Is Starlink the New Frontier of Global Internet Connectivity?

There is plenty of talk about the upgrade in mobile technology from 4G to 5G. There are claims of great speed and bandwidth increases that will be revolutionary to the transformation of the internet. However, 5G will only be available in a limited number of places and where 4G is already available. This leaves very little assistance to places with very slow internet access, or no internet access at all. There are still 3.2 billion people, about 41% of the world’s population, without internet access today. Being able to provide internet to these areas will connect the world like never before, expanding markets and offering new opportunities. 

The Starlink project was first announced by SpaceX in 2015 as a solution to provide a satellite internet connection anywhere on earth. A planned Phase 1 would consist of a constellation of 1,584 satellites that would be able to provide internet to most of the planet. The subscribers to the internet service would only have to pay for a pizza-box sized antenna in order to connect to the internet. This would only be the first step in a final constellation of over 10,000 satellites by 2027. This constellation would provide a faster internet connection anywhere in the world than current optical fiber cables that are ran underwater connecting people across continents. This is because the speed of light in a vacuum is almost twice as fast as the speed of light traveling through glass. 

Providing internet to billions more people is a crucial step in expanding overseas markets as well. It is estimated that internet connectivity could provide trillions of dollars in global economic growth as well as offering more jobs. A large new consumer population would be available to tailor digital content to. In turn, this previously untapped audience, especially in developing third-world countries, get access to resources that they would not be able to otherwise have. The internet provides education, collaboration, communication, and entertainment opportunities to billions of people, and the internet can only improve with the addition of billions of more users.

Specifically, in the United States, many broadband internet providers operate as a complete monopoly in the places in which they provide internet, especially in areas that are not serviced with nearly the same speeds as urban areas. Most broadband internet service providers claim to be able to provide 10-25 Mbps download speeds to these customers, but rarely can they provide even a tenth of those speeds. Starlink will provide another affordable option of true high-speed internet to these areas, which is crucial in equalizing their availability to the same services and information as others. Yet, the nature of Starlink would basically ensure that it would be also act as a monopoly in the market of satellite internet providers, unless another company decides to launch tens of thousands more satellites. And even if another company wanted to launch more satellites, the airspace will likely become too crowded. On a similar note, scientists fear that the satellites orbiting will interfere with the wide-ranged telescopes on earth. Starlink has debuted a sunshade visor to reduce the brightness of the satellites, thus reducing the interference on the observation tools. 

Starlink may not seem to be the new frontier to those already living with gigabit internet speeds, but Starlink will be able to provide opportunities to people all around the world, especially those who have never been online before. 

Author: Quinn Johnson, Tech Assistant