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 up to 300Mbps 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.
On the heel of Starlink's preorders, Elon Musk was able to bring SpaceX's stock valuation to $74 billion, up 60% from August 2020. It shows the investor confidence in Musk's satellite megaconstellation. SpaceX is continuing to launch more satellites, albeit with a few delays, and it looks like service will soon start up in Europe. And now we have an indication of how rollout is going, thanks to a new coverage map courtesy of PCMag.
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 March 1)
- Starlink satellites grounded as SpaceX launch delayed
- Starlink coverage map revealed — here's where people are using the service
- Elon Musk: Starlink satellite broadband services will hit 300 Mbps this year
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."
Thanks to a report from PC Mag, the publication partnered with speed test platform Ookla to see exactly where Starlink is being most utilized.
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.
In the U.S., interestingly, there are customers in major cities that are willing to give Starlink a go. It's peculiar given that these customers also have access to traditional ISPs, ones that can offer greater internet speed. Maybe these users are big Elon Musk fans, or maybe they really dislike the major internet providers.
Below is a breakdown of speeds from various counties.
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.
Given that broadband companies lack rivals in many cases, Starlink and other satellite internet constellations are a welcome injection of competition. More important, the service enables regions to get connected at broadband speeds where there were no options previously.
For example, the Hoh Tribe, a Native American tribe located in Western Washington state along the Pacific coast, said Starlink was like being "catapulted into the 21st century." Per the Newsweek article, the Hoh Tribe tweeted that faster internet speeds helped with remote learning and access to healthcare.
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.