As early as 2020 you might be able to get superfast internet from SpaceX. But how will it work?
Back in Nov of 2016, SpaceX announced their plan to launch over 4K satellites into low earth orbit built with the purpose of providing high-speed internet to the US and other countries.
The problem they believe they will solve is bringing reliable high-speed internet to hard to reach customers, such as those in rural areas.
In May of 2017, Patricia Cooper, the head of this program for SpaceX, testified in front of the committee on commerce, science, and technology for the united States and laid out their goals clearly:
According to the FCC, thirty-four million Americans lack access to 25 megabits per second (“Mbps”) broadband service, and 47 percent of the Nation’s students lack the connectivity to meet the FCC’s short term goal of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff. As the FCC has noted: there continues to be a significant disparity of access to advanced telecommunications capability across America with more than 39 percent of Americans living in rural areas lacking access to advanced telecommunications capability, as compared to 4 percent of Americans living in urban areas, and approximately 41 percent of Americans living on Tribal lands lacking access to advanced telecommunications capability.2 While more than twenty-three million Americans living in rural areas account for the majority of those who lack access, nearly ten million Americans living in non-rural areas also lack basic access to high-speed internet service.
SpaceX is at a real advantage here since they have more practice launching rockets and landing them back on earth, significantly reducing the cost of putting these satellites in space.
The idea is that these satellites will orbit around 1200km above the Earth’s surface and down here on earth you’ll just need a satellite dish to receive high-speed internet service.
To give you a point of reference, Hughes Satellite Internet fleet orbits at 35K km.
So by designing the satellites better and placing them closer to earth, SpaceX hopes to provide high-speed internet that’s compelling to everyone.
Where will it be available?
The initial plans from SpaceX appear to be focused on the United States however they’ll likely be able to expand to other countries as they grow the constellation.
In my mind, this is where the most significant part of their opportunity is.
Space X has not announced pricing on StarLink (the rumored name) yet, but we can look at Hughes Satellite internet for a point of reference.
Hughes offers several plans based on how much data you use. Their most popular program is 20GB worth of data for $70/mo with speeds of 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload. That’s about as fast at my cell phone is here in San Diego, however, isn’t even close to what I get now from my local ISP.
If you live in an urban area with cable or fiber internet, it’s not likely that this new service from SpaceX is going to be better.
If however, you live in an area where only DSL is available this will almost certainly give you a performance boost.
And of course, if you’re in a rural area where your only option currently is one of the other satellite internet providers, this is going to be a massive improvement in performance.
So since this likely won’t compete for mine or your internet service, why do it? As always, there’s lots of money up for grabs.
While the internet access has improved dramatically over the years, from 10 million people in 1993 to 3.4B as of 2016, the majority of people in the world still do not have internet access.
This is known as the digital divide. And as the next 3B people come online throughout the world companies are jockeying for position to meet their needs.
So regardless if you or I sign up for internet service through SpaceX, they’ll have billions of potential customers all over the world. This is especially true in sparsely populated areas where the centralized infrastructure needed to provide high-speed internet just doesn’t make economic sense.
In their most recent statements about this program, SpaceX said they intend to launch two prototype satellites into orbit in the next few months.
They also stated they plan to launch the over 4,000 satellites over the next five years starting in 2019.
Once they’re able to get around 800 satellites into low earth orbit, they said they’ll be ready to start offering service. If everything goes to plan, they could start offering service in limited areas in 2020 to 2021, which is just around the corner.
What do you think? Would you buy it? Leave me a comment down below with your thoughts.