Elon Musk’s SpaceX is set to go live with a massive global network of small satellites providing internet to people in less developed regions in rural zones where internet service is lacking. The service will reach a level wherein they can confidently say they are reaching the entire planet, except for the polar regions, by August.
The network, with only 69,000 subscribers, is predicted to potentially gain 5% of the world’s population as its user base within a few years. Musk’s great hope is that the company doesn’t go bankrupt first, as this project will cost $5 billion to $10 billion before it reaches projected positive cash flow.
The service costs $99/month in the US and uses a network of 1500 satellites (and growing as new launches are ongoing) with a planned total of 42,000 by the end of 2021. To get a sense of scale, there are around 7400 total satellites in space, with a little over half being active and the rest being inactive.
A key innovation of the service is that, while current satellite internet providers have satellites at 22,200 MILES from the earth’s surface, Musk’s are only 342 miles. This means that the signal has less time to travel, decreasing latency.
Latency is the time it takes for your internet signal to travel from your computer to your ISP, to the website server, and then back to you. Longer latency can cause delays in live communications. While other satellite internet providers have a latency of around 500 to 600 microseconds, about half a second, Starlink has a latency of around 39.
Latency is a major hurdle satellite internet providers face.
The other is price. For instance, the price for Starlink in South Africa is 1,450 rand, around $99. So it’s not any cheaper in South Africa, which means for more rural Africans, it may be quite out of reach. The cost is the same in Nigeria, at 40,000 nara, which is $99.
Musk’s Starlink may or may not change the world, as it is claimed, and it won’t bring cheap internet to the poorer communities. But it will dramatically change our immediate space, adding over 35,000 new satellites, all in low earth orbit. Time will tell if this will become a major cause of space pollution and if the benefits or low latency, broadband satellite internet for the more well off in rural locations will be worth that price.