Elon Musk’s SpaceX (1) is all set to roll out Starlink, its satellite-based internet service in India, by 2022 on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Starlink (2) is an LEO, Low Earth Orbit satellite system. It is rumored to offer latency of up to 600 ms initially, which would be brought down to 20 to 40 ms as the network grows.
Notably, beta testing of its satellite broadband services is already underway in the US, with data speeds reaching up to 150 Mbps, with some users claiming to get as much as 300 Mbps internet speeds.
Users need the Starlink kit to access its services, comprising a user terminal, a router, a mounting tripod, and the needed cables.
Starlink is the latest innovation of Elon Musk that has received the attention of experts and techies around the globe. With the broadband satellite internet company, SpaceX pushes to provide fast internet speeds to rural areas with limited options with the aid of over 1,000 satellites the space company has launched so far.
According to the reports, the company offers its services to test users in the US for 99 USD a month and an additional 499 USD for a setup kit.
The Starlink Beta program comes as its rivals such as OneWeb, a collapsed satellite operator revived by the British government, India’s Airtel Bharti Group, and Jeff Bezos’s Amazon embarked on offering their broadband satellite networks (3).
In India, Airtel has plans to offer high-speed satellite internet by 2022 through OneWeb’s LEO constellation of internet satellites. The Indian telecom giant is also in talks with ISRO to build cost-effective access terminals.
In an email invitation to users for the beta test, Starlink stated that ‘users can expect to see data speeds varying from 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps and latency from 20 ms to 40 ms over the upcoming months as they enhance the Starlink System.’ It added that there would also be a time where there would be no connectivity at all.’
As per the several online portals quoting Starlink beta testers’ users’ testimonies, they are suffering from short periods of no activity to some extent. However, Starlink’s overall performance has wowed users, many of whom previously had no access to modern broadband speeds. It offers users fast-speed internet, reaching up to 175 Mbps even in high-speed winds, freezing temperatures, and deep snow.
As SpaceX is launching more satellites and tinkers with the network, Starlink’s speeds and reliability would improve in the upcoming months. SpaceX has told its users in beta-invitation emails that as they launch more satellites, install more ground stations, and improve their networking software, data speed, uptime, and latency would improve dramatically. For latency, the company expects to achieve 16 to 19 ms by summer 2021 (4).
The Next Telecom Disruption
Elon Musk (5), the second richest man on earth, has upended the global auto industry and disrupted aerospace with reusable rockets. With Starlinks, Musk has set his sights on another business entrenched in incumbents dominated; telecommunications.
Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp has launched over 1,000 satellites for its Starlink internet service. It is already signing up early customers in the US, Canada, and the UK. SpaceX has also told its investors that Starlink is angling for a piece of a 1 trillion USD market made up of in-light internet, maritime services, demand in India and China, and rural customers.
SpaceX has been propelling Starlink satellites on its Falcon 9 rockets for months, and the 17th Starlink launch was on January 20 (6).
As the Starlink array in low Earth orbit, closer to the planet than conventional satellites, it is enough to enable the company to launch service along a wide swath of North America and the United Kingdom. As SpaceX would send more satellites, the coverage area would also grow- expanding the potential customer base and revenue stream beyond today’s initial stages.
While commenting on the development, Luigi Peluso, Managing Director of Alvarez & Marsal (7), who follows the aerospace and defense industries, stated that the big deal is that the people were happy with Starlink’s service and its economics compared to other alternatives. It has demonstrated the viability of its solution.
Last year, Gwynne Shotwell, the Chief Operating Officer of SpaceX (8), stated that Starlink is a business that SpaceX, one of the most valued venture-backed companies in the United States, is likely to spin out and take public. It sways the possibility of another Elon Musk enterprise offering shares after the previous year’s sensational stock market gains by Tesla.
It is also worth highlighting that Starlink will face plenty of competition. Fiber optic wire is widely considered too expensive to lead down in remote areas and several rural locations. There are expectations that cellular connectivity would make big advances with 5G and then 6G. Meanwhile, several innovations attempting to extend cellular to unserved regions are under development by other companies, including Facebook.
According to John Byre, a telecom analyst at GlobalData (9), there will always be early adopters of Starlink who believe that anything from Elon Musk is cool. However, it is hard to see the satellite trajectory pacing up with improvements coming with cellular.
Based in California, USA, SpaceX is known for launching rockets for the US military, NASA, and global satellite operators. In the previous year, it made history by becoming the first private firm to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
Starlink is the first truly consumer-facing product. Growing the consumer base while maintaining string service is something SpaceX has never done before.
According to Jim Patterson, an industry analyst (10), similar to any network, Starlink is also enjoying rave reviews while being underutilized. But, it will be a challenge with the same condition issues as they grow their customer base.
