SpaceX/Starlink

All right. I’ll wait for a bit though. The site says that there could be intermittent outages which won’t work for me (working from home). The say they are to be operational by Summer.

How’s that old curse go? “May you be forced to log into a government remote desktop via a corporate VPN over HughesNet.” Something like that.

Just. Take. My. Money.

(Not an issue in and around DC, but I have some rural haunts as well.)

It’ll be interesting to see the public data on the reliability. SpaceX may simply be downplaying things–people do have very high standards for internet reliability. Or, maybe it does legitimately have frequent outages. A few minutes a week, say, isn’t going to be a huge impact on most home users, but people will complain if that’s not expected.

I’m sure the early adopters are more technically inclined than average and we’ll probably see some nice charts of speed/latency/uptime once they get it set up.

In any case, whatever problems they have now should be solved in less than a year. They have >800 satellites up there now and will nearly hit 1000 by the end of the year. They’re moving at a very rapid pace.

Gwynne Shotwell (president of SpaceX) recently spoke at a panel discussion and talked about Starlink (also, CNBC article here). There were a few goodies in the talk:

I don’t think we’re going to do tiered pricing to consumers. We’re going to try to keep it as simple as possible and transparent as possible, so right now there are no plans to tier for consumers

Makes sense to me. For now, the ground terminals are pretty expensive and SpaceX is subsidizing them. It wouldn’t make sense to have, say, a $50 tier right now.

Shotwell said SpaceX has “made great progress on reducing the cost” of the Starlink user terminal, which originally were about $3,000 each. She said the terminals now cost less than $1,500, and SpaceX “just rolled out a new version that saved about $200 off the cost.” … While SpaceX is not charging customers for the full price of the terminals so far, Shotwell said the company expects the cost to come down to “the few hundred dollar range within the next year or two.”

$3000 down to $1500 is a pretty good reduction, but obviously still costly. Given that the consumer currently pays $500, there’s a 10-month payback time at the moment.

The terminals are fairly remarkable–they’re a single, giant (~18") circuit board, with hundreds of chips on it. They’ll have their work cut out for them to lower the costs to a few hundred. I’d say it largely depends on them further integrating and cost-lowering the semiconductors. Circuit boards and the rest of the terminal looks to be pretty cheap, but they need either fewer components or cheaper components if they’re even going to break $1000.

Musk’s company plans to expand Starlink beyond homes, asking the Federal Communications Commission to widen its connectivity authorization to “moving vehicles,” so the service could be used with everything from aircraft to ships to large trucks.

People have definitely been waiting for this. In particular, RVers will love a mobile service.

I’m thinking of moving to a rural area that has very crappy internet at the moment. There are a couple of options, but the main one (Shaw) will only give you 5Mb/s download speed, and that is a joke - the actual speed ranges between 0.4 - 1 Mb/s at the most. And drops completely on a regular basis.

A few folks there have been trying out starlink with some good success. Great speeds, and only a few times when satellites drop; still not good for longer zoom calls, but more satellites should fix this.

So, too, will the growing community of globe trotting livestreamers.

Normally satellite links for TV are the preserve of large news organisations that can afford electronic news gathering equipment for their intrepid foreign correspondents. I wonder if this will be good enough to replace all that?

There are likely to be an awful lot of ‘use cases’ that will emerge that were completely unexpected.

The rise of social media as a result of the development of smart phones took the telecoms world by surprise. I can see this revolutionising communications in countries where the telecoms infrastructure barely exists. That is a huge, untapped market and it maybe out of the reach of governments to control.

For the individual RV owner in the US dealing with unreliable 4G services…to whole towns or villages in remote parts of the world being able to use it as a shared backhaul to the rest of the world for their $5 phones? There are a couple of billion people who remain unconnected to the world whose lives would be changed by sharing a small part of one link.

It is infrastructure. Making it work at scale is the challenge at the moment. A lot of companies have tried and failed.

How it will be used and the opportunities that emerge that ride on the back of it, that is quite another subject.