Imagine being able to access high-speed internet from anywhere in the world. Uninterrupted, fast video streaming and low latency online gaming from the comfort of your mobile RV home or the remote village you may live in. All at an affordable price. This is was the future Elon Musk promised in January 2015 when he first unveiled Starlink Internet.
Welcome dear viewers. In today’s article, we will tell you Starlink’s journey, what the current beta testing phase involves, the equipment required, the internet speed figures, and most importantly, how much all of it costs.
Journey of SpaceX Starlink Internet
Starlink is a side project of the widely known innovative space company SpaceX which has a vision to provide satellite Internet access anywhere in the world through a constellation of thoughts of small satellites that will float in low Earth orbit. The design decision to float the satellites in low Earth orbit is what makes Starlink different from other satellite internet providers as their satellites usually orbit much higher up. Since Starlink’s satellite constellations are in lower altitude, they will allow faster internet speeds and much lower latency.
As of 2020, Starlink has about 895 operational satellites out of a Federal Communications Commission approved 12,000 satellites for full operational capacity.
Beta or early version testing of Starlink Internet began in October 26th, 2020 to a few early users after five full years of waiting. To have a better grasp of this event and to understand what the future holds, let us take a look back during the years 2015 to 2019.
The very idea of Starlink was made commercially viable only due to SpaceX’s successes in reusable rocket technology, which greatly reduced the costs involved in aerospace ventures all around. Rockets prior to this were discarded after use, essentially making them astronomically expensive single-use vehicles.
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SpaceX would produce the first satellite prototypes in 2016 and get them flying but the effort to get large-scale satellite launches going would be delayed until 2018 as SpaceX was having issues in bringing down the costs of the user equipment. Time spent in rectifying this however, would prove to be beneficial as the Federal Communications Commission was reluctant to sign off on SpaceX’s request for clearance on 12,000 satellites.
The FCC had decent reason to be reluctant as critics logically pointed out the potential issue presented by the prospect of space debris sent off by 12,000 satellites. There were fears that the debris problem could get worse enough to hinder regular spaceflight and radio-telemetry activity and even damage other satellites badly enough to send them crashing down to Earth.
SpaceX was able to tackle this and come up with a viable plan to present to the FCC to eliminate the space debris problem to an acceptable degree in late 2017 and with a little help from Boeing, was ultimately able to get the FCC to approve the required 12,000 satellites needed for Starlink.
The first Starlink satellites went up by the end of June 2019 and in October 2019, CEO Elon Musk first tested Starlink’s internet capabilities publicly by using it to make a post on Twitter. Beta testers connect to Starlink’s internet through a user terminal sold by SpaceX which is fixed to the ground with a tripod and is coupled with a Wi-Fi router.
As is the case with any other hardware or software product in its early stages of development, the product is unstable and it provides a half-reliable service which is acknowledged by the e-mails beta testers received. To quote the e-mail: “There will be brief periods of time with no internet connectivity at all”.
SpaceX has also developed a Starlink app in order to aid beta testers in setting up their systems using an augmented reality system.
Rather than being anything to do with video games, it just helps users to accurately judge a good point to set their user terminals in. These user terminals require a constant line of sight with satellites in order to receive Internet data.
Now, what about the internet speed you ask?
Starlink Internet Speed
A direct quote from the e-mails says such: “Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150 Mb/s and latency from 2ms to 40ms”. Practical Ookla Speedtest results show a maximum download speed of 80 Mbps, which is already much faster than regular internet service providers and other satellite internet providers. Latency is also just at around 42ms.
Starlink claims a maximum of 150 Mbps to be reached within the beta period as more and more satellites come online, with latency falling to a lowest of 16 ms.
The current pricing of the Starlink beta program is $100 a month with the equipment cost being $500. This turned out to be slightly higher than previous estimates by SpaceX and Elon Musk, who himself stated that he expects the equipment to cost between $100 and $300.
Regardless, we can all unanimously agree that these prices are prohibitive for mass use by the public but we can already see the benefits. While it may take many further years for SpaceX to be able to bring the costs and while it is true that the current beta stage is unstable, the benefits many users are already receiving.
Users on Reddit have stated that Starlink on average is faster than anything else they’ve ever had ever before and being able to use high speed internet anywhere in the world using a mount and a Wi-Fi router is obviously a boon unlike any other.
The average monthly pay for Internet services around the world sits at an average of about $30-$60. Bringing costs down to this level will take SpaceX several years as launching 12,000 satellites is a lot of work.
Again, SpaceX will have to rely on its innovative prowess in the rocket engine field to be able to maintain even 4,425 satellites in low Earth orbit and they would also have to ramp up their production schedules to be able to manufacture more satellites.
Nothing is a greater motivator driving innovation and price reductions strategies like competition though, and Starlink will definitely face competition from 2021 onwards from companies such as OneWeb and Telesat who plan to offer a similar kind of internet service through their own satellite constellation fleets.
The well-established and well known megacorporation Amazon is investing $10 billion into its own Project Kuiper, a direct answer to Starlink. Amazon already claims Project Kuiper in its current stage can deliver 400 Mbps in internet speeds, a number that would smash Starlink if it’s real.
Samsung is also planning to launch their own satellite internet service in limited capacities in South Korea at first.
Even more competition may arise from the very rival Starlink seeks to completely replace; the cable broadband industry. Cable service providers in conjunction with established tech giants like Intel, are investing to networks capable of offering speeds of 10 gigabits per second. That is an absolutely massive number and a blisteringly high speed target. Elon Musk has got work to do, and fast.
A United Nations report states that internet access helps reduce poverty, improves economic opportunities, and greatly eases access to healthcare. With this in mind, Starlink Internet has the potential to do endless good if it manages to bring prices down. Seeing as how competition is the best guarantor of reduced prices, we are fairly confident that Starlink and its competitors will provide endless value to the world.
The Internet can be instrumental in helping children learn any skill within or without the school curriculum. Taking advantage of satellite internet that can be received anywhere without any infrastructure requirements is practically a dream come true.
Only 51.2% of the world’s population was using the internet, according to a report by the International Telecommunications Union in 2018 while only 35% of people in developing countries have internet access. The wealth gap is being widened between those with and without internet as the rest of the world is advancing technologically.
Starlink and Project Kupier will be critical in bridging that gap and in helping to pull developing and underdeveloped countries out of poverty. We wish Elon Musk and Starlink all the success they can achieve and get our hands on super-fast satellite Internet connections by the end of this decade.
Please let us know in the comments what you think of Starlink’s internet service packages and whether or not they will be able to survive competition. Would you be willing to use Starlink if you had the cash? Or would you wait for Project Kupier to finalize instead?