In a major development, Elon Musk’s ambitious high-speed internet program ‘Starlink’ has begun taking pre-orders in India. The futuristic satellite internet service is expected to launch in the country by 2022.
According to the official website of Starlink, the pre-booking service is available to Indian users at a refundable fee of $99 (₹7,265). “Starlink is available to a limited number of users per coverage area at this time. Orders will be fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis,” reads the homepage of the website.
An interested user can find their address from a drop-down menu or type in a Google Plus Code, along with the name of the city. A typical Starlink Kit consists of a Wifi-router, power supply, cables, mouting tripod and of course Starlink. The company has urged users to download its app in order to determine the best location for instalment.
Starlink informed that their service is still in its beta stage but the company will be delivering high-speed, low-latency internet services both domestically in the United States and internationally. It informed that they will continue to expand the programme. “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,” Starlink reiterated.
How does Starlink work?
Although satellite internet is still in its nascent stage, Starlink makes use of satellites that are positioned in the Earth’s orbit. Currently, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, of which Starlink is a venture, has already sent 1000 such satellites to the Earth’s orbit. In the future, the company plans to expand the number to a network of 12,000 satellites. Unlike traditional satellites, Starlink’s satellites are 60 times closer to the Earth, thereby facilitating the high-speed internet.
While traditional internet use optic fibre cables, satellite internet makes use of geostationary satellites for providing internet to users. Optic fibre cables use a transmitter and receiver to boost the signal. While the two devices cannot be too far from each other and the fibre cables are vulnerable to damage, satellite internet is not susceptible to any such issues. The internet is beamed down the antenna of each user, thereby facilitating a faster and better connection.
The service provides for low latency, the time taken for data to reach from one point to another. During testing, the internet speed for Starlink was found to be between 50Mbps and 150 Mbps. In 2021, the speed will be doubled to 300 Mbps. The company plans of increasing the speed to even up to 1 Gbps. “As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically,” read Starlink’s website.
How Starlink can revolutionise the internet?
Starlink has the potential to revolutionise the internet, not just in terms of its high speed, but also reach areas with challenging connectivity issues. The company said, “Starlink is ideally suited for areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge. Unbounded by traditional ground infrastructure, Starlink can deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable.” Rural areas have more open spaces and fewer tall buildings, making them suitable for satellite internet connectivity.
The team is now working with astronomers to understand engineering changes that can be made to reduce ‘satellite brightness’. “SpaceX is leveraging its experience in building rockets and spacecraft to deploy the world’s most advanced broadband internet system. As the world’s leading provider of launch services – and the only provider with an orbital class reusable rocket – SpaceX has deep experience with both spacecraft and on-orbit operations, the company said.”
Challenges with Satellite internet connectivity
“Starlink requires a clear view of the sky to connect,” the company emphasised. As such, heavy rains, high-speed wind can affect and even disrupt the connection. In areas experiencing snowfall, accumulating snow can even lead to an outage and slow internet. This explains why the company recommends installing Starlink in locations with no snow buildup.
Since the Starlink satellite dish directly connects to the satellite via a ‘single beam’, the movement of the satellite can interfere with the beam. As such, the company has suggested to set it up at the highest possible elevation. It is also recommended that people in urban areas, with poles, trees and tall buildings must not opt for the satellite internet service in its early stage. This limitation can be solved with the launch of more satellites in Earth’s orbit.
Starlink’s connectivity challenges also extend to the movement of the satellite dish from a designated ground area (also called cell) to another place. Since no other satellite will be scheduled to provide the single beam, the user will experience an internet outage. As such, users must furnish their accurate address and check the limitations prior to booking the service.