Starlink might change the internet as we know it, and it’s thanks to an ambitious plan laid out by tech billionaire and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Preorders have already started for this new satellite internet service, and it promises to deliver broadband speeds to anyone in the world regardless of where they might be. Whether it be a rural farm in Iowa or the small island nation of Tuvalu, customers have been told to expect download speeds from 210 Mbps to 10 Gbps.
But what is Starlink? Below you’ll find a rundown of this project that aims to get everyone in the world connected to high speed internet.
Latest Starlink news (updated February 11)
Starlink release date
Beta testing and preorders have already begun for Starlink. Unfortunately, these are limited to people based on geolocality and on a first-come-first-serve basis. This is likely so that engineers at Starlink can test not only users in big cities, but in more rural areas around the U.S. and the world.
Based on a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Starlink confirmed it had more than 10,000 customers as part of its Better Than Nothing beta test. SpaceX, Elon Musk’s commercial rocket company, will be the vehicle that gets Starlink satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). SpaceX has already been awarded an $856 million grant from the US government to help bring broadband access to rural America.
Given the size of the U.S., it seldom makes financial sense for internet companies to lay cable or fiber lines. Because Starlink is wireless, it offers a solution to this conundrum. As of publishing, 24% of rural Americans say that access to broadband remains a major issue.
Already, SpaceX has launched more than 1,000 Starlink satellites. While this is a massive achievement, for this satellite internet constellation to be fully operational, it will require a total of 12,000 satellites. At the moment, Starlink is manufacturing 120 satellites per month.
Apart from preorders and beta tests, according to another FCC filing, Starlink states “at its current launch cadence, SpaceX anticipates that before the end of 2020 it will begin offering commercial service in the northern United States and southern Canada, and then will rapidly expand to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021.”
As long as things go according to plan, Starlink should be fully operation sometime this year. Although, according to the Starlink preorder website, coverage won’t be available until mid-to-late 2021 for some addresses.
Starlink Availability and Coverage
As for availability, Starlink is prioritizing “high latitudes,” meaning areas on the northern part of Earth, like Canada and the upper parts of the United States. Ultimately, the goal will be to get Starlink connected to all parts of the globe. In a tweet, Musk clarified that Starlink would hit cities like Seattle first, and “get progressively closer to the equator.”
Because Starlink is satellite internet, coverage can vary by the second. With only a little more than a thousand satellites in orbit, some parts of the world will have better coverage depending on when the internet constellation is passing through. There are a few coverage maps available online that show where satellites orbit, and as of this posting, there seems to be arrays of satellites around the North-Western United States, as well as clusters near New Zealand and Australia.
Starlink preorders currently cost $99 a month. But the service will require an up-front hardware fee of $499. That includes the small satellite dish that can be set up at a home or business, as well as a router and power supply. There’s also a shipping and handling fee of $50.
For anyone wanting to preorder, all it requires is a refundable $99 deposit. Order fulfillment can take up to six months or more.
Unlike other satellite internet providers, Starlink’s LEO satellites promise to offer low-latency broadband speeds regardless of where you are. While Starlink was first boasting speeds of 1 Gbps, it’s since upped that target to 10 Gbps. To put that into context, users would be able to download a 4K movie in less than 30 seconds. Starlink would be a major boon for people living in rural parts of the world.
Latency on Starlink is surprisingly low considering its satellite internet. Early beta tests show that Starlink averages 34 milliseconds. While that may not be as fast as fiber, which can get as low as 17 ms, any latency under 40 ms is solid for most applications. Certain types of online games, most notably shooters and fighting games, benefit most from low latency. But sports games or MOBAs will work well on Starlink.
Because of this, it’s no surprise that OneWeb (half-owned by the UK government), Amazon’s Project Kuiper, Boeing, Telesat, and the Russian and Chinese governments are all planning satellite internet constellations.
Still, getting a project of this magnitude literally off the ground and into profitability is a monumental task. While the Russian and Chinese governments can bear the brunt of the cost, companies like Starlink and Amazon take on significant risk. Past satellite internet constellations have gone bankrupt.
There’s also a lot of interest in when a Starlink IPO would go live. In a tweet, Musk replied that an IPO is planned, but it would come after SpaceX has a more predictable cashflow. For Musk and Starlink, the goal right now is not to go bankrupt.
SpaceX needs to pass through a deep chasm of negative cash flow over the next year or so to make Starlink financially viable. Every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not.February 9, 2021
Given that broadband companies like Comcast are placing, in our view, unethical bandwidth caps in the middle of a pandemic, Starlink and other satellite internet constellations are a welcome injection of competition. Comcast and other broadband providers sit comfortably in what’s referred to as natural monopolies. Because laying cable is so expensive, once a company is able to take on the cost of providing internet to an area, it doesn’t make much sense for other companies to come in and lay cable when lines already exist.
Starlink’s wireless nature allows it to enter any part of the world, subverting the need for cables. By doing so, rural areas that remain neglected can now be connected at broadband speeds. The cost of $99 is still too high for many parts of the globe, but given that Starlink will see competition from other companies, prices will likely drop over time.