Galway businessman Declan Ganley's Rivada Networks group plans to launch a major new system of 600 space satellites connected by lasers to provide a "pole to pole" global broadband network that it believes will rival Elon Musk's Starlink and Amazon's Kuiper space satellite systems.
Rivada has acquired majority control of Trion Space, a Liechtenstein company that owns a licence or "filing" for the spectrum needed for the project with the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency.
Trion was said last year to be planning to spend up to €4 billion building the system that has since been taken over by Rivada.
Trion last year ran into difficulties with Liechtenstein’s telecoms regulator over issues including access to funding, amid local reports that the company’s project ultimately could be financed by entities linked to Chinese government agencies.
Rivada has stepped in to acquire an 85 per cent stake from the previous consortium, which was led by Liechtenstein investor Michael Frommelt.
The remaining 15 per cent of Trion is owned by a German company, whose investors include several from China that Mr Ganley is still trying to buy out. But ultimate control of the space satellite project now already vests in a newly created German company, Rivada Space Networks, which is a direct subsidiary of the Irishman's Europe-US telecoms group.
Rivada announced its plans this week at Satellite 2022, a major industry conference that is under way in Washington, DC. Rivada is currently financing the project itself along with other investors that have previously worked with Mr Ganley’s company on projects.
Rivada suggested, however, that it would seek to bring in further equity and debt finance for the project as it is rolled out. Rivada said the rollout of the satellite system would take place between 2024 and 2028. The project will comprise a “constellation” of 600 interconnected low-earth orbit (Leo) satellites 1,000km above the earth, which it says would allow it to build a global broadband network with speeds “similar or better” than normal fibre networks.
Rivada plans to open the network up on a wholesale basis for use by telecoms providers, cloud computing and data companies, and potentially governments for non-military use. It is currently talking to potential hardware partners to help it build out the network, as well as potential corporate customers.
The Rivada Space Networks project will use 4,000 megahertz of so-called Ka spectrum, comprising the previously unused ITU allocation for Liechtenstein. Ka spectrum is a high-speed band that has been used by other satellite systems, including Starlink, which is owned by the tycoon Mr Musk’s SpaceX company.
Rivada says the allocation of spectrum covered in its ITU “filing” is senior to that in Starlink’s and Kuiper’s filings, which means its satellites would take priority if their trajectory brought them near to its rivals’.
“As a company, Rivada hunts spectrum,” said Mr Ganley, speaking from Washington to The Irish Times.
“Leo satellite constellations have huge tracts of spectrum with them. We want to tear down the barriers to entry and build an open-access system. To have 4,000 megahertz of spectrum is huge and our filing is very high priority,” he said.
Mr Ganley said the previous owners of its 85 per cent Trion stake wanted the project to be “in good hands”. He says Rivada approached Mr Frommelt about a deal. “He saw in us an ability to execute.”