Starlink, SpaceX’s internet connectivity constellation, is 6 months away. On the 23rd of April, CEO Tesla revealed his new plans to provide access to the internet worldwide using satellites. According to Elon Musk’s twitter handle, “Starlink will deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable”
This ambitious project is designed to offer satellite internet at high speed and low latency. SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 60 satellites from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It’s the seventh batch of Starlink craft, meaning the constellation now has 420 satellites.
On the 23rd of April, Elon Musk revealed more information about when the service will become available. Writing on his Twitter page, where he has over 33 million followers, Musk declared after the launch:
Private beta begins in ~3 months, public beta in ~6 months, starting with high latitudes
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 23, 2020
How does this change the internet performance?
This is a big step forward for the project. It will enable users to point a pizza box-sized receiver to the sky and receive internet access without depending on earthly infrastructure. According to Inverse, Starlink is aiming to offer gigabit internet speeds and latency between 25 and 35 milliseconds, according to a 2016 filing with the FCC.
In fact, Musk suggested in May 2019 that the latency could reach below 10 milliseconds over time. Hence, this internet will not only have a high speed, but also a super-fast reaction time, making it ideal for playing video games, hosting video calls, and other time-sensitive applications. Unsurprisingly, this would place Starlink in a much better position than other satellite internet operators.
Successful deployment of 60 Starlink satellites confirmed pic.twitter.com/h3e6QmKRue
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 22, 2020
For people living in remote areas, a satellite may be the only option. SpaceX is aiming to convince the industry that its constellation would be of low latency. Success here could help it unlock up to $16 billion in American federal subsidies. It claims that Starlink would offer lower latencies due to the sheer number of satellites – up to 42,000! (more than the 5,000 satellites total currently in orbit) – and its low altitude of 550 kilometres above sea level that brings it closer to users.
Competitors and their work
In 2019, Jeff Bezos and Amazon announced similar plans. It was reported that Amazon plans to release up to 3,236 satellites for worldwide access to the internet. However, their main focus was on providing internet to ‘unserved and underserved communities around the world’. Some reports reveal that Facebook is also in the works to build such a satellite.
A 2013 analysis found competing providers with latencies of around 638 milliseconds – 20 times slower than wired networks. They offer an average speed of 30 megabits per second, although rural Americans claim it can be much lower.
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Nonetheless, Elon Musk is the only one yet with concrete plans on SpaceX’s satellite broadband. Musk has impressive plans to launch up to 30,000 satellites dedicated to distributing internet access worldwide. Beyond offering eager consumers a sneak peek at the latest technology, Starlink’s beta test could answer the question of whether the plan will be a success.