SpaceX Satellite Internet: What You Need to Know about Starlink


 

Imagine a world where everyone has access to broadband internet at affordable prices via a low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet service. According to rocket development company SpaceX and its ubiquitous founder, Elon Musk that world is just around the corner.

In fact, the SpaceX LEO satellite internet service, dubbed Starlink, is set to launch a private beta sometime in July. If the private beta goes off without a hitch, a public beta could start as soon as November 2020.

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What are Starlink and SpaceX?

SpaceX (the brainchild of Elon Musk) is an aerospace company that is currently developing a constellation of satellites to deliver internet worldwide under the name Starlink. Thanks to reusable launch rockets, these low-orbit satellites cost a fraction of the price of typical satellite launches, making it easier and more affordable to launch satellites at scale.

Isn’t satellite internet super slow, you say? Not anymore. SpaceX’s satellite internet system is designed to offer blazing fast speeds up to 1 gigabit per second.

Within the next year, Starlink expects to offer satellite internet to the entire planet, including remote locations where internet isn’t currently available. The plan involves launching a vast constellation of mass-produced satellites into low-altitude orbit. The satellites will transmit internet signals to earth-based hubs, delivering superfast connection speeds.

The plan for delivering SpaceX satellite internet seemed far-fetched until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave SpaceX the thumbs-up to start launching the satellites. Once SpaceX got FCC approval, SpaceX pushed forward to testing and deployment. As of this month, 422 Starlink satellites have been launched.

How much will Starlink internet cost?

SpaceX hasn’t released pricing details yet for internet service, but the company has continued to stress that pricing will be affordable.

Underserved countries and rural parts of the world will benefit from Starlink satellite internet service the most, but so will cities where Internet Service Providers (ISPs) get away with charging high prices because there’s so little competition.

How Starlink works

Images of the satellite constellation look like a fishing net, with thousands of dots connected by lines to the satellites they communicate with. The orbiting satellite network will cover the globe, and communicate with each other via lasers, which reduces lag time and enables a speedier connection (the two main complaints with satellite internet).

SpaceX is launching these satellites into much lower orbits than other satellites. This helps prevent a buildup of space junk, as dropping satellites will quickly burn up in the atmosphere. Low flying satellites also transmit data much more quickly. The company projects that Starlink latency (or lag time) will be as low as 15 milliseconds. Compare this to standard satellite internet latency of half a second (500 milliseconds), and you get an idea of how advanced Starlink internet technology is. Starlink’s internet will be twice as fast as cable internet service.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has promised fast, cheap internet access for people all around the world, including the approximately 3 billion people who aren’t using the internet due to living in underserved, rural, or underdeveloped areas.

What People Really Know about SpaceX, Starlink, and Elon Musk

With so much speculation out there about what Elon Musk is up to, we decided to find out what people actually know about his ambitious plan for Starlink to bring superfast, affordable satellite internet to the world (and to provide a source of funding for SpaceX). 

We polled hundreds of Americans on what they know about SpaceX, Starlink, and Elon Musk, and the results show that Musk still has work to do before Starlink becomes a household name at the same level that he’s achieved with SpaceX. 

Starlink survey

Here are some of our key findings: 

  • 61% have heard of SpaceX, but only 30% have heard of Starlink.
  • 45% think Starlink will be available only to people in off-grid areas. (It will be available nationwide.)
  • 23% said they would leave their current ISP for Starlink while 77% said they wouldn’t.
  • 45% believe Starlink won’t be cheaper than current satellite internet options.
  • 54% don’t believe Starlink will be any safer than other types of internet.

Additionally, over 70% of those surveyed underestimated Musk’s net worth. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they believed Musk’s net worth is as low as $3 billion, rather than his actual net worth of nearly $37 billion (and counting). 

If Starlink lives up to everything it promises, it has the potential to be a game changer in bridging the digital divide across the world. But the question is, will it deliver?

