In August 2020, the new Starlink internet services will be launched in an early closed trial mode. A limited public trial mode is planned for November 2020. Starlink is an extraordinary and new internet connection service that Elon Musk, the famed Tesla electric car maker, is building along with his SpaceX, another Musk company focused on rocket launches. Starlink will be composed of over 12,000 satellites when it is initially completed. At this time, over 538 satellites are currently in a Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) flying overhead at about 500 to 600 kilometres. As of 2020, SpaceX is launching 60 satellites at a time, aiming to deploy 1,584 of the 260 kilograms (570 lb) spacecraft to provide near-global service by late 2021 or 2022.
When the operational trials begin in August, this proposed global internet service will offer limited coverage and reduced data rates. Starlink is targeting a private beta service in the northern USA and Canada by August 2020 with a public beta following in November 2020, service beginning at high latitudes between 44°-52° North.
The FCC, the US regulator for spectrum has submitted an application to the ITU-R in Geneva for authorization for another 30,000 satellites beyond the already approved 12,000 satellite constellation. Since the 12,000 satellites already approved will provide complete global coverage, the next 30,000 must be for alternate services, but what will they be?
The original Starlink services are believed to offer 1 Gbps speeds for about $80.00 US per month, which is comparable to the price and speed for optical fibre connections to your home. So, it is expected to be competitive.
Your home installation will include a flat panel 0.48 metre disk shaped antenna to be mounted outdoors and an indoor modem. The antenna is expected to be a piezoelectric dynamic array that automatically aligns to the polar orbit satellites as the constellation chains travel past on a north-south orbit every 90 minutes or so. There will be a constant stream of LEO satellites relaying the signal to your antenna. The satellites will communicate to the many strategically placed uplink ground stations, to each other on inter-satellite links, and ultimately to your downlink location. When sufficient satellites are chained together, trailing one another end to end, they will be continuously visible to your home or mobile antenna.
The applications and the operational scenarios are endless. I can envision these services connecting the rural and remote homes. But, also for vehicles, work camps, job sites, businesses, and First Responders.
This is a powerful tool to allow rich connections to places where this sort of essential service was not even imaginable. The existing connection types were expensive and weak in comparison. It is a game-changer for many industrial applications and for First Responders – police, fire, EMS, military, and others. Even airplanes flying around the world and ships at sea can greatly benefit from this new service.
Consider the value that this technology will have for broadcasting and rich media services. News stories and content can be gathered from any location, and streamed live and in real-time. For film productions, the producers in Los Angeles can monitor the shoot in Toronto remotely and even editorial decisions can be happening before the day’s shooting is in the can.
The world will be live 7/24. Everyone can be connected. It gives me goosebumps just pondering the idea. WOW.
This technology is a massive leap forward compared to existing VSAT systems available today. I have operated a fully automated 1.2 metre VSAT RX / TX antenna on my motorhome for over 12 years and the service is weak compared to Starlink. My VSAT system has a directional antenna and a modem, but I get less than 1.5 Mbps down and 256 kbps up for about $80.00 CAD per month. So, jumping to 1 Gbps with a much simpler automated flat profile antenna that can work at home as well as on the motorhome will be incredible.
The biggest and most noticeable difference will be the latency. Starlink is said to have latency of about 25 ms to 35 ms, whereas my HughesNet VSAT system has latency closer to 480 ms.
This difference in both speed and latency will make the service equal to my home Fibe service from Bell Canada. I envision retiring both the HughesNet VSAT and the Bell Fibe service in favour of two of these Starlink services. The monthly bills will be about the same, but the service will be astonishingly better.
Since I also have Bell Satellite television at home and on the motorhome, I do wonder about what impacts weather might have on this new satellite internet services? Heavy rainfalls knock out the Bell TV services during the intense storms during the summer months. Snow can collect on the antennas during the winter months too, and it also disrupts services until I reach out the second floor window and use a broom to sweep it away. Will the Starlink antennas suffer the same weather impacts?
All that I can find are the bands that Starlink will operate within and not the specific frequencies. I expect that we will learn more details as the service launches. They will use three high frequency bands – Ku-band, Ka-band, and V-band. The Ku-band is commonly used today for Direct Broadcast Services (DBS) such as Bell Satellite in Canada and DirecTV and Dish in the USA. All of these bands are subject to both rain fade and snow fade. Rain fade is when the intensity of the downpour absorbs, refracts, or reflects the satellite signal from reaching the receive antenna. Snow fade is when snow build-up fills the antenna and changes the parabola shape, thus deflecting the signal away from the feed.
The question is how much dynamic gain Starlink will offer to maintain services in a rain fade. Most DBS solutions have 10 to 20 dB of operational dynamic gain to punch through rain downpours. But, even they get faded from time to time. Most rain fades are due to the smaller sized antennas at the homes, so a larger antenna will maintain the service longer in adverse conditions because of its higher gain. It is not known how the Starlink services will fair during rain fades, only time will tell.
The Starlink installation costs are anticipated to be about $100 to $300 US as a one-time fee. I do not yet know the capital costs to purchase the equipment. But, my VSAT system cost over $5,000.00 CAD, so it was expensive. I expect the Starlink equipment to be far less costly to purchase. The VSAT installation costs where $250.00 CAD at the time, so they are comparable.
To say that I am excited for these new space delivered internet services is an understatement.
Internet connectivity is an essential service for most people these days and for a technology consultant, social media enthusiasts, and life-long learner like me, it is the life blood for my very survival. In light of the Coronavirus and the expected impacts to how we will all work, learn, and play in the near future, makes the timing for Starlink services ideal. While the economy maybe harsh now due to COVID-19, the demand for quality internet connectivity is very high nonetheless.
In the past, I have done hundreds of hours of webinars, online meetings, video conferences, Board meetings, web browsing, and online learning sessions from my older HughesNet VSAT system. But, it was very hard as the severe latency and minimal data rates seriously handicapped what I could do, or negatively impacted the connections with way too many service outages. Voice over IP was impossible due to the latency. However, with Starlink, these limitations are about to be removed and truly the sky is the limit for these new communication services, and more importantly, the applications that we all use over these connections. So, I am excited and will reach for the stars for my next generation internet. How about you?
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies. He is a business and technology consultant. He offers his services on a contracting basis. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX). Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V). He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology. He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section. He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 20 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.