Crypto Market Commentary 

29 January 2020

Doc's Daily Commentary


The 29 January ReadySetLive session with Doc and Mav is listed below.

Mind Of Mav

How Satellites Are About To Revolutionize The Internet 

This week we’ve talked about how the internet is growing both from a development perspective as well as an infrastructure perspective. As we’ve discussed, a more connected world enables new technologies like blockchain to flourish. Underpinning everything is the notion of access: how much and how fast can the average person connect?

So, today we’ll be discussing a new frontier in the expansion of the internet: Space.

In recent years, space exploration programs have become more and more popular. While NASA has been around for more than half a century now, private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX have started their own space exploration projects, aiming towards some of the most outlandish goals.

One such goal is the development of commercial space travel. SpaceX is trying to cut back as many expenses as possible, using reusable rocket ships that can go up in the space and back to earth safely. This can be one of the most revolutionary entries in the transportation industry, allowing people to cover the distance from one end of the world to another in just minutes.

Not only that, Musk believes he’ll be able to send people to Mars, to colonize it first, and then establish commercial trips to it. Even in today’s standards, this goal sounds very over-the-top. However, the chances of its success might increase drastically over the next decade.

While manned and unmanned space exploration has taken center-stage in recent years, I believe there are equally exciting advancements we should discuss that have far reaching implications for the future of blockchain and technology advancement.

First, we need to talk about Satellites.

Since 1957 and the first satellite, Sputnik, went into orbit there have been about 8,900 satellites from more than 40 countries launched. Today there are around 5,000 satellites in orbit, with about half operational. Common types of satellites in orbit include military and civilian Earth observation satellites, communications satellites, navigation satellites, weather satellites, and space telescopes. Certainly, it would be hard to think of a world without GPS or accurate environmental data satellites are constantly collecting.

But, there’s a huge problem, and the emphasis is on huge.

Satellites are heavy and complicated.

For example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the US maintains a small fleet of satellites used to track conditions on Earth. Their satellites, while extremely important for valuable data, cost millions of dollars in development, weigh anywhere from 300-3000kg, and are subject at all times to the harsh environment of space.

While SpaceX and the private industry have brought down the average cost to send 1kg to space, which was $18,500 between 1970-2000, the cost is still $2,750 per kilogram on a Falcon 9 delivering up to 22,800kg to LEO (Low-Earth Orbit, a space in which only 1,468 out of 2,218, or 66%, of satellites operate in).

Certainly, SpaceX has changed the game, but this still means that satellites are simply out of reach for all but the biggest budgets and specified purposes. Going back to our central theme here, if we wanted to provide worldwide internet access using a satellite network, we’d need hundreds or thousands of satellites in synchronous orbit to provide low-latency access.

If only there was a real-life Tony Stark that could make that happen . . .

Just kidding, it’s already happening.

Thanks, Elon.

SpaceX is racing to launch about 1,400 satellites this year and boot up Starlink, a planet-wide, ultra-high-speed internet service. The rocket company, founded by Elon Musk, may ultimately send up 12,000 or even 42,000 in the coming decade.

Even partial deployment of Starlink would benefit the financial sector and bring pervasive broadband internet to rural and remote areas. Completing the project may cost $10 billion or more, according to Gwynne Shotwell, the president and chief operating officer of SpaceX. But Musk said during a call with reporters on January 8th that it could net the company perhaps $30 to $50 billion per year.

In early 2019, Musk said it will take about 400 satellites to establish “minor” internet coverage and 800 satellites for “moderate” or “significant operational” coverage. The immediate major goal is to deploy about 1,500 satellites about 340 miles (550 kilometers) high.

With anticipation building over Starlink’s debut, company founder Elon Musk explained how future subscribers will connect to the service using a device called a phased-array antenna, which he said in 2015 should cost around $200 each. Some analysts have cast speculation on that, saying that such devices cost 10x that price even today, but Musk has shown over and over that with proper engineering and economies of scale costs can be driven down for consumers.

Gigafactories for phased-arrays antennas, anyone?

While details on how exactly this will all work and perform for consumers are sparse at best, Professor of Computer Science at the University College London, Mark Handley, shared some thoughts in a fascinating video:

TL;DW, each of Musk’s “UFO on a stick” terminals could be a secret weapon that helps Starlink get data for countless other subscribers to and from its destination — and do so at speeds that handily beat fiber-optic cables.

Yes, you read that right.

While I made a big deal of 5G yesterday (and it is one), I want to briefly highlight exactly why wireless connectivity, be that 5G or phased-array, is vastly superior in both practicality and speed over wired counterparts, most notably fiber-optic.

As you probably know, the internet is basically a series of connected computers (or, more eloquently, a series of tubes), but in 2020 it’s how they’re connected that makes a significant difference.

SpaceX’s gambit with Starlink is make access faster and more widespread, yet less laggy and expensive than is provided by current internet service providers, or ISPs. That might seem counterintuitive to what you’ve heard before — I certainly had to reprogram my expectations because, as we saw yesterday, mobile carriers around the world are still slowly rolling out 4G some 14 years after its introduction.

In a sense, for the last 20 years wired has almost always be the preferred access method for the world wide web.

But, as I argue, in 20 years that will reverse.

The reason is twofold:

The first is cost.

For example, a lot of our data is sent in pulses of light through fiber-optic cables. More packets of information can go farther with a stronger signal that way than they could via electrical signals sent through metal wires. However, fiber is fairly expensive and tedious to lay, especially between locations on opposite sides of the Earth.