But then again, SpaceX has claimed that its service would improve as it would build more infrastructure.
In November, during a live stream of a Starlink mission, Kate Tice, a SpaceX senior engineer (11), stated that, as the company launched more satellites, installed more ground stations, and improved its networking software, data speed latency and uptime would all improve dramatically.
Elon Musk’s Starlink is ramping up for a big 2021. It hires software engineers, a director of sales, customer support managers, and a country launch manager.
The fan enthusiasm, which made Tesla cars ahead with consumers and retail investors, extends to Starlink. Facebook groups, Twitter, and Reddit threads are full of reports from early customers sharing download speed images. YouTube also has videos of people unboxing their Starlink kit and going through the initial setup.
Several other customers are waiting in the wings. In December 2020, the Federal Communications Commission gave SpaceX 885.5 million USD in subsidies as a part of a significant effort to convey broadband to more than 10 million Americans in rural regions. The company would focus on 35 States, including Alabama, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Russ Elliot, the Washington State Broadband Office director (12), stated that we couldn’t keep throwing money at aging infrastructure. With Starlink, one can be anywhere. The cost to build in deep rural and costly areas is now less of an issue with SpaceX’s technology as an option.
Elliot had connected SpaceX with members of the Hoh Tribe in far western Washington early in the coronavirus pandemic. The Native American Community struggled for years to get high-speed internet to their remote reservation, which spans about 1,000 acres and has 23 homes. Children were struggling to access remote learning. The internet speeds were so slow that it took them all day to download their homework.
A member of the Hoh Tribe, Melvin John Ashue, stated in a short video produced by the Washington State Department of Commerce that SpaceX came and catapulted us into the 21st century.
Elon Musk is coming closer to fulfilling his dream of building a super-fast internet worldwide, which beams down from satellites in orbit to the planet earth.
In the past few weeks, SpaceX’s Starlink internet has reached over 10,000 users worldwide. It has started offering 99 USD preorders of the services to more countries and cities on an international scale.
Its public beta test, called ‘Better Than Nothing Beta,’ launched in October last year, has been a massive hit among those living in remote areas of the northern United States, where it was initially launched.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX is building an expansive satellite internet network in space called Starlink. The aerospace company rolled out its first batch of Starlink satellites in orbit in May 2019. Presently, it has more than 1,000 working satellites ready for the service. Their goal is to have up to 42,000 satellites in orbit by mid-2027 (13).
These satellites are tapped onto the top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and blasted into orbit, mostly releasing 60 satellites per launch.
The aim is to create a high-speed broadband system through satellites which envelope the planet and provide internet to people, especially in rural regions with no connection.
Currently, a subscription to the beta is available at 99 USD a month. It would cost a further 499 USD for the Starlink kit, including a mounting tripod, a router, and a terminal to connect to the satellite.
By the end of last month, the company started offering Starlink’s pre orders to other countries and allowed users to put down a 100 USD deposit to get their hands on service once it becomes available. It would be applied to the amount due on the Starlink Kit.
Overalls, users would have to pay 600 USD up front for Starlink.
Users in the United Kingdom are paying 439 GBP for the kit and 89 GBP for the subscription-fee. It is not cheap compared to other internet service providers that charge 79 GBP per month for speed up to 516 Mbps.
SpaceX had won 885 million USD federal subsidies in December to expand Starlink. However, small internet service providers stated that it shouldn’t be allowed since SpaceX uses ‘unproven’ technology (14).
In an email addressed to beta test subscribers of Starlink in October, SpaceX stated that they should expect speeds between 50 to 150 Mbps.
According to a list compiled by Reddit’s Starlink community indicates the fastest download speed was 209.17 Mbps, recorded in New York so far. An individual in Utah recorded their speed test indicating 215 Mbps in December (15).
It is also worth highlighting that Starlink has reached even the speeds of 175 Mbps in freezing temperatures, snow, and high winds. Users are impressed with the terminal heating up enough to melt frost and snow on it.
The Availability for Preorder
Initially, Starlink was operating in parts of the northern United States, southern Canada, and the United Kingdom.
A week ago, it started opening up pre orders to other parts of the globe.
People from Australia, Mexico, New Zealand, and parts of the United States and Canada, where Starlink was not yet up and running, confirmed Reddit and Twitter that they could put down a deposit to get the internet service in the mid to late 2021.
Helping Rural Communities to Get Online
In October, SpaceX had agreed to provide internet to a rural school district in Texas in the upcoming year with Starlink. Forty-five families would get internet access in the region, along with additional 90 families later on.
In December, SpaceX connected Pikangikum First Nation, a remote 3,000 indigenous community in north-west Ontario, to Starlink. Before Pikangikum got the internet service, it couldn’t offer higher education or healthcare. The community was struggling with high suicide rates. Now, they can have access to everything.
