Starlink Aiming For Global Coverage By September

Gwynne Shotwel, SpaceX’s president and COO was recently quoted by Reuters:

We’ve successfully deployed 1,800 or so satellites and once all those satellites reach their operational orbit, we will have continuous global coverage, so that should be like September timeframe.”

Shotwel’s comments were made during a conversation with Macquarie Group, an investment banking company.

While Starlink may have global coverage before the end of 2021, I expect it will take longer for Starlink to offer service in the majority of countries. The company has plenty of logistical and regulatory hurdles to deal with.

Earth and space

Upcoming Starlink Update

Yesterday, Starlink shared an update email with subscribers in the company’s beta program. The email mentioned several recent improvements to Starlink’s product. An upcoming, major update was also mentioned:

Today, your Starlink speaks to a single satellite assigned to your terminal for a particular period of time. In the future, if communication with your assigned satellite is interrupted for any reason, your Starlink will seamlessly switch to a different satellite, resulting in far fewer network disruptions.

It sounds like the new feature may be rolled out gradually with most users getting the update sometime this month:

This feature will be available to most beta users in April and is expected to deliver one of our most notable reliability improvements to date.
Stary Sky

Starlink First Impressions

I joined Starlink’s beta and recently got the service up and running. While I’ll write a detailed review eventually, I thought I’d share my first impressions now.

Like others in the beta, I paid about $500 for my satellite dish (Dishy as Starlink calls it) and router. Taxes and shipping added about $100 more.

The Dishy, a basic mount, a router, and cords all showed up in one giant box:

Starlink starter kit box

Setup was incredibly easy. Here’s how simple Starlink’s instructions were:

Starlink setup instructions

Most of the cords were already plugged-in where they belonged. Within about 15 minutes of opening the box, I connected a computer over Wi-Fi and ran a test finding a download speed of about 35Mbps. I ran about a dozen tests in total, and I think that first test found the lowest speed of them all. Here are the results from the first test I ran over a wired connection:

Test result showing 30ms ping and 78.5 Mbps download speed

Starlink suggested I should expect download speeds between 50Mbps and 150Mbps during the beta. Nearly all of my tests showed speeds in that range, but typically in the lower end of the range (50-100Mbps).

While people often focus on speeds, I think speed is an overrated performance metric. Once a connection exceeds something like 20Mbps, further speed increases have vastly diminishing returns.1

Latency is where Starlink shines. My tests consistently showed latency below 50ms. That’s roughly on-par with the typical latency for cable or DSL connections. It’s also about an order of magnitude lower than the usual latency for satellite internet.

I continue to be excited to see where things go with Starlink. I’ll share more as I continue to trial the service.

Miscellaneous notes

  • After setting up my service, I decided to grab the Starlink app in case I missed anything important. The app worked fine, but I didn’t learn anything new from it.
  • Starlink’s communication style is refreshingly informal. It’s the opposite of the corporate-bullshit speak that’s typical from ISPs. E.g., the Starlink beta was named “The Better Than Nothing Beta.” I’d love to see Starlink keep up the current vibe as the service matures.
  • The router has one available Ethernet port (separate from the port used to connect to Dishy).
  • The router’s design is unique (Cybertruck-esque).
Speed abstract

Will Starlink Double Speeds This Year?

When I got invited to Starlink’s beta, the company included this message in my invitation email:

During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

Yesterday, a Starlink user tweeted a screenshot showing a download speed of 130Mbps and a latency of 44ms. Here’s the reply Elon Musk left:

It’s an audacious goal. While some tests with Starlink have already shown sub-20ms latency, that kind of performance is far from typical. Getting speeds to 300Mbps this year would be a real accomplishment.

In the last several months, Musk has made a handful of bold predictions. He has claimed humans will probably land on Mars in the next 6 years and that Tesla will be capable of Level 5 autonomous driving by the end of 2021. While I don’t think either of those predictions will come to fruition, I find Musk’s speculation about Starlink’s performance more plausible. I think there’s about a 50% chance the prediction will look basically correct a year from now.

Starlink Expansion

Several bits of news about SpaceX’s Starlink came out yesterday.

#1 Pre-orders are open

Starlink started accepting pre-orders in a whole bunch of countries. If you’re living in an eligible area, you can enter your address on Starlink’s website and get a rough estimate for when Starlink service will be available to you. A pre-order can be placed by putting down about $100

#2 More beta invites

It looks like Starlink may have sent out a record number of invitations to the beta program yesterday. And I got one!

I paid about $500 for the satellite dish and router plus about $100 more for shipping and taxes. Starlink is suggesting shipping may take 2-4 weeks right now since the company is dealing with a heavy volume of orders.