One of my favorite images on this topic is a cross-section of the undersea cable that connects our continents. That’s right, the entirety of the internet is dependent on a few cables laying on the bottom of the ocean.

This network actually works rather well, despite some glaring issues of having a worldwide communication network able to be chewed on by an errant shark (and yes, that actually happens).

In reality, 65-75% of cable faults are due to anchoring and fishing. While no reported cases have occurred, submarine cables are prime targets for terrorism. In 2018, the African country of Mauritania was left offline for 48 hours after the African Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable was severed, according to infrastructure analysts. Nine other west African nations were affected by outages.

While the cause was not linked to terrorism, nor was the outage long, it is still concerning that an entire country can be taken off the grid so easily.

Let’s not also forget that connectivity becomes more complicated once you get on land, too.

Even within a country, achieving a direct wired path from one location to another is rare and expensive. Relying on ground cables also leaves many regions poorly connected.

So, while wired works well in some circumstances, it simply can’t keep up with the pace of growth nor the needs of the network.

Which brings me to the second major force behind wireless adoption:


Up until now, much of how we’ve interfaced with mobile internet services, giving us wireless access to the internet, has been dependent on existing internet technologies, including fiber-optic cable networks. Ultimately, as you can tell, by having more bottlenecks it gives off a perception that wireless is inferior to wired services when, in fact, this is not the case at all.

After all, fiber-optic cables have to follow a certain law: The Speed of Light through a medium. Even though you might have a perception that fiber optic is moving information at light-speed, it’s actually the case that light moves through the vacuum of space about 47% faster than it can through solid-glass cabling. Still fast, but with limitations that add up over time as a connection is routed over and over.

Of course, wireless has had its own limitations, regardless of being tied to wired services. Existing cell towers require line-of-sight to pass by data wirelessly. Geography, cost, regulations, property rights, and other hurdles make it practically impossible to build enough towers to link together this way.

So, shuttling data around the world via satellite — and mostly through the vacuum of space, not glass — could cut that lag while also providing screaming-fast internet service almost anywhere on Earth. Speed and access, the duality we’ve been looking for.

But wait! Isn’t it going to be really slow? Even if it’s in space and has clearer connection, isn’t that negated by the distance and subsequent lag? After all, satellite TV, radio, telephone, and even existing internet all suffer from more than a half-second of transmission lag simply due to the distance alone.

But, that highlights exactly what the problem is: in order to cover the greatest area and the most number of receiving devices, many of these satellites are in Geosynchronous orbit (GEO), 22,236 miles (35,786 kilometers) above the equator. This also allows them to “locked” in place, appearing stationary in the sky, and so the receiving devices, such as a satellite dish, do not have to move to track them.

Geosynchronous orbit is the furthest a permanent satellite will orbit Earth, whereas the Starlink satellites will have a very different approach. With every Falcon 9 launch, SpaceX will deploy flat-packed stack of 60 satellites at once, yet very slowly rotates it in microgravity. This causes the stack to spread out like “a deck of cards on a table,” Musk said in 2019.

These satellites, each weighing 227kg, will each use Hall thrusters (or ion engines) to rise to an altitude of about 342 miles (550 kilometers). This is about 65 times closer to Earth than geostationary satellites — and that much less laggy.

Starlink, once complete, would consist of nearly 12,000 satellites — more than six times the number of all operational spacecraft now in orbit. The goal is to finish the project in 2027, thereby blanketing the Earth with high-speed, low-latency, and affordable internet access.

Starlink spacecraft are designed to link to four other satellites using laser beams. No other internet-providing satellites do this, and it’s what would make them special: They can beam data over Earth’s surface at nearly the speed of light, bypassing the limitations of fiber-optics, cell towers, and other ISP technologies.

Pretty cool.


The laser links aren’t currently on any satellites, but will start to be phased in starting late 2020. Yes, upgradable satellites are part of this vision, too, and we’ll discuss the new industry of repairing and retrofitting satellites tomorrow when we cover Cubesats.

But, we have to remember, the LEO Starlink satellites are only half of the solution. As we talked about earlier, this system will also require a robust planetary receiving network of phased-array antennas.

Based on SpaceX’s FCC filings, the company expects to operate 1 million ground stations. What’s interesting is that the small terminals will not just download and upload one user’s data, but also act as critical nodes before the laser links are ready — turning customers into a kind of global mesh network.

A mesh network, as we’ve talked about before, is a kind of blockchain network that grows in power and capability as more nodes are added. As Handley covered in his Youtube video above, even without the laser links between satellites the speed of sending and bouncing data off a receiver from one satalitte to another, a sort-of speed of light daisy chain solution, would still be faster than an uninterrupted fiber-optic cable.

That’s cool.

So, to recap, we’re about to enter a new age of the Internet that places a larger emphasis on both access and speed. Furthermore, the costs are more linear, the access more egalitarian, and the speed more uniform. Of course, reality is often challenging to grand plans such as these, and certainly there are many obstacles to overcome for those involved.

Not to mention, if the few control the access of the many, it so often can result in a corruption of ideals. What would stop Starlink from propagating their version of the internet, or their version of the truth? Are we swapping one abattoir for another?

But, the promise of a worldwide communication layer that is truly worldwide and allows for near instantaneous communication is tantalizing, especially as relates to the ideals of blockchain.

As we’ve covered the past few days, this is what the future of the internet and blockchain should have in common: democratization of information and utility.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap up this series by talking about another fascinating aspect of the new space race: Cubesats and the rise of quick, cheap space access.



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