Astranis wants to bring internet connectivity to up to 5 million in Mexico

Astranis, a venture-backed startup that builds and operates small broadband satellites in a far-off orbit, released more details today about its plans to provide internet access to Mexico.

As part of the deal, Astranis will launch two satellites next year for Mexican internet service provider Apco Networks. Those two satellites will provide broadband access to up to 5 million people. The deal between the two firms was announced back in March, but the exact number of people that will be served by the two Astranis sats has not been disclosed until now.

More than 30% of Mexico's 127 million-strong population -- or around 38 million people -- don’t have access to the internet. Satellite is often the only way for some of the most remote and rural Mexican communities to connect to the internet; other ways to connect, like fiber optic cables, are especially challenging to implement due to the country’s mountainous terrain. Astranis CEO John Gedmark told TechCrunch that the company is looking at plans to launch additional satellites to serve the remaining 33 million people in Mexico that will still be without reliable internet.

“We’re definitely looking at launching additional satellites to follow these first two,” he said. “That’s the benefit of the Astranis model. We can deploy initial capacity quickly and then add more and more over time as demand grows.”

Apco will provide service for different kinds of connectivity, including dedicated Wi-Fi sites, backhaul for rural cell service and direct-to-enterprise internet connections. While Astranis’ business model is focused on selling broadband capacity to major telcos, as opposed to individual subscriptions like SpaceX’s Starlink, Gedmark said its strategy can be very effective at getting large groups of people online all at once.

“Serving individual homes is one way to help get people connected, but there are others that can be just as effective, if not more effective,” he said. “One of the best is to use large, dedicated satellite links to connect cell towers or Wi-Fi hotspots to the internet. This way a single connection can serve a large number of users in a given area.”

The two satellites for Mexico will launch in the latter part of 2024, on the same flight as another Astranis satellite dedicated for the Philippines. The company launched its first commercial satellite at the beginning of May, but that spacecraft was quickly sidelined by an on-orbit glitch with its solar arrays.

Astranis is planning on launching a backup satellite, which it calls UtilitySat, later this year. That mission will also delivery three other Astranis satellites to space: two for Anuvu, a company that provides Wi-Fi connectivity on boats and aircraft; and one for Peruvian cellular services backhaul provider Grupo Andesat.