Wednesday, 08 April 2020

Starlink’s satellite internet won’t step on telcos’ toes

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Tuesday 10 March 20

SpaceX’s low earth orbit (LEO) satellite project will not threaten network operators, says Elon Musk

Since the middle of last year, SpaceX has been launching LEO satellites into orbit to create a constellation to deliver internet connectivity. The final goal is to have over 12,000 satellites in place, which customers can tap for internet using terminals purchased from SpaceX.    On the surface, this seems like it should be a big concern for telcos…

Since the middle of last year, SpaceX has been launching LEO satellites into orbit to create a constellation to deliver internet connectivity. The final goal is to have over 12,000 satellites in place, which customers can tap for internet using terminals purchased from SpaceX. 
 
On the surface, this seems like it should be a big concern for telcos. Speaking at the Satellite 2020 conference in Washington, Musk estimated the global connectivity market as somewhere in the region of $30 billion, and it would be a portion of this market that Musk’s Starlink would be taking off the telcos’ plates.
 
However, Musk instead insists that Starlink will only target the hardest to reach customers around the world, thus complementing traditional telcos who would normally struggle to reach these people.
 
"Starlink will effectively serve the three or four percent hardest to reach customers for telcos, or people who simply have no connectivity right now. Or the connectivity is really bad. So, I think it will be actually helpful and take a significant load off the traditional telcos," Musk said.
 
For now, the Starlink project is only targeting North America, but rapid expansion is planned to see global internet coverage achieved by 2021.
 
Musk emphasised that there is still a long way to go for the project, noting the failure of previous attempts to create a similar constellations by companies such as Iridium and Orbcomm.
 
“Guess how many LEO constellations didn’t go bankrupt? Zero,” he quipped.
 
The failure of these projects has clearly not been too big of a deterrent though, with Vodafone and Rakuten among investors recently backing a similar programme by AST & Science called SpaceMobile, which aims at mobile connectivity. 
 
Whether Starlink’s constellation will be as benign as Musk suggests or not, aerial options for connectivity are certainly appealing, and Operators do not want to be left behind if connectivity takes to the stars. 
 
Furthermore, when it comes to satellites, now is the time, as increasing concern by astronomers and international bodies about space debris, often in the form of defunct satellites, could see stricter limitations places on the launching of LEO constellations in the not so distant future. 
 
For now, however, the would-be satellite network operators face no such issues. The next batch of 60 Starlink satellites are set to be launched this weekend.
 
 
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