Two Minute Tech Read: Starlink

Ian Bryant | Feb 02, 2021

If you haven’t heard, SpaceX and the innovative mind of Elon Musk have created a new satellite internet company called Starlink.

(Not to be confused with Skynet, the software that became self-aware and took over the world on August 29, 1997 – wait, sorry, that was a movie.)

Starlink is a satellite internet service that places thousands of satellites in LEO (Low Earth Orbit), 550 kilometers up.

Starlink is staged to be a game changer not just for the satellite internet market but for internet providers as a whole. The venture’s claiming starting data speeds of 50 to 150mb/s with 20-40ms latency, and as more satellites come into orbit, 16-19ms and a whopping 1Gbps of download speeds. Additionally, the dish is only 19 inches in diameter, which is significantly smaller from competitors, most of which are around 36 inches.

Current satellite internet providers are offering 12-100mb/s but at latency speeds of 594-624ms. These provider programs range from $30 to $150 per month depending on speed options. Starlink is currently only $99 (flat rate), with speeds dependent on location. Currently  there are no data caps.

Like all satellite internet service providers, Stralink has limitations. Most have to do with obstructions (like trees or clouds) that can slow down or disconnect your internet. One interesting claim: Starlink says that it will detect snow and melt it, so it does not build up on a dish. However, the firm says it cannot do anything about accumulation around the dish that could then cause an obstruction.

Beta’s Better Than Nothing

Starlink is currently in beta, taking applications and shipping to consumers as we speak. With this soft launch, which they call their “Better Than Nothing Beta” program, the company is actively trying to lower consumer expectations at first.

You may recall that the recent SpaceX launch on January 24 included 10 Starlink satellites, which is slowly increasing their footprint in space and allowing for faster speeds and more coverage for the internet provider.

There are a few other items of interest here: There are concerns regarding “space clutter” or “space junk,” which includes nearly 6,000 satellites and 500,000 pieces of junk, with Starlink only adding to the total. Some are genuinely concerned that in the not-so-near future humans will struggle to leave orbit due to the sheer number of items circling the earth. Additionally, it’s been reported that the FCC will be giving $886 million in subsidies to Starlink to help in its extremely ambitious goal to get broadband internet to rural areas around the U.S. The program is said to be $9.2 billion in total.

This push to create new high speed internet options and to get them to rural areas has sparked the interest of some other big names in the technology world. Amazon is already working on what they call “Project Keiper” with claims of a 12-inch dish, a commitment of $10 billon in R&D, and approval from the FCC to launch 3,236 Satellites in orbit to support it.

What does all this mean? For starters: High speed internet service for billions who live in rural areas who have never had an option. Serious competition in the internet service provider (ISP) market will challenge the traditional cable and phone companies. More connected devices, more streaming services, more of everything that requires high speed internet connections in the home – that also means more work for integrators in the custom integration market.

If you want to participate in the “Better Than Nothing Beta” program you can sign up on the Starlink website here.