 LEO is being used for demos as Telesat prepares for its full Lightspeed network. Plans initially call for 298 next-gen satellites integrated with a ground network. Commercial services are expected to start in the second half of 2023.

There are a number of LEO satellite broadband constellation efforts underway, including SpaceX’s Starlink, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, and OneWeb (newly emerged from bankruptcy). Starlink already touts more than half a million sign-ups for the consumer-focused internet service.

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Instead of direct-to-consumer, Telesat is targeting enterprise – including telecom and mobile operators, as well as government, maritime and aeronautical customers.

Since the start of 2021, the company named key suppliers and made progress on additional financing. The latter includes a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Québec for a $400 million CAD (around $330 million) investment and raising $500 million through a secured notes offering. Reporting first quarter earnings in May, Telesat said it expects to finalize Lightspeed financing in the coming months.

Last year it reached a $600 million (CAD) deal with the Canadian government that involves providing a dedicated pool of LEO capacity to service providers at significantly reduced rates to help bridge the digital divide in rural communities.

Thales Alenia Space is Telesat's main LEO constellation manufacturer. Total cost of the Lightspeed LEO broadband constellation system is estimated at $5 billion, with the Thales contract valued around $3 billion.