What You Need To Know About the Satellite Internet Space Race


Satellite internet has traditionally not been very good. Starlink is about to change that, and there are other providers on the horizon as well. Here is what you should know about this new space race.

The Modern Space Race

Elon Musk wants to populate Mars, and the discussion about SpaceX and its projects have often centered on that mission. But building a city on Mars is a long way off. Musk wants to land on the planet by 2026, but even then, a city would not be self-sustaining until 2050 based on his current projections. Starlink is the more realistic short-term goal. It involves launching a constellation of low-orbit satellites that circulate the Earth and provide broadband internet access. Starlink went into beta in 2021 and will be publicly available—at least in the U.S.—in 2022. There is big money to be made here, and SpaceX will soon face competition from Amazon, Northrop Grumman and other companies.

Providing Internet Access to the World

Almost 19 million Americans lack access to the internet. That number goes up even higher if you expand the lack of access to broadband internet, and if you include the entire world, the number goes up to a staggering 4 billion. Running cable to all of these rural areas is just not practical. It may happen it time, but it will be decades at best. Satellite provides the means to offer those rural areas access right now.

Satellite vs. Cable Internet

Satellite internet has a bad rap in the U.S., and the reason for this is that the companies offering it have traditionally used a small number of geostationary satellites. That results in high latencies. Bandwidth and speeds are often limited, and these companies have had to enforce data caps. While these services have improved over the years, they have simply not provided as good an experience as cable.

Modern Satellite Internet

Using orbiting satellites and a constellation that will number in the thousands alleviates the latency issues. Starlink is already providing latency that is comparable to cable. The 100 Mbps download speed is not as good as cable, but it does meet the needs of the average American family. Furthermore, Musk promises that those speeds will continue to improve and will eventually rival fiber internet.

The Downsides to Satellite Internet

There are still some downsides to cable. The equipment fee is higher. Starlink currently requires you to pay $500 for the equipment. That is just a one-time fee, but if the equipment is ever damaged, you have to pay for the replacement. The other issue is weather. Bad weather can interfere with your access. On the plus side, you will not deal with long-term outages as can happen with cable.

The Path Ahead

When Elon Musk originally presented his goal to put Starlink into beta in late 2021, many industry insiders doubted the timeline. But SpaceX not only achieved it, Starlink exceeded expectations in terms of how good it is so soon Most Americans will have access by the end of 2022, and the service will roll out to the rest of the world over the next several years. That is about the time when the other companies begin offering their service as well, and it will be interesting to see how the competition changes the landscape.