Low Orbit Satellite Internet Becomes More Practical

John Lister's picture

A mobile broadband service that uses low-orbit satellites to reach areas with neither fixed-line or cellular service is proving a hit with some early testers. Starlink is the work of the private company SpaceX, better known for running commercial delivery services to the International Space Station.

The company plans to eventually launch more than 40,000 miniature satellites which will orbit at around half the distance from the Earth as most satellites. The idea is to be able to offer service anywhere in the world with users simply connecting to satellites as they pass overhead. (Source: starlink.com)

Most satellite Internet services only use the satellite for downloads, with uploads sent through phone lines or cellular connections. That's restricted the areas the services work and limited upload speeds.

Dish Works Almost Anywhere

With Starlink, the customer has a portable dish that can send signals to the satellite as well as receive them, meaning that in theory they could work anywhere with a power supply, which can include portable power.

The initial tests are largely designed for people in a fixed rural location, though one beta tester has reported the service worked well in a national forest in Idaho that has no cellular service at all. He said he had download speeds of 120 Mbps and uploads of 12 Mbps, though this was reduced in areas without a clear line of sight to the sky. (Source: arstechnica.com)

The tester also reported a low latency, which is effectively the delay between a user requesting data (such as a web page or video) and the data transfer starting. It's particularly important for online gaming and video calls, though can cause noticeable delays when moving between web pages.

No Data Caps

For the test period, the service costs $99 a month with a $499 up-front fee for the equipment. For now there doesn't appear to be any monthly data caps. That might make it a viable option for rural areas which either don't have any Internet service or where the only option involves paying based on usage.

It does seem hard to see how such pricing would be workable in developing nations which lack adequate fixed-line or cellular connections in some regions. The service fee could come down with economies of scale, but distributing the equipment might prove uneconomical.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you impressed with these speeds? Is there a genuine market for such services in remote areas or is it simply a gimmick? How would the prospect of getting high-speed Internet virtually anywhere change society?

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Average: 4.3 (8 votes)


ronangel1's picture

Could also be used as sort of VOIP sat video/audio/data phone at much cheaper rates than satellite phones! Maybe aboard ships.

Commenter's picture

It's not a gimmick to me! Considering that my current download top speed is only 4.0 Mbps, these speeds are practically blazing. 4.0 is the highest speed available, and believe me, I've tried. We have no cell service at the house due to so-so coverage and trees. I can stand in the middle of the (sparsely traveled) highway in front of our house and send texts -- sometimes. If we park at the side of the road with fields all around, we can send out texts, and usually make voice calls and get internet access through a tethered cell phone connection.

$99/month is a little less than than we currently pay for both phone and internet service, but not all that much. It would be well worth it for me to be able to work from home and my children to stream their online classes at the same time, even if the total cost ends up being more.

Richard Robinson's picture

This is Elon at his best - his cars will have internet to help them navigate etc, and millions of people will have access to great internet speeds. I have 100/20 and have 5 or 6 people concurrently using together with VOIP, and it works well, so the speeds SpaceX has are adequate indeed. I have a feeling SpaceX is the next in the line of historic companies - IBM, MS, Apple, Facebook, Google & now SpaceX. When Google, Facebook etc come cap in hand asking how much to be allowed to operate on SpaceXternet, it will be interesting where the company is registered - Mars?, Moon? Satellite? Taxes on profits ?? - not on this operation.