In an email I received, Starlink doubled down on some performance claims (emphasis mine):

During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. For latency, we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021.

I’m excited to get started testing Starlink, and I’ll try to share details about my experience as soon as possible.

#3 Starlink tweets

SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, recently shared a few noteworthy tweets about Starlink. One vague tweet touched on a potential Starlink IPO:

Another tweet included some sober details about the difficulties of running a satellite internet business:

Finally, I thought this exchange was great:

More On Starlink Terminal Costs

A Business Insider article (paywalled) came out a few hours ago and suggested SpaceX is paying STMicroelectronics about 2.4 billion dollars to manufacture a million Starlink terminals. Business Insider kept the identity of its source confidential, but the source is described as someone “known to Business Insider.”

The source is quoted saying:

The production agreement specifies 1 million terminals at a price of roughly $2,400 each.

$2,400 is a significantly higher price tag than I would have expected for a terminal, but I’m not sure how seriously to take the new information. While I think it’s true that STMicroelectronics is manufacturing Starlink terminals, the full details of SpaceX’s arrangement weren’t communicated in the Business Insider piece. I wouldn’t be surprised if millionth terminal’s marginal cost ends up well under $2,400.

Satellite Dish

Starlink’s Terminal Costs

Starlink beta testers can purchase a user terminal and a router for about $500. Starlink probably sells these terminals at a significant loss. In a tweet shared earlier this month, Elon Musk wrote:

Lowering Starlink terminal cost, which may sound rather pedestrian, is actually our most difficult technical challenge.

In a recent earnings call, Pradman Kaul, CEO and President of Hughes Network Systems, gave some perspective on the cost of Starlink’s terminal in comparison to conventional terminals for satellite internet:

The big advantage we would have over Starlink is the economics…Our antenna in Jupiter [Hughes’ terminal], it costs $40 to $50. I think most people would agree that, today, the phased array antenna [what Starlink uses] costs are around $1,400, $1,500. So the economics just going to not be a big advantage for them. In fact, it’s going to make our offerings much more attractive.

When Will Starlink Be Available In More States?

February 12, 2021 Update: Starlink has expanded availability substantially since this page was first published. You can check availability at your location on Starlink’s website.

Users on a Reddit thread are logging information about the locations of Starlink beta testers. At the moment, it looks like Starlink has sent invites to people in latitudes between 45.3°N and 48.4°N. Some invites have been sent in at least seven states:

  • Idaho
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Tweet updates

Today, Elon Musk suggested more invites are about to go out:

Follow-up comments shed a bit of light on Starlink’s expansion plans:

While a comment on Twitter falls short of a formal statement, Musk’s comment provides the most recent information I’ve seen about Starlink’s timelines. We might only be a few months away from Starlink offering service in a lot more places.

Starlink’s Terms Of Service & Mars

The terms of service for Starlink’s beta program were recently shared on Reddit. Here’s the contents of the terms found below the heading “Governing Law” (emphasis mine):

For Services provided to, on, or in orbit around the planet Earth or the Moon, these Terms and any disputes between us arising out of or related to these Terms, including disputes regarding arbitrability (“Disputes”) will be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of California in the United States. For Services provided on Mars, or in transit to Mars via Starship or other colonization spacecraft, the parties recognize Mars as a free planet and that no Earth-based government has authority or sovereignty over Martian activities. Accordingly, Disputes will be settled through self-governing principles, established in good faith, at the time of Martian settlement.

I have my doubts about enforceability, but it’s entertaining regardless.

Starlink’s Better Than Nothing Beta

SpaceX’s Starlink is launching a public beta. Yesterday, a Reddit user shared the contents of an invite email. In the email’s opening, Starlink takes a self-deprecating tone:1

We are trying to lower your initial expectations 😛

Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

It’s refreshing to see an internet service provider (ISP) taking such a candid approach. Emojis, transparency, and Starlink’s name for the service, the “Better Than Nothing Beta,” all contract starkly with the usual corporate-marketing-speak from conventional ISPs. Even with an initial speed of 50Mbps and latency of 40ms, Starlink could be a big improvement for people living in areas that aren’t served by modern, wired ISPs.

Improvements

The email invitation suggested Starlink’s performance will improve substantially over time:

As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations, and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically. For latency, we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021.

Starlink beta pricing

Subscribers joining the Better Than Nothing Beta will have to pay about $100 a month for service and a roughly $500 one-time fee for a user terminal and a router.

I don’t know if the $500 price tag is a good proxy for how much it costs Starlink to produce a terminal. Starlink may be partially subsidizing terminals to keep the service attractive.