Global Satellite Internet Coverage Expected By the Fall From SpaceX

Global Satellite Internet Coverage Expected By the Fall From SpaceX
Image by SpaceX from Pexels

Starlink satellite Internet is expected to be available worldwide by September 2021. SpaceX still requires some approval from various regulatory bodies but already has more than 100,000 active customers.

Macquarie Technology Summit

Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, spoke at the Macquarie Technology Summit in June. She spoke of the September target, the expectation to clear all regulatory hurdles and the sizable user base that was already in place. Shotwell informed the audience that more than 1,800 satellites had already been successfully deployed and that the September time frame was when all of them would reach their operational orbits. These numbers exceed the earlier April estimate by more than 11 percent.

Additional FCC Approval

The earlier estimate had been announced in the same month that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission gave approval to SpaceX to position satellites at a lower orbit than initially planned. This request had been met by some opposition, including from some notable entities, such as Amazon. The FCC established a committee to evaluate the concerns and gave approval after that study concluded. Approval did come with some caveats, including increased reporting requirements for SpaceX.

FCC Grants SpaceX $885 Million

In December 2020, the FCC had granted SpaceX $885 million in order to help provide more broadband Internet coverage sooner in at least 35 states. This money was awarded in order to close the availability gap that still exists in many rural areas in America. This gap became a much more pressing issue amidst pandemic lockdowns as more rural Americans than ever had to work from home and attend school via video conferencing. Other factors included concerns from economists that Internet access in rural areas will be integral to the U.S. economy for at least the next five decades and perhaps longer.

The Service That Starlink Will Provide

The most important hurdle Starlink will clear will be providing internet access to rural areas in America but also throughout the world. Many of these areas currently lack even cellular access. While cable, DSL, fixed-wireless internet, and fiber-optic internet providers continue to push into these rural areas—and have received grant money as well—Starlink can get that service to residents sooner and with less logistical hurdles.

As for how compelling Starlink will be to people who have access to other Internet service providers, that remains to be seen, but the early reviews from beta testers have been quite promising. For $99 a month, customers currently get 50 to 150 megabits per second download, which is above the FCC standard for broadband and quite good if you are fortunate enough to get 100 or more. What is perhaps more notable is that latency is 20 to 40 milliseconds, which is previously unheard of for satellite-based Internet for home use.

What the Future Holds

The person who has access to fiber-optic or cable-based Internet probably will not jump at the chance to pay Starlink the $99 a month just yet. Nevertheless, it is incredibly impressive that Starlink will go live with an Internet service that is good enough for online gaming and other activities that require a reasonably low latency. SpaceX is also bullish that it can improve the service even more over time. It is now not so outlandish to imagine a future in which burying cable and stringing fiber-optic lines is no longer a practical alternative to satellite.