Xplore to offer faster rural satellite internet, alternative to Starlink after Jupiter 3 launch

Canadian rural internet provider Xplore Inc. plans to offer faster satellite internet to those in remote locations this fall following the launch of the Jupiter 3 satellite into space.

The New Brunswick-based telecommunications company said the technology will provide a homegrown alternative to broadband internet service offered to rural Canadians through SpaceX’s Starlink low-earth orbit satellites.

Xplore president and chief commercial officer Rizwan Jamal said his company’s new broadband service will include speeds of 100 megabits per second, which is double the maximum speed it currently offers for satellite internet.

Other perks include professional installation, no upfront hardware costs and 24/7 Canada-based customer support.

“This brand new satellite … is going to be like a superhighway that is ready to take on traffic,” said Jamal.

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“There’ll be no cars on the highway at the beginning, so I think that the first customers that get on board are just going to get an unbelievable experience.”

Jupiter 3, touted as the highest capacity satellite by EchoStar Corp. subsidiary Hughes Network Systems, was launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Friday and began sending and receiving its first signals on Saturday morning.

The satellite is set to travel to its orbital slot over the coming weeks, when it will then undergo final testing to ensure it’s offering the speeds and coverage intended.

Jamal said specific availability and pricing details will be released closer to service launch after that process is complete, but “most areas that are inhabited by people” across Canada will be included in Xplore’s coverage map for the new service.

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The company also offers 5G fixed wireless coverage at speeds of at least 100 megabits per second in Atlantic Canada, with planned rollouts in Ontario and Alberta in the coming months, along with fibre offerings in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and Atlantic Canada.

“This will help us fill in beyond those areas,” said Jamal.

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He acknowledged the company, which rebranded from Xplornet Communications Inc. last September, has faced challenges in recent years with the arrival of SpaceX’s Starlink service in Canada.

Ottawa approved SpaceX’s bid to provide high-speed internet to Canadians through Starlink in November 2020 after the CRTC also granted the company’s application for a licence the previous month. Earlier that year, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Canada “is a major priority for Starlink.”

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Currently, it offers high-speed internet service for $140 per month in the country and hardware costs of $759, with self-installation. Those in “select areas of rural Canada” are eligible to purchase Starlink hardware at $199 as part of a limited time offer.

In April, Starlink also teamed up with Rogers Communications Inc. to deliver satellite-to-phone connectivity across Canada and bolster coverage in remote regions.

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The companies said at the time they planned to start with satellite coverage for SMS text and eventually provide voice and data access across areas such as national parks and rural highways.

“In particular for people that are looking for the fastest speeds, we’ve had some customers that have left us and that’s why we’re so excited by the launch of Jupiter 3,'” said Jamal.

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“We can offer them a service that is very competitive with the service that Starlink offers, with the professional install and the support that customers are looking for on internet.”

Telecommunications consultant Mark Goldberg said Xplore’s new offering represents another tool to provide internet connectivity to households beyond the reach of fibre or fixed wireless.

He estimated that 30 per cent of rural Canadians do not yet have access to a broadband service that meets the national service objective of 50 megabits per second for download speed, 10 megabits per second for uploads and unlimited capacity.

“There’s no single technology that will solve the rural connectivity challenge,” said Goldberg.

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But he said Xplore’s new service through Jupiter 3, a geostationary earth orbit satellite, could be a more reliable option for rural Canadians than the technology used by Starlink.

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“It’s in a fixed location. It just does not move. So if you can establish a strong connection to a geostationary satellite, it’s going to be there and it provides that kind of connectivity.”

As Starlink relies on low-earth satellites that are in constant motion, Goldberg said visibility challenges could arise when they change position, especially given that rural households are often surrounded by trees or nestled in valleys.

“Not every location has a satisfactory connection to a low-earth orbit satellite, but may always be able to find a geostationary satellite,” he said.

He noted the caveat that geostationary satellites like Jupiter 3 are positioned at higher altitudes, which can lead to “latency” or signal delays that Starlink customers don’t have to worry about.

“But this new satellite has tremendous capacity in it,” said Goldberg.

“It will deliver streaming video services, it will deliver high-speed broadband connectivity, and it becomes yet another tool in the kit of solutions available.”

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