Technically, Starlink is a division of SpaceX, and the name of the company’s orbiting satellite community is Constellation. The community began in 2015, with the lead satellite prototype going into orbit in 2018.
Since then, SpaceX has completed dozens of successful launches and put more than 1,000 Starlink satellites into orbit. In January, SpaceX put 60 satellites into orbit from Kennedy Regional Center on the first Starlink mission in 2021 using Falcon 9, an orbital rocket with landing and relaunch capabilities. Subsequent launches on May 26 put another 60 satellites into orbit, bringing the total number of Constellation satellites to 1,737, but some of these satellites are prototypes or inoperable models that do not operate effectively in the community.
Can the popular satellites connect my home to the Internet?
At least, that’s what we think. Starlink, along with existing satellite internet providers such as HughesNet and Viasat, should make it easier to access the network. Especially for rural areas and regions of the world that do not yet have access to broadband.
“Starlink,” says the Starlink website, “is ideal for areas of the world where connectivity is often an issue.” Starlink is able to provide broadband networks in places where access is limited or completely absent, without the constraints of traditional terrestrial infrastructure.
Simply connect a small satellite TV antenna inside your home to receive the signal and transmit the bandwidth to your router. There is also a Starlink app for Android and iOS that uses enhanced realism to help potential customers determine the best position and location for the receiver.
Starlink’s services are currently only available in the U.S., Canada and select international territories, but the company currently has more than 10,000 customers and plans to continue to expand its coverage map as more satellites join the constellation. Starlink hopes to eventually cover the entire planet with a single high-speed Wi-Fi signal.
“Customers can expect speeds to fluctuate between 50 and 150 megabits per second over the next few months, with delays of 20 to 40 milliseconds in most locations,” Starlink says on its website, and warns that there will be periods of no connectivity at all. By launching more satellites, building more ground stations and improving network software, data rates, latency and uptime will improve dramatically.”
To that end, Musk said on Twitter in February that he expects peak service speeds to double to 300 Mbps at peak times in 2021.
CNET’s John Kim signed up for the service at his home in California and began testing it at several locations a while back. At home, he’s getting an average speed of 78 Mbps and latency of 36 ms.
Starlink has started taking pre-orders for potential customers who want to be part of the company’s “Rather Not Be” beta program. The service is priced at $99 for 30 days, plus taxes and fees, plus a $500 down payment for a ready-to-install satellite TV antenna and router for your home.
Starlink says it is accepting orders on a first-come, first-served basis, and some pre-orders can be placed within six months.
The $99 30-day Internet connection cost isn’t particularly fast, especially not as fast as a fiber optic connection, but Musk is betting it will be a decent price for those who haven’t been able to get a reliable broadband connection.
Not long ago, SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell told a satellite TV technology forum that Starlink had no intention of increasing speeds or prices, and that he aimed to make pricing for the service as simple as possible. In addition, Shotwell said he expects the initial cost of a receiving antenna to drop to $500 over the next few years.
Service is currently limited to the northwestern United States, adjacent areas of Canada, and parts of the United Kingdom, but the coverage map will expand significantly as more satellites are added to the constellation. For Starlink to serve the entire world, at least 10,000 satellites would be needed in orbit (SpaceX has already demonstrated that 30,000 would be needed). Currently, it is only 20% full at best, with protection concentrated between 45 and 53 degrees north latitude.
Nevertheless, Musk has spoken positively about the Starlink timeline. In an interview at Mobile World Congress 2021, Musk said Starlink would launch worldwide in August, beyond the North and South poles.
“We have about 1,800 satellites deployed, and when they are all in orbit, we will probably provide stable protection for the world, and that should happen in (September),” Shotwell said.