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Who is Starlink really for?

But it’s not entirely clear whether America’s rural Starlink customers are viable. The biggest issue is cost. Starlink subscription is $ 99. Speeds can vary greatly, but the average user can expect between 50 and 150 megabits per second. You should pay for traditional satellite internet companies Like Viasat (which uses geostable satellites) this number is doubled to achieve the same speeds. Not bad.

However, this is the first expense that will hit you the hardest with Starlink. Costs like a satellite dish and router cost a whopping $ 499 and this equipment is sold to customers without loss. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has previously said he expects these costs to be $ 250, but it’s unclear when or when that could happen. In much of the rural world, in America and elsewhere, the price is too high.

So who will be the first Starlink users? The physical and financial demand to build satellites and launch them into orbit (although a cheaper than ever, very expensive business) means Starlink will be at a loss for a while, says Derek Turner, a technology policy analyst at Free Press. a nonprofit that advocates open communication. And lowering costs means looking beyond customers who have no connection in a rural area.

Instead, first-time customers are likely to join the U.S. military, as they rely on geostable satellites that are prone to cumulative services and high latency when operating in remote areas. Both Air Force and Navythey are interested in testing Starlink. Some intelligence experts have pointed to a serious problem coming out of Afghanistan as an example where the service could help.

Airlines that want to provide passengers with faster and more stable flight Wi-Fi Starlink is also being explored. Other commercial businesses in rural areas may also have value there. And of course, there are technical and curious customers in the suburbs and cities who have the money to try it out.

In Turner’s opinion, adding these customers can lower prices for everyone, but it also means lower bandwidth. Starlink can compensate for this problem by launching more satellites – it plans to do so eventually, but that assumes it has enough subscribers.

Musk said he will need tens of billions of dollars of capital before Starlink has enough capacity to generate positive cash flow. So far it has launched 1,600 satellites without any problems, but the target of 42,000 is completely different. “It’s not as well scaled as broadband cable,” Turner says. It’s still unclear how many satellites Starlink will need for reliable high-speed internet to sign up for hundreds of thousands or millions of subscribers at a time.

And for many customers, especially commercial businesses, there are cheaper alternatives to Starlink that still meet their needs. A farmer who uses smart sensors to monitor local weather and soil conditions does not need broadband internet to connect these devices. This includes smaller companies like the US Swarm: it uses a fleet of more than 120 small satellites to help connect IoT devices for such use cases. Swarm (recently acquired by SpaceX) offers a data plan for less than $ 5 a month. Of course, if you’re in a crowded area, spending $ 99 a month with another ISP will get you up to 1,000 mbps.

A step backwards

On the cover, the FCC’s RDOF award to Starlink would suggest that rural America is a key part of how the Starlink will grow. Turner says that’s a misconception, and that SpaceX shouldn’t be allowed to abandon RDOF offerings as soon as possible, as it will build the Starlink network anyway. “I think it would be better for the FCC to focus its resources on bringing future broadband evidence to economically expandable areas that don’t make sense,” he says.

Acting FCC President Jessica Rosenworcel looked at how RDOF grants were given at the behest of her predecessor Ajit Pai at the end of last year and found that they were distributed to billions of companies to take them to unnecessary or inadequate broadband internet, such as “parking lots and well-equipped urban areas.” A Free Press report estimates that about $ 111 million provided by SpaceX itself would go to cities or highways that don’t require real infrastructure or an Internet connection. The FCC is asking these companies, including Starlink, to return a portion of the money. (SpaceX does not respond to questions or comments.)

Turner acknowledged that LEO satellites “will be a very important innovation in the telecommunications space.” But he still believes that services like Starlink will be a niche product in the U.S., as well as in the long run, and sees a general trend toward fiber. A new technology like 5G is also based on very dense antenna networks so that it can be connected to fibers as quickly as possible. Broadband cable has been steadily improving over time as companies push fiber networks deeper and closer to their customers.

Underdevelopments around the world may find Starlink beneficial, as many of these sites do not have physical networks like the cable system established by the U.S. in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. But so far beta testing is exclusive to the US, Canada, parts of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Chile. It’s too early to know what kind of impact it could have on the development world, especially if subscription and equipment costs are high.

Woodward would like the company to repeat the experience for all customers. Woodward knows that he is lucky to be able to pay Starlink and be able to meet his needs. At least for now. “It’s going to be interesting to see how Starlink keeps up when it reaches 200,000 users,” he says. “Prices will have to go down, but speeds and services will have to stay the same. That’s all there is to it. “

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