SpaceX Satellite Internet: What You Need to Know about Starlink

Starlink logo
Starlink's satellite internet service is in beta testing phase, with a public launch possible by the end of 2020.

 

By the end of 2020, Starlink broadband service is expected to be available in parts of the US and Canada. In private beta test results, Starlink has shown it can deliver a high-speed satellite internet connection of 100 Mbps or more with an extremely low latency of 20 milliseconds.1,2,3 Starlink pricing is expected to be around $80 per month.4 And the best news of all for rural dwellers: you won’t need to have your home wired with cable or fiber (or anything) to get it.

What are Starlink and SpaceX?

Starlink will bring internet access to rural and underserved areas around the world, purportedly at a low price point. Starlink will deliver the internet to earthlings with a massive constellation of small low-Earth orbit satellites.

So far, Starlink has over 800 operational satellites. Some of the original satellites from the first two launches have been deorbited, so we don’t include these in the official count.

Starlink will eventually have 12,000 or more satellites in its Starlink constellation. Starlink will be capable of delivering internet speeds of 100 Mbps or more with ultralow latency to people all around the world.3 Customers will just need a Starlink dish receiver (what Elon Musk calls “a UFO on a stick”) and a monthly internet plan from Starlink.

Thanks to reusable launch rockets, Starlink’s low-orbit satellites cost a fraction of the price of typical satellite launches, making it easier and more affordable to launch satellites at scale. By mid-2020, Starlink hit a steady stride, producing and launching around 120 satellites per month. Initially, the constellation is being built out more heavily in some areas, so service will be available in the northern United States and lower Canada first.

In 2021, 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. In May 2019, 60 Starlink test satellites were successfully launched. With each iteration, Starlink has made modifications based on what they learned.

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How much will Starlink internet cost?

Starlink is expected to cost around $80 per month, based on remarks given by SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell.Customers will also probably pay for installation, which will include the small satellite dish that’s about the size of a pizza box. SpaceX Founder and CEO Elon Musk suggested that Starlink equipment might cost between $100 and $300.

Although none of these estimates amount to official pricing details, 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.

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How Starlink works

Images of the satellite constellation look like a fishing net, where thousands of dots are the satellites that rotate in synchronized orbits so that all areas of the globe have satellite coverage. The Starlink satellite network covers the whole globe, although initially certain parts of the constellation will be more fully built out. Satellites will eventually communicate with each other via lasers, which reduces lag time and enables a speedier connection with less latency (the two main complaints with satellite internet).

Starlink satellites are in a much lower orbit than other satellites. Starlink is the first satellite internet provider to utilize low-Earth orbit, targeting all satellites to orbit between 540 km to 570 km above the Earth’s surface. Low-Earth orbit helps prevent a buildup of space junk, as dropping satellites will quickly burn up in the atmosphere.

Low-Earth orbit satellites also transmit data much more quickly. SpaceX projects that Starlink latency (or lag time) will be as low as 15 milliseconds. Compare this to standard satellite internet latency of 594 to 624 milliseconds (roughly half a second), and you get an idea of how advanced Starlink internet technology is. In private beta tests, Starlink’s internet speeds have reached 100 Mbps.

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 Infographic

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.

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 can I sign up for Starlink internet?

By now, Starlink has over 800 operational satellites. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has indicated that there are now enough satellites in place to support a public beta in the northern United States and Canada.

Customers in these countries who live between the latitudes of 44 and 52 degrees north may be able to sign up for Starlink in late 2020. Starlink claims it will offer internet service to most of the world in 2021. 

SpaceX has rocket launches with Starlink satellite payloads scheduled regularly from now into January 2023, although maintenance launches will need to continue indefinitely.

Starlink’s private beta testing phase has begun. SpaceX and Starlink employees are the ones currently testing Starlink internet speeds. So far, results are promising. In September 2020, SpaceX engineer Kate Tice announced that testers are reporting download speeds faster than 100 Mbps, which is fast enough to support online gaming and video streaming on multiple screens in HD.6

SpaceX Starlink satellite internet service could affect millions 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.

  1. SpaceX.com, “September 3, 2020 Starlink Mission Launch,” streamed live on September 3, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
  2. Arevalo, Evelyn, “SpaceX submits FCC requests to operate Starlink ground stations in several U.S. States,” July 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020.
  3. Grush, Loren, “With latest Starlink launch, SpaceX touts 100 Mbps download speeds and ‘space lasers’,” September 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020.
  4. Wattles, Jackie, “Here’s what you need to know about SpaceX’s Starlink internet service,” October 2019. Accessed September 4, 2020.
  5. Henry, Caleb, “Falcon 9 launch adds 60 Starlink satellites to orbit as constellation beta testing continues,” September 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020.
  6. SpaceX.com, “September 3, 2020 Starlink Mission Launch,” streamed live on September 3, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
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