During Elon Musk’s keynote speech at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, SpaceX CEO announced a major update to the rollout timeline of its Starlink low-orbit high-speed broadband internet service.
Today, June 29, Elon Musk spoke on the virtual stage of the Mobile World Congress 2021 conference. The CEO of Tesla and SpaceX spoke about his satellite startup Starlink. Musk’s high-speed broadband service has already sent about 1,800 satellites into space, and the CEO discussed global communications at MWC.
The Starlink network is designed to provide Internet access by deploying a large number of small vehicles weighing up to 500 kg in low-Earth orbit. In May 2019, its first 60 vehicles were launched into space. Earlier it was reported that SpaceX plans to provide wireless Internet worldwide using the Starlink satellite system by September. However, during the presentation, Musk announced different dates.
“In August, we need to have global connectivity everywhere except the poles of the Earth,” he said during a speech at MWC. It looks like the launch will take place at least a month earlier than experts expected.
Reduced Starlink Installation Cost
Starlink will perfectly fill the gap between 5G and fiber optic cable, Elon Musk said in his speech. He also stated that the network will have 500,000 users over the next 12 months.
The question remains, to what extent is the Starlink network accessible to individuals? The purchase of a Starlink cymbal will cost the user about $ 500. However, Musk noted that the monthly subscription will be “the same price worldwide,” excluding taxes. “Based on the exchange rate, that’s about $ 100 per month,” he said.
Elon Musk has stated that Starlink will reach global availability soon and is already accepting pre-orders for the service for $ 99 a month (you will also need to pay $ 499 for hardware, including a satellite dish, Wi-Fi router, power supply, cables, and wiring). Starlink already has over 10,000 customers.
Musk also made it clear that SpaceX is working on next-generation terminals that can offer the same services at a lower cost. The fact is that, according to him, the company is losing money, since each terminal costs about US $ 1000. “We are working on the second generation of satellites that will be significantly cheaper, and our goal is to get a price tag of about US $ 300.” Starlink, which already has 1,500 low-orbit satellites, expects to attract 500,000 customers within one year. In general, the current network has a total capacity of 5 MW and a throughput of 30 Tbit/s.
The task is not to go bankrupt
According to Elon Musk, the total investment in Starlink will be between $ 5 billion and $ 10 billion before the project reaches positive cash flow. At the same time, over the entire existence of the project, the total volume of capital investments may amount to “$ 20-30 billion”, he added. “In other words, that’s a lot,” he said. In addition, the SpaceX chief expects Starlink’s customer base to reach half a million over the next year.
“Point to the sky and connect”
“Our clients very often live in remote regions. Sometimes they live in a hut in the mountains where there is not even electricity! ” To solve the problem, SpaceX designs the system so that it does not need a lot of maintenance and connects to the network in just five minutes. “Our users should be able to simply point the terminal to the sky and connect,” he said.
As an interesting point, Musk noted that Starlink satellites revolve around the Earth at a distance of about 500 km, while geosynchronous satellites are at a distance of about 1000 km.
Musk also talked about the potential for partnerships with mobile operators. “We have two very important partnerships – with telecommunications companies in large countries and we continue to negotiate,” Musk said. This is useful because some countries have different requirements. For example, to get a 5G license, you need to provide coverage in rural areas. So sometimes urban clients end up subsidizing rural users.”
SpaceX Starship launch pad to be ready in coming months
“With the Falcon 9, we have achieved the most efficient reusability for any rocket to date,” Musk said. Some rockets have to take off 20 or even 30 times. The Falcon 9’s oxygen to fuel ratio instead of helium is roughly 3.5: 1. Helium is expensive, so the cost of fuel for Starship will be comparable to that of the Falcon 9, but fully reusable, Musk explained.
The cost of reusing Starship will be just under $2 million. The starship will also receive an orbital refueling mainly with oxygen. It is “the first system to build a base on the moon and a city on Mars.”
“We look forward to making our first attempt at an orbital launch [for Starship] in the next few months,” Musk said. He also said the Starship Orbital Launch Pad will be ready in the next month or so.
Previous statements about Starlink’s fate
Last October, Starlink launched the Better Than Nothing Beta program in the US, providing Internet access at data rates up to 150 Mbps. Feedback from users of the service is mixed, some of them complain about a problem traditional for satellite Internet – dependence on weather conditions. It also turned out that Starlink ground equipment is sensitive to high temperatures. Due to the overheating of the satellite dish, one of the users even had to water it with water in order to cool the equipment to the required level and restore the system’s performance.
SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in April that the company has “a lot of work to do to make the network reliable.” But the questions are raised not only by the efficiency of the system, but also by its profitability. According to Musk, Starlink can serve less than 5% of all Internet users and generate $ 30 billion in revenue per year. Critics of the project called it wishful thinking.
“Is there a demand for this from tens of millions of subscribers at this price?” Asks analyst Tim Farrar, president of TMF Associates. “In most parts of the world, if you told someone that your broadband service would cost $100, they would find it incredible.” Farrar believes that in isolated areas there may be rich people willing to pay such amounts for Internet access, “but there are not so many such people.”
The analyst also noted in an interview with Reuters that Starlink will have to fight for enough capacity to maintain the proper level of service, especially when users consume more and more data for streaming video. And this may be associated with significant additional costs for upgrading the system and adding new satellites.
The future of Ilona Mask’s companies
It would not be an exaggeration to say that Elon Musk’s companies are changing the face of modern society. From Tesla’s all-electric vehicles (the most recently refurbished Model S Plaid1), which surpasses the automakers’ traditional electric supercars, to unprecedented flights on SpaceX’s Starship prototypes and the rapidly expanding Starlink network, its technology empire is growing.
Ultimately, his companies are changing the infrastructure and the way we travel. They have already made private space travel and reusable rockets a reality. And, of course, there is Neuralink, which seeks to integrate the human brain with the computer.
That said, with legal disputes in the U.S. and abroad, and in a world plagued by industrial and social hardships following the COVID-19 crisis, this is likely to be a tough journey.