Methodology

The team at SatelliteInternet.com surveyed hundreds of people within the US, asking them the most frequently asked questions about Starlink satellite internet, according to Google search volume. We analyzed the results and compiled this report. 

Starlink might help bridge the digital divide

The United Nations reports that internet access helps reduce poverty, improves economic opportunity and access to healthcare in the least developed countries. The problem is getting it to people at a price they can afford.

As of 2018, only 51.2% of the world’s population was using the internet, according to the latest report from the International Telecommunications Union. Availability differs by country, with the most underdeveloped countries often having the worst access. The World Bank reports that in populations of developing countries, only 35% have internet access. And as the rest of the world moves ahead technologically, the wealth gap between those with and without internet is expected to widen. Starlink plans to bridge that gap.

The World Bank reports that in populations of developing countries, only 35% have internet access. And as the rest of the world moves ahead technologically, the wealth gap between those with and without broadband internet access is expected to widen. Starlink plans to bridge that gap.

Solving availability issues

Building out traditional internet infrastructure is costly because it involves installing thousands of miles of buried cables. But that’s not the only thing keeping people around the world from connecting online.

Sometimes internet is available, but it’s just too expensive. In some places, an internet connection is so expensive that only the wealthiest can afford it. For instance, in Zimbabwe, the average price for 1 GB of mobile internet data is more than five times as much as it is in the US.

The United Nations has set an affordability standard for internet service. In order to be considered affordable, 1 GB of mobile internet data needs to be priced at less than 2% of the average monthly salary. SpaceX plans to offer affordable satellite internet to underserved countries at a price that’s easier to pay. Rural areas around the world would also benefit with access to faster internet speeds at lower prices, making availability much less of an issue. International gaming competitions and and video conferencing would also benefit from Starlink’s high-speed, low latency connection.

When is Starlink internet coming?

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that at least 400 satellites need to be in place and operational before “minor” internet coverage can begin. The first 60 test satellites were successfully launched in May 2019. Additional launches over the next months fine tuned the equipment, with a steady launch plan settling into place by the end of 2019.

January 29, 2020 marked the fourth successful satellite launch, bringing Starlink’s running total of launched satellites to 240 (although the satellites launched in May 2019 were tests and may not be fully operational).

Additional launches are expected every month this year, with the full constellation projected to be in place within a few years. Customers in the northern half of the US and Canada may be able to sign up for Starlink by late 2020. Starlink will be poised to offer internet service to most of the world by sometime in 2021.

So how close are we to getting satellite internet service from Starlink? SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has indicated that at least 400 satellites will need to be in place before partial internet coverage can be expected. Currently, SpaceX has rocket launches scheduled regularly from now into January 2023, but near-global service is expected to begin sometime during 2021.

SpaceX Starlink satellite internet service could affect billions of people around the world who are currently without access to affordable internet. It will also affect travel, as it’ll be available on airplanes and ships. 

Starlink isn’t the only company building out a satellite network in the sky: OneWeb will also be launching satellite internet service within the next year. Amazon-funded satellite provider Project Kuiper and Telesat’s LEO satellite constellation are also in the works, but both are several years behind offering service.

Starlink going public?

A recent comment from SpaceX COO and President Gwynne Shotwell about Starlink possibly going public has sparked excitement among investors, which may prove useful in getting this project completed on schedule. So if the idea of getting satellite internet at speeds approaching 5G standards hasn’t got people excited enough, the hope of buying a stake into the company’s success probably will.

Where to get nationwide satellite internet now

If you need a satellite connection now, Viasat offers satellite coverage at a good price in all 50 states. It might not be as fast as the futuristic satellite service you’ll someday get from Starlink, but it’ll keep you connected and up on the latest news with its massive coverage area. You can read more about Viasat, HughesNet, and the best rural internet options on our site.

In the meantime, check the SpaceX website for continuing updates on Starlink.

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