Who is Starlink really suitable for?


However, six weeks ago, his situation changed due to Starlink. Woodward became a beta user of SpaceX’s Internet service, which uses an increasing number of 1,600 satellites orbiting the earth to provide Internet access to people on the surface. As of the end of July, The company reports nearly 90,000 users“In the first few weeks, I became a big fan of Starlink,” Woodward said.

“For people like me who have always lived on sticks, Starlink will be a revelation,” he added.

But Starlink is not only designed to contact remote network security professors: SpaceX has made even greater demands than this. It hopes to bring high-speed satellite Internet to many of the 3.7 billion people on this planet who currently have no Internet connection at all. Many people just make do with a mobile phone connection-which in itself is an expensive solution. (1 Gb data for sub-Saharan Africa 40% of average monthly salary.)

This does not even consider people who can access the Internet but lack a broadband connection. Almost the entire United States can access the Internet, but 157 million Americans, most of whom live in rural communities,Don’t use it at broadband speed. The black community is The possibility of not being able to use broadband internet is greater, Even if they are close to white (and wealthy) communities. After experiencing the new crown pneumonia and the era when most people rely on the Internet as their lifeline, it is hard to imagine that high-speed Internet is still an out-of-reach luxury for some people.

Unfortunately, it is not yet clear whether Starlink can really solve this larger problem. “It does work in sparsely populated areas,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said at a conference in June. “In high-density areas, we will be able to provide services to a limited number of customers.” Many rural residents in the world will be turned away because they cannot afford it.

Starlink must reduce costs quickly to expand its customer base, but it must also make enough money to continue to launch hundreds or even thousands of satellites each year. This is a thin needle and may not be threaded.

Price point

A typical satellite Internet service places only a few satellites in very high orbits, called geostationary orbits. From there, a single satellite can provide a wider coverage area, but with greater delay (or lag time). Woodward has used such services before, but has always found them “useless”.

Starlink and its competitors, such as OneWeb and Amazon Kuiper, instead deploy tens of thousands of satellites into low earth orbit (LEO). Their closer proximity to Earth means that the delay is significantly reduced. Although each covered area is small, the large number means that in theory they should cover the entire earth and prevent any loss of connection.

Starlink started beta testing last year and is now available in 14 countries/regions. Last December, the US Federal Communications Commission awarded SpaceX US$886 million as part of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which subsidizes US telecommunications companies that are building infrastructure to help rural areas gain broadband access.

But it is not clear whether rural areas in the United States are a viable customer base for Starlink. The biggest problem is cost. The Starlink subscription fee is US$99. Speeds can vary greatly, but the average user should expect 50 to 150 megabits per second.You have to pay traditional satellite internet companies Like Viasat (Operating geostationary satellites) Double this number to get the same speed. good.

However, the biggest blow to you with Starlink is the upfront cost. The cost of equipment such as satellite dishes and routers is as high as $499-and these equipment are sold to customers at a loss. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has previously stated that he hopes these costs can be reduced to nearly $250, but it is not clear when or if this will happen. For most rural areas in the United States and elsewhere, the price is too high.

So who will be the first Starlink users? According to Derek Turner, a technology policy analyst at Free Press, the physical and financial need to build a satellite and put it into orbit (although it is cheaper than ever, it is still a very expensive enterprise) means Starlink will be at a loss for a period of time. A non-profit organization that advocates open communication. Reducing costs means focusing on customers, not just unconnected individuals in the countryside.

On the contrary, early customers are more likely to include the US military, who often rely on geostationary satellites that are plagued by service congestion and high latency when fighting in remote areas.These two air force with armyInterested in testing Starlink.Some intelligence experts pointed out the trouble with the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan for example Where the service can help.

Airlines wishing to provide passengers with faster and more stable on-board Wi-Fi Also working on Starlink. Other commercial enterprises in rural areas may also find value from it. Of course, there are technicians and curious customers in the suburbs and cities, and they have the money to try.

In Turner’s view, adding these customers can help lower everyone’s price, but it also means less bandwidth. Starlink can counteract this problem by launching more satellites-it eventually plans to do so, but only if it has enough users.

Musk has said that before Starlink has enough capacity to generate positive cash flow, it needs tens of billions of dollars in funding. So far, it has launched 1,600 satellites without problems, but the ultimate goal is 42,000, which is another matter entirely. “It’s not as scalable as wired broadband,” Turner said. It is not clear how many satellites Starlink needs to provide reliable high-speed Internet to hundreds of thousands or even millions of simultaneous subscribers.

For many customers, especially commercial enterprises, there are cheaper alternatives to Starlink that can still meet their needs. Farmers who use smart sensors to track things like local weather and soil conditions do not need broadband internet to connect to these devices. This is where a small company like the US-based Swarm comes in: it uses a fleet of more than 120 small satellites to help connect IoT devices for such use cases. Swarm (recently acquired by SpaceX) offers a data plan for only $5 a month. Of course, if you are in a densely populated area, spending $99 a month on another ISP might get your speed close to 1,000 mbps.


On the surface, the RDOF award awarded by the FCC to Starlink shows that rural areas in the United States are an important part of the development of Starlink. But Turner said this is a misunderstanding. First, SpaceX should not be allowed to abandon the RDOF bid, because it will build the Starlink network anyway. “I think the FCC will better use its resources to bring future-oriented broadband to areas where deployment is not economically meaningful,” he said.

Acting FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel took the lead in reviewing how her predecessor Ajit Pai granted RDOF subsidies at the end of last year, and found that billions of dollars were issued to companies to allow them to bring broadband Internet to unnecessary or inappropriate places, such as “car parks and parking lots”. Well-served urban areas.” A Free Press report estimated that about $111 million of SpaceX’s own bonuses will be used in urban areas or places where there is no real infrastructure or internet connection, such as the middle of a highway. The FCC requires these companies, including Starlink, to essentially return part of the funds. (SpaceX did not respond to questions or requests for comment.)

Turner acknowledged that LEO satellites “will become a very important innovation in the field of telecommunications.” But he still believes that services like Starlink will be a niche product in the United States, even in the long run-and believes that the overall trend will continue to develop towards fiber optics. Even emerging technologies like 5G rely on very dense antenna networks that can be connected back to the fiber as quickly as possible. Over time, wired broadband has continued to improve as companies are pushing fiber optic networks deeper and closer to customers.

The underdeveloped regions of the world may find Starlink to be a boon, because many of them do not have a physical network like the cable systems laid in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in the United States. But so far, beta testing has been limited to the United States, Canada, parts of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Chile. It is too early to say what impact it will have on developing countries, especially when subscription and equipment costs remain high.

Woodward’s experience is an experience the company hopes to replicate for all customers. But Woodward knew he was lucky to be able to afford Starlink, and it could meet his needs. At least for now. “When Starlink has 200,000 users, it will be interesting to see how they persist,” he said. “Prices must fall, but speed and service must remain the same. All this remains to be determined.”


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