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SpaceX’s starlink has skyrocketed, but course correction could be lurking

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The service – that advertises download speeds from 50 to 200 Mbps and uploads from 10 to 20 Mbps, and praises the absence of data limits – nearly 500,000 users worldwide in June, according to a presentation CEO Musk shared on Twitter. Among the more inspiring users: Ukrainians defending their country from Russian invaders and rural Americans who otherwise would not have broadband.

“It’s really life-changing for people like my family,” e-mails Christina Deese, a work-from-home office manager in Cuseta, Georgia, who previously stumbled with slower broadband from a geostationary satellite who had stricter data limits. “I can now video conference with my team, my supervisors, and participate in outside company functions, which I previously had to pass.”

But Starlink also seems to be struggling with demand since it left its public beta test. Users have waited months for the receiver’s hardware to be delivered and have reported performance delays. Meanwhile, Starlink has increased the prices – in March increasing the monthly rate from $99 to $110 and increasing hardware costs from $499 to $599 – also moved to diversify his business by building a more lucrative customer base.

But while customers like airlines and cruise lines can do more to cover capital costs in the billions of dollars, they also complicate SpaceX’s math as it tries to balance demand with satellite capacity. Which could lead to even more nationwide potential customers waiting for a Starlink box.

For example, Deese made a $99 deposit for Starlink in June 2021, but didn’t get a Starlink kit shipped until February.

Jack Mangold, a retiree in Collettsville, North Carolina, waited even longer after placing an order in February 2021 that shipped last April. He says the service is reliable, but not particularly fast, and writes in an email that he only gets 25 to 50 Mbps downloads.

“It can go either way if I test several times a day,” said Mangold.

However, that’s still a big improvement over its previous connectivity: a obsolete digital subscriber service from AT&T.

In June, the Speedtest app from the network measurement company Ookla . published showed that Starlink’s median US downloads reached 90.55 Mbps in the first quarter of 2022 – a big increase from a year ago when Starlink downloads were 65.72 Mbps, but down from the previous quarter 104.97Mbps. (SpaceX did not return a request for comment by email.)

Ookla also found that Starlink offered faster downloads in every other country tested, with a maximum of 160.08 Mbps in Lithuania. The most likely explanation: US demand exceeds demand in other countries. “It’s that constant race between capacity and consumption,” said analyst Roger Entner, founder of Recon Analytics.

Consistency in any location can also be an issue: the Starlink connection has to be transferred from one satellite to another, and nearby obstacles can block the signals. For example, Deese says that foliage from trees can sometimes interrupt the connection for a few seconds.

Peggy Schaffer, Executive Director of the ConnectMaine Authoritysays Starlink users in its state often need a backup connection, such as a smartphone’s mobile hotspot feature.

Schaffer adds that some rural Mainers have reported an additional complication: “The equipment uses more power than most off-the-grid solar-powered homes can handle.”

With all of these hurdles to adoption in mind—and with last year’s infrastructure bill that provided some $42 billion in federal funds to build out wired broadband—industry analysts don’t expect Starlink to do more than fill gaps in coverage. For example, the market research firm GlobalData predicts that satellite broadband in low Earth orbit will be no more than 1% of the US housing market until 2027with fiber broadband taking the largest bite out of cable’s market share.

But while Starlink’s most avid early adopters couldn’t appreciate that prediction, Musk himself couldn’t. He has remained unusually conservative about Starlink’s potential reach, saying in June 2021 that it is “really intended for sparsely populated regions”.

Starlink’s recent move to start selling recreational vehicle services at much higher prices – and without waiting for hardware delivery – threatens to embitter the customers who need Starlink most.

“They threw a wrench into their entire effort,” Entner noted, adding that this option is open to queuing by people placing orders for Starlink RV service who don’t own RVs.

In a June filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Urges the agency to reject Starlink’s offer to provide services to moving vehicles, ships and aircraft, Harold Felt, senior vice president of the consumer protection group Public knowledgecomplained that “SpaceX has decided to give customers in rural America a backseat to gamers on mountaintops and luxury motorhomes.”

The FCC granted Starlink’s request for cellular service anyway, leading to the company’s announcement of $5,000 a month maritime service for large boats. It’s also registered Hawaiian Airlines and the small regional jet carrier JSX to start using Starlink for in-flight Wi-Fi, which every airline says is free to use.

To build out its constellation, it seems clear that SpaceX will need multiple revenue streams to cover costs that, according to Musk’s own prediction, could reach $30 billion. The current one from SpaceX FCC authorization enables first-generation deployment of 4,408 satellitesonly one august 2021 FCC Declaration provides a second generation system of 29,988 satellites.

That number of satellites raises concerns about orbital congestion and interference with Earth-based astronomy, but it also requires a bigger rocket: the yet-to-fly SpaceX rocket. spaceship. That two-stage, fully reusable transport could deploy many more Starlinks per launch than the 60 the Falcon 9 can deliver today.

“Falcon 9 isn’t going to do it,” said Marco Cáceres, an analyst at the teal group.

SpaceX also needs Starship to elevate its version 2.0 Starlink satellites (larger, heavier and more powerful successors to the current model).

“We need Starship to work and fly often or Starlink 2 will get stuck on the ground,” Musk told Everyday Astronaut host Tim Dodd in a YouTube interview in May in which he called those next-gen satellites “much more capable.”

Unlike those other providers, SpaceX builds its own rockets. And the boss has a motivation beyond money to make them work.

“Ultimately, his goal is to get Starlink up, but the bigger goal is to colonize Mars,” says Cáceres. “And for that he needs Starship.”


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