The Chief Executive Officer of FSET, David Brown (16), the company which connected SpaceX and Pikangikum, stated in an interview with Insider that they took a community that was among the most technologically disadvantaged across the globe. Now, they have become one of the most technologically advanced yet remote people living where they are without moving.
Starlink in India
Starlink, Elon Musk’s satellite internet service, is coming to India, and users can pre-book their connection. It comes after the debut of Tesla’s electric vehicles in India, confirmed in December 2020 (17).
According to the information available on the Starlink online portal, it targets its India launch sometime in 2022. However, the exact launch time is not available right now. Users can head over to the website and pre-book their connection.
Starlink seems to cover most Indian major cities such as Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bengaluru, and others. One can head over to the official website and enter his details to see the exact coverage details and see if his address is covered to pre-book.
The Starlink pre-bookings for Indian addresses are also set at 99 USD, about 7,300 INR for the service deposit. The payment is towards the Starlink kit that users would have to install at their addresses to access the internet service.
Once users make the payment, they get their priority access reserved. It is also worth noting that the deposit is fully refundable. It means that if one changes his mind after paying, one could get his money back.
The Starlink kit is sent when the company can offer connectivity services in one’s area. Apart from shipping, customer charges can also be added.
Starlink accepts payments via credit cards, debit cards, and Apple Pay. However, Apple Pay is currently not available in India.
Even though Starlink offers internet speeds between 50 to 150 Mbps during the current beta testing phase, Elon Musk has revealed that the speeds would be doubled to 300 Mbps by the end of 2021. He also said that the Starlink project would cover ‘most of the earth’ by the end of 2021.
Even though the current speeds may not be impressive since most wired broadband can offer way faster services, Starlink is currently offering the internet with the help of only one-twelfth of planned satellites, notably, once fully deployed, would offer up to 10 Gbps download speeds as per the company’s claim.
It is also worth mentioning that access to the internet and broadband services still is an issue in India, with only a little more than 22 million wired broadband users across the country. Compared to mobile subscribers, more than 115 million, according to the data received from the latest TRAI report (18).
A World Bank report reveals that a 10% increase in broadband penetration is likely to ramp up the country’s GDP, gross domestic product by 1.38% in developing nations such as India (19).
Starlink Competitors in India
The idea of space internet is not new, and Starlink is not the only company working in the segment.
India already has Bharti Airtel locked in similar plans with OneWeb. It is looking to launch more than 640 satellites across 21 launches to offer satellite internet services worldwide. Similar to Starlink, even OneWeb is expecting to initiate its offerings in India by 2022.
Project Kuiper of Amazon is one such service that has the potential to beam the internet directly from space and may use more than 3,236 satellites, expected to go live by the next year.
Another project worth mentioning is Google’s Project Loon, which was recently shut down but was also working on similar principles. Even though, rather than using satellites, Google had deployed balloons in the stratosphere to deliver wireless internet in remote areas across the globe. Google recently shut down the project because the tech giant felt that it was not commercially viable.
Even Facebook’s Aquila solar-powered internet plan to beam internet via laser was believed impractical and was closed down prematurely.
The space internet industry is hotting up as apart from these tech giants. There are also smaller other organizations planning to launch similar services. However, instead of covering the entire planet, they are going for a specific geo-location like a nation-specific. However, we have not heard any such announcements for India.
Moreover, India’s state-run BSNL collaborates with Skylo and looks at setting up the world’s first satellite-based IoT network. It aims to offer connectivity to billions of machines and sensors in agriculture, maritime, railway, logistics, and the ones that aid in disaster management. Even though it may not offer satellite internet commercially, it is working on similar principles.
Applying for a Starlink Subscription
Since it is already in its beta testing phase, there is a high chance that the service would soon go live for a wider audience. However, it may go live sometime next year in India and is also subjected to regulatory approvals.
Even though one can still sign up for the beta program, there are certain points one can keep in mind before paying the upfront fees (20).
- Starlink has not mentioned any specific time for its services to go live in India.
- At present, there is a speed limit. One can get faster internet speeds if he already has a fiber connection in his region or may get it before the Starlink goes live.
- The subscription charges are 99 USD, about 7,300 INR every month. Compared to other internet service providers in the country, it is the costliest service at the moment.
- Starlink is ideal for a place where there is no connectivity.
- As already discussed, there could be periods of total blackout.
- At least initially, there may not be any local support center.
- The satellite internet services are impacted by bad weather, similar to a DTH connection.
In our opinion, it would only make sense, at present, to subscribe to Starlink internet services if there are no decent and reliable wired or wireless broadband services in one’s area.