SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, has been granted permission to launch thousands of its second-generation Starlink satellites into orbit. Elon Musk’s satellite internet service, Starlink, already covers the vast majority of the world. The service is especially useful in areas where installing infrastructure for modern high-speed cable internet is prohibitively expensive or impractical. Anyone with the hardware and a monthly subscription can access hyper-fast, broadband-like speeds via Starlink.
Starlink is currently available in several configurations. At its most basic, a dish attached to the subscriber’s property picks up an internet signal up. In some high-demand areas, getting basic Starlink is difficult because too many users accessing the same satellites can severely slow the service. As a result, waiting lists are in place in some areas until coverage improves. Customers can get ahead of the queues by purchasing Starlink RV, a slightly more expensive service that can be used while on the go. Users who choose Starlink RV will, however, experience speed bottlenecks in areas with active waiting lists.
Finally, if you have the means, Starlink can install internet on your yacht or private jet. The costs are exorbitant, with the hardware alone costing $150,000, not including installation, and the service itself costing up to $25,000 per month. Following Russia’s invasion in early 2022, the service has also proven invaluable to Ukrainian forces, with Russia focusing on destroying Ukrainian infrastructure and disrupting the country’s communications. Starlink has proven to be extremely difficult to disable: the service does not require long, vulnerable cables, and the only way to stop it is through direct jamming, which has proven nearly impossible.
Finally, if you have the financial means, you can have Starlink internet installed on your computer. If you live in a country or region without reliable broadband, or if you’re a frequent traveler who needs to stay connected, Starlink is an absolute lifesaver. However, the system is far from perfect and currently has some major flaws. For starters, it isn’t as dependable or as fast as cable internet. Starlink’s premium package costs $500 per month and has a bandwidth limit of 500 Mbps. Its basic package is significantly less expensive, but it only offers a maximum speed of 250 Mbps. This is much faster than dial-up but still slower than the gigabit+ speeds offered by some cable services.
Densely populated areas, such as cities, present additional challenges because many people compete for the limited bandwidth available. Every user must share access to the satellites covering their specific area, so if an area has a high number of Starlink subscriptions, speeds will suffer. Obstructions can also cause major issues and significantly slow down service. If trees block your Starlink dish or the sky is heavily clouded, your signal may suffer.
Finally, there is total coverage. Starlink has excellent global coverage, with most countries receiving some level of service. It excluded most countries that are not currently covered for political rather than technical reasons. You should be able to get Starlink if you don’t live in Russia, China, or Iran. Certain areas, including several parts of the United States, do not have enough coverage to go around, which is why Starlink has waiting lists in place.
The Federal Communications Commission recently granted SpaceX permission to launch up to 7,500 satellites into low-Earth orbit. This is 4,000 more satellites than the company currently has in its network, and it is an important step toward the 29,988 satellites it has requested permission to launch as part of its plans for a “second generation” satellite network. Prior to this expansion, it granted the internet company permission to launch nearly 4,500 satellites as part of its first-generation network.
The FCC stated during its approval:
“Our action will enable SpaceX to deploy Gen2 Starlink, which will bring next-generation satellite broadband to Americans across the country, including those living and working in areas that have traditionally been unserved or underserved by terrestrial systems. Our action will also enable global satellite broadband service, assisting in the global closing of the digital divide. “
Despite the positive step, SpaceX did not receive everything it requested. A portion of the application did not pass and was instead deferred by the regulator. According to the approval notice:
“… This limited grant and associated conditions will protect other satellite and terrestrial operators from harmful interference while also promoting competition and protecting spectrum and orbital resources for future use.”
Despite not receiving everything they asked for, the approval is important for SpaceX and Starlink. With an increased number of satellites and a step toward Starlink Gen 2, coverage can be faster, wider, and more reliable. In addition, the company must address other regulatory issues. Despite this regulatory step forward, other companies and government officials are concerned about Starlink’s impact. I have proposed legislation to ease these concerns, but this could be bad news for Starlink.