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Starlink satellite : Everything we know in 2020

Starlink satellite : Everything we know in 2020

In early 2015 SpaceX announced a revolutionary way to provide internet services directly via satellite known as Starlink satellite. The idea was to provide internet connectivity directly from the satellite with no need of cable infrastructure, means the service will be accessible even at the most remote location. This internet service will be fast and affordable.

At the moment more than 60% of homes in USA have access to internet via a wired connection and it is the only available choice. Percentage increases to 87% if you move to rural regions of the country. From this statistic it can be discerned that the internet connection is highly dependent on the available infrastructure in the region, which is almost nonexistent in rural and remote locations.

Starlink aims to cover all 7 continents and provide its internet services even at the most remote location on earth. So, in near future expect to see SpaceX’s Starlink as one of the ISP in your city. It has already started its beta testing and US residents can sign-up on the website of SpaceX.

Who can sign-up for the beta testing of Starlink?

Anybody who is US resident can sign-up for the beta testing. To sign-up you just need to enter your e-mail id and address where you are residing on the official website. But, there is a catch to it, you have to select address from the dropdown option and if your address is not their then you cannot participate in the program. 

You can sign up for Starlink Beta here: https://www.starlink.com

Working of Starlink

Starlink satellites are geostationary satellites which orbit closer to earth as compared to conventional satellites which operate 1000s of kilometer away from earth. Being closer to earth surface, the latency of the connection is less and moreover the satellites use lasers to increase internet speeds.

Starlink satellites transmits internet signal directly to user terminal on the ground. The transmission is done by antennas on the satellite and each satellite has 4 high power phased array antennas. These antennas have high throughput and low redirection time; thus, it can provide fast internet connection with low latency at a cheap cost.

Simply putting it, a person on earth will have direct access to internet services via satellite and the only setup required is a simple dish like receiver. No need of laying cables and fiber optics. 

What speed to expect from Starlink?

Initial test was conducted by Starlink in partnership with US Air Force which was called as Global Lightning. During this beta test, they were able to achieve the speed of 610Mbps.

The Global Lightning was started in 2018 and test was conducted using two Starlink satellites. During the test these two satellites were used to send information to terminals inside C-12 transport plane which was in flight at that time.

Recently a presentation which was sent to FCC by SpaceX also included some other details which were spotted by Reddit users. Details spotted included two benchmark tests which showed Starlink achieved a download speed of 103 Mbps and upload speed of 42 Mbps and, latency of 19 ms. These tests were conducted using Ookla’s Speedtest.net service.

Starlink satellite speed

As per SpaceX’s director of satellite policy, David Goldman, the initial beta tests for Starlink has consistently got latency below 30 ms. It may seem a lot but the average latency for fixed line in US is 25 ms and, for mobile networks the latency is around 48 ms.  In terms of latency Starlink is already on par with fixed broadband connections.

SpaceX had claimed to provide internet speed of 100 Mbps and latency around 20 ms. With these recent benchmarks where it can be clearly seen it to be achieving its claimed speeds, we can expect to see the same results when it is available. 

Number of Starlink satellites in Orbit

At the time these benchmarks took place, there were only 500 Starlink satellites in the Orbit. This was during June 30 and the benchmarks were recorded in Seattle, Washington. 

As of now company has over 700 Starlink satellites orbiting our planet and I am also affirmative that the speeds have improved. Elon Musk had said that it needs only 400 satellites in orbit to provide “minor” internet service coverage so, taking that into consideration we can expect SpaceX to start its services for people by the end of 2020.

As per the presentation, SpaceX is manufacturing around 120 Starlink satellites every month. SpaceX aims to launch over 42,000 Starlink satellites and provide worldwide coverage. 

On ground, SpaceX has setup six Starlink ground stations which will act as receiver and provide internet service from the satellite. These six stations are located in:

  • North Bend, Washington
  • Redmond, Washington
  • Merrillan, Wisconsin
  • Greenville, Pennsylvania
  • Conrad, Montana
  • Hawthorne, California 

SpaceX’s original plan was to setup one million ground stations and had filed request for the same with FCC. But after looking at more than 700,000 applicants signed up to the beta test, company changed its request and asked FCC for the permission to build five million ground stations. New locations where ground stations will be built are:

  • Panaca, Nevada
  • Beekmantown, New York
  • Kalama, Washington
  • Evanston, Wyoming
  • Limestone, Maine

Equipment used to get internet via Starlink

It is clear that Starlink will provide its internet services via satellites so, one of the equipment is the satellite itself. Each satellite weighs around 260 kg and has a compact dense design, giving it shape of a thick slab. SpaceX is using Falcon 9 rocket to launch these satellites and it can carry 60 satellites at a time.

Starlink Satellite terminal
Starlink Satellite terminal or a “UFO on a stick”

Another necessary equipment is ground terminal which will communicate with the satellite. As per Elon Musk the Starlink terminal is a small, thin and flat dish which he called it as a “UFO on a stick”. As per Musk Starlink terminal can adjust its angle to optimal position without any intervention as it has motors inside it. He also gave instructions to install terminal, which is just 2 step process: Plug terminal into socket and point it at sky. 

Starlink terminal can be placed anywhere as long as it has the wide view of the sky.

What should Beta testers expect?

As per site’s page, to participate in “Starlink Beta” there is a fee of $1 a month. There is also an initial charge of $3 which will be followed by $2 monthly charge. According to the website, these charges are not for any Starlink services or hardware rather, these charges are used for testing the ordering and billing systems. 

SpaceX has said that it is loaning the hardware and internet service is free of charge. It will charge $1 after 30 days of shipping the hardware.

Also, SpaceX has mentioned that Starlink Beta will be imperfect and the purpose of beta test is to receive feedback and improve the services. During the testing program it is expected from tester to dedicate at least 30 minutes a day testing the Starlink services and need to provide feedback on regular basis which will include surveys, emails, and even calls with SpaceX employees.

One thing to remember is that under Starlink Beta program you are not allowed to disclose nor discuss to anyone outside your household about your participation in the program. While participating every tester has to sign non-disclosure agreement. SpaceX has clearly stated that Starlink services and any details related to it like internet speeds, uptime, coverage and, other specifications are confidential and proprietary to it. 

When to expect Starlink internet services?

It is yet to know when will Starlink internet services will be available for us but, we hope it will be in this year. SpaceX’s president had said that Starlink satellite internet services will be available to Americans in mid-2020 but, we are already past mid of this year without the launch.

There are sufficient Starlink satellites in the orbit but along with it, SpaceX has to get approval from US’s FCC which it has already received but, it also needs approval from United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

As of today, there are over 700 satellites in the orbit and the beta testing has also begun. This is a strong indication that the services will be soon available. 

Cost of Starlink satellite internet services

Back in 2015 during one of Elon Musk’s speech, he mentioned the price of Starlink terminal to be in the range of $100-$300, and SpaceX president Shotwell during a CNN interview commented “Is anybody paying less than 80 bucks a month for crappy service? Nope. That’s why we’re gonna be successful.” From which it can be inferred that the cost of actual service will be around $80.

It is yet to know what the actual costs will be but, we should expect it to be around $80.

Coverage of Starlink

For the initial phase, services of Starlink satellite will be available in US and Canada which will also cover rural regions of these countries. After a strong footing in these two countries, the company aims to expand its services to other parts of the world.

Starlink satellite can be a real game changer in internet connectivity, what do you think? Share your views in the comment section.

2 Comments

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