Tracker image of a Starlink satellite on a smartphone Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Gett
Elon Musk (South Africa, 49 years old), founder of Tesla, will bring the internet through satellites to emptied Spain.
It's not any joke.
His company, Starlink, a subsidiary of SpaceX (its space division), has launched an army of satellites that will provide high-speed connection throughout the world, but especially focused on those places far from large cities where broadband does not has reach or service is poor.
The service - which for now is a beta version - is already operational in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, where it is used by more than 10,000 users.
The company has begun to expand into other countries of the European Union, including Spain.
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The company has registered two companies with the National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC). One of them, based in Ireland, is the internet access provider. The second, based in Madrid, is focused on the operation (it will have the frequencies and will supply data switching), according to information from the regulator. In fact, you can already book the service in Spain. You only have to pay 499 euros for the test kit (a 50-centimeter-diameter satellite dish, a Wi-Fi router and cables) plus 60 euros for shipping. The monthly connection will cost 99 euros. "We have global reach, but we still don't have connectivity around the world," said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and chief operating officer, during a digital forum this month."We hope that after about 28 satellite launches we will have continuous coverage across the planet," he added. This will be at the end of the year.
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Starlink has made 25 pitches. The first of them was done in 2018, and the last, a couple of weeks ago. And in each of them it has put, on average, 60 satellites in orbit. The company already has a constellation of 1,400 (a third of all around the Earth). By the middle of this decade, it expects to have about 12,000 and in 2027 it estimates to have a total of 42,000. Each of these devices glides about 550 meters above our atmosphere, about 60 times closer than traditional satellites. And some of them will be about 200 miles away. "This distance allows it to have better coverage, speed and latency," says Carlos Miguel Nieto, professor in the Department of Telematic Systems Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.
Better than Nothing
(better than nothing, according to its translation) is the name that has been given to the trial version that also seeks followers in Latin America, New Zealand, the Philippines, Germany, Italy, Greece, Holland and South Africa.
The SpaceX subsidiary company - which just won a million-dollar contract with NASA to build a spacecraft to carry astronauts to the moon - has also applied for permission to operate in India and Japan.
"We are targeting rural and remote areas where there is no easy access to fiber or cable," Jessie Anderson, a SpaceX engineer, said recently during one of the latest satellite launches.
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Starlink is not the only company that has set its eyes on this market.
OneWeb, a UK firm, follows in Musk's footsteps.
The British company, recently rescued from bankruptcy by the British Government, has launched 146 satellites in low orbit and intends to create a network of 650 devices around the Earth.
"[We want] to provide an affordable, fast, high-bandwidth, low-latency communications service," said a company spokesperson.
OneWeb will begin service in winter 2021. The first regions to be covered will be the United Kingdom, Alaska, Northern Europe, Greenland, Iceland and Canada. The deployment of its global constellation will be complete by the end of 2022. "The network will have a unique ability to reach regions that were not previously connected: rural and remote communities, in the air and at sea," explains the spokesperson. "In areas where the terrain is challenging and fiber cannot reach or where there are scattered populations, the satellite is an excellent complement," warns the representative of the firm, which has so far invested more than 1,000 million dollars (about 835 million dollars). euros, at the current exchange rate) of the 2.2 billion dollars projected to complete the constellation.
The big difference with Starlink is that OneWeb will seek an alliance with large companies, while Musk's signature goes directly to the user. "We are in active discussions with telecommunications companies in the EU and the UK, and will announce further details of the collaborations in due course," says the British firm.
In this new struggle to dominate space, no one wants to be left behind. Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, has plans in this market. Amazon's Kuiper Project aims to put 3,236 satellites into orbit in the next few years; half of them will be launched before 2026. For this it will invest about 10 billion dollars. "The Kuiper Project will provide fast and affordable broadband to both underserved and underserved communities around the world," says a company source. China also intends to put about 10,000 satellites in low orbit, according to The Wall Street Journal. And the European Union announced in February its intention to get on the train, but it still does not have a marked roadmap. The lead, without any doubt, is led by Starlink, says Enrique Dans,Professor of Innovation and Technology at IE Business School. "The project is ambitious as is Musk himself."
Speed and latency
Starlink promises speeds between 50 and 150 megabits per second (Mbps) and latency (the time it takes for a signal to make a round trip) of between 20 and 40 milliseconds (ms) for the beta version.
The company's goal is to reach 300 Mbps and a latency of less than 20 ms, Elon Musk said in a message on Twitter published last February.
For its part, the Kuiper Project, according to its first tests, has reached speeds of up to 400 Mbps. What does it mean?
"300 Mbps is a speed that currently offers a fiber optic access service in a city," says Carlos Miguel Nieto, professor in the area of Telematic Systems Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid.