We read stuff about American entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk every day. Whether it’s buying Twitter for insane stuff of money or inventing a brand-new electric car, Musk is one of the world’s greatest inventors. He’s also the richest man in the world with an open mind, so he can actually afford every crazy idea that comes to his mind.
One of the craziest, but completely working and already tested, is Starlink. Imagine if you could access low-cost Internet anywhere on Earth? That’s what the project represents. Starlink is a satellite network developed by Musk’s SpaceX company that aims to provide low-cost Internet to remote locations. Often called a mega-constellation of satellite networks, it hopes to have as many as 42,000 live in a few years, making low-cost Internet a human right, not a luxury.
Technology Drives Everything Forward
We live in a time where technology moves everything forward. Technological advancements allow us to pay online in a casino with credit card withdraw options. They also allow us to play games over the web, watch concerts, and do more complex stuff like analyze specific data. Starlink is just the latest in a long line of technologically advanced projects that shift the world as it is.
It’s not Musk’s first foray into advanced technology. If it wasn’t for Tesla, who knows how long it would take to get the world’s first electric car? It’s not like he pioneered the idea, but he made it possible before car companies, and that’s what matters.
You know how NASA poured in billions to make rockets that wouldn’t be wasted sending payloads in space? Musk’s SpaceX found a solution to that problem too with a reusable rocket that can deliver one payload after another without crashing to the ground. Love him or hate him, there’s no question that the man is an inventor. It’s the same with Starlink – the world’s only possible solution to getting Internet in remote areas.
Exceptional Progress in Less than a Decade
Starlink was first announced as a project in 2015. At the time, Musk still had no name for the project. He just had an idea to place as many as 4,000 satellites in low Earth orbit with the goal of providing low-cost Internet in remote areas. As he mentioned at the time, it was like rebuilding the Internet, but in space. His company, Tesla, doesn’t produce the satellites, which is probably why the project’s going a bit slower than expected.
With the initial projections being 4,000 satellites, Musk’s predictions grew. The FCC has granted Starlink the right to 12,000 satellites, but the company filed paperwork for an additional 30,000. As of January, 12,480 satellites are in low Earth orbit, with nearly 5,000 of them active. The first two Starlink spacecraft, TinTin A and TinTin B, were launched in 2018. SpaceX asked the authorities to allow the satellites to operate at lower altitudes than planned, and the request was granted.
The whole project was smart right from the beginning. The satellites operate at 550 km altitude. That’s low enough for them to be pulled back to Earth by atmospheric drag when they die. In that way, the fears that they might become space junk and collide with other satellites were shut down.
In order to operate, they need Starlink terminals. Those can be ordered from SpaceX’s website, although they’re not available in every region yet. Their price isn’t exactly low-cost – an address for Brooklyn listed the hardware at $599, with a further monthly service charge of $110. However, Starlink is a project aimed at rural regions, and the Internet speeds it provides beat any other operator.
How Starlink Works – the Specifics
We’ve already mentioned the gist of it – it’s an array (network) of satellites in low Earth orbit that should send signals down to special devices and enable Internet in rural areas. Of course, that’s just the broad picture – there are quite a bit of technical details we wouldn’t go into right now.
Having a stable Internet connection in remote areas is a struggle. Imagine getting a proper Internet connection in the rural areas of Russia or India? National operators rarely cover these locations, and even when they do, they do it poorly. With Starlink, it could all go away.
Musk and his company SpaceX aim to bring high-speed Internet to rural areas. Starlink doesn’t work like regular operators via underground cables and cords. Instead, it uses the low-orbit satellites to provide a stable connection. According to Musk himself, setup is a breeze – just point the device to the sky and plug it in.
So far, the project has been in beta testing in rural remote areas in the USA. Testers have already noticed a big difference. It’s far from a finished product, but it may very well be the solution to Internet in previously inaccessible areas. There are just three hardware pieces – a dish, a router, and a cable. If you follow the simple instructions, you’ll set it up in a minute.
Is the Speed Reasonable?
How fast is the Internet connection provided by Starlink? Tests so far have shown download speeds that touch 150 mbps and upload speeds of nearly 14 mbps. That’s impressive considering it’s a satellite connection without a trust cable jacked in a computer. Sure, the upload could be better, but remember – it’s still a project in its infancy.
Compared to other solutions that can’t even handle Zoom calls, this is pretty close to regular Internet speeds. And there’s a lot of room to grow considering that more satellites are on the way. Plus, it’s a bit pricey right now, although you can’t put a price on an Internet connection in the middle of nowhere.
Where is Starlink Available Right Now?
At the moment, Starlink is live in 32 countries. The broadband-beaming satellites cover most of the USA, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe. SpaceX has a proper map on its website that shows all 32 countries where the technology is available.
Of course, the number will expand soon as new satellites are sent into low orbit. More rural areas will be covered, some by the end of the year. In a powerful marketing move, Musk sent equipment in Ukraine after being asked about it on Twitter, helping the Ukrainian army have a direct link to his satellites and a stable Internet connection that the Russians can’t cut through. SpaceX has successfully blocked Russian military attempts to connect to the Starlink network, with Ukraine marked as coming soon on the Starlink map.
How Much Does it Cost?
Earlier in February 2022, Starlink announced a new tier with a premium antenna and service with faster speeds and latency. It costs five times more than the standard equipment at $2,500. The shipping and handling costs are $50, while the broadband subscription fee is an additional $500 per month. It’s pricy hardware for anyone living in rural areas, but it should be a great option for smaller companies.
The standard package costs $99 per month, although the price was up to $110 since early March. Even the terminal experienced a price hike – it cost $499 before March, but now it costs $100 more. Prices aren’t expected to drop as everything in the world is costlier now than it was months ago. That, however, doesn’t faze Musk at all, who’s planning to announce new countries on the Starlink availability map soon.
Satellites vs. Fiber
Many of our readers will be wondering why satellites – aren’t fiber-optic cables faster and more suitable for Internet connections? The truth is they are. That’s why companies such as Google use them, but there is an obstacle – the cost and speed of deploying the required infrastructure. Getting fiber optics to every home in the USA or anywhere in the world is a costly and time-consuming operation. With satellites, that cost goes away.
Of course, shooting satellites in space is not cheap or easy at all. But, there’s a lot less red tape to cut through, and it’s the best way to provide Internet to rural areas. The project is also an important hallmark for Musk’s SpaceX company, acting as an experiment to see if it can work on other planets.
That’s right – Musk is always planning ahead, so Starlink’s customers may be a sort of guinea pigs for the Martian wireless network in the distant future.
Is Starlink Worth It?
Starlink is an excellent service that has completely revolutionized the way the Internet works. It provides fast Internet connections to rural areas where fiber optics can’t reach. It’s a project masterminded by the greatest inventor of our time, and as such, it’s worth the plaudits.
It’s still an experiment that has a lot of ground to cover before it becomes fully operational. Obviously, there will be obstacles in the way. However, it’s a new technology that everyone should be excited about. It’ll help bring low-cost, high-speed Internet to the masses, and considering the authorities have done nothing about it, it is a big deal.