Viettel considers launching Starlink-like satellite Internet service

By Tuan Hung   April 9, 2021 | 03:00 am PT
Viettel considers launching Starlink-like satellite Internet service
A satellite dish installed on a roof. Illustration photo by Shutterstock.
Viettel is proposing trials for a satellite Internet constellation service using low Earth orbit satellites, similar to Elon Musk's Starlink project.

Le Ba Tan, deputy general director of military-run telecom firm Viettel, said satellite Internet services have been used by many countries to provide Internet access to remote mountainous or island regions. Vietnam boasts one of the fastest developing Internet services in the world, but around 23 percent of its area, comprising mainly islands and rural areas, has yet to receive coverage, he said.

If a satellite Internet constellation could be realized, coverage could surpass that of cellular networks, Tan said.

Vietnam should consider researching low Earth orbit satellite constellations, which are appropriate to its economic conditions, he said. A low Earth orbit satellite would be cheaper to build and launch, and due to its closer proximity to Earth (800-1,600 kilometers from the ground), Internet connectivity would be faster, with a wider bandwidth and lower latency.

However, limitations in using such a satellite include its low life cycle of up to seven years, and expensive signal transceivers required by end-users, Tan said. Vietnamese businesses would also find it difficult to deploy their own low Earth orbit satellite constellations due to a lack of resources, he said.

"Internet service providers would need to depend on existing satellite networks operated by foreign companies," Tan said.

Additionally, the price for such a service could also be an issue, as a similar network to Elon Musk's Starlink is already 10 times more expensive than ordinary bandwidth Internet services used in Vietnam. If a satellite Internet service is deployed in Vietnam, it would prioritize giving remote areas Internet access, not replacing current bandwidth Internet services, he said.

National security could also be a problem when dealing with satellite Internet services. Certain countries, like Russia and China, have been cautious with the service, evident by refusing to approve the wave frequency required for Starlink to work.

But some others, like Canada, have been more open to the idea,having already established conditions for satellite approval since 2017, and requesting companies that wish to develop such a service to have a deployment plan mapped out and guaranteed in seven years to prevent possible issues regarding frequency resources and satellite orbits.

Starlink, the satellite Internet constellation service operated by U.S. aerospace and space transportation firm SpaceX, helmed by business magnate Elon Musk, has stated on its official website it is targeting Vietnam coverage in 2022. The deposit fee for the service would be $99, and could be refunded if wished. Users would only need equipment like the Starlink data transceiver, power supply, cables, tripods and a clear field of view to use the service.

However, Vietnam Telecommunications Authority (VNTA) stated Starlink so far has yet to be approved for use in Vietnam. Its representatives have only contacted authorities to introduce the project and research legal policies.

If Starlink wants to operate in Vietnam, it would need commercial agreements with Vietnamese businesses that have been approved to provide satellite telecommunications services. It could also form a venture with said businesses, VNTA said.

VNTA is gathering information and collaborating with relevant authorities to work with Starlink, it noted.

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