Space X Starlink Beta Starts In 6 Months, Bringing A Glimmer Of Hope To Crappy US Broadband Market

from the disrupt-the-undisruptable dept

The US broadband market is a competitive mess. US telcos have routinely refused to upgrade their aging DSL lines, as the return on investment has never been fast enough for Wall Street. That has left cable giants like Comcast and Charter (Spectrum) with bigger broadband monopolies than ever before. While many see 5G wireless as some sort of competitive panacea waiting in the wings, there’s a litany of problems (cost, reach, competition eroding M&As) that suggests folks should temper their enthusiasm.

Then there’s satellite broadband. Long despised by consumers for slow speeds, inconsistent performance, high prices, and usage caps, the sector is poised for disruption by a number of low-orbit satellite ventures. These new offerings offer significantly lower latency using a litany of smaller low-orbit satellites. One of the major players is of course Space X, whose Starlink satellite broadband service is slated for a public beta six months or so from now according to Elon Musk:

The beta is poised to include both Europe and the United States, which the company previously stated should see a full commercial launch sometime later this year. After launching another 60 Starlink satellites yesterday, Musk indicated there were now “420 operational Starlink satellites” preparing to offer service. The service offers the promise of some significant disruption to a sector that very much could use a competitive kick in the ass.

That said, Starlink may never truly challenge the domination of telecom monopolies like AT&T and Comcast. For one, it’s still far too early to know what kind of speeds or prices users will be looking at, and it’s quite possible that the price point, throttling restrictions, or usage caps could result in the service being a flimsy alternative to fixed-line broadband. Musk has also previously noted how while the service latency should be a LOT better than traditional satellite broadband (20ms versus 200ms or higher), the service isn’t going to have the kind of bandwidth needed to seriously compete in denser urban or suburban markets:

“The challenge for anything that is space-based is that the size of the cell is gigantic… it’s not good for high-density situations,” Musk said. “We’ll have some small number of customers in LA. But we can’t do a lot of customers in LA because the bandwidth per cell is simply not high enough.”

Keep in mind that the US broadband industry is routinely peppered by well hyped potential disruptors that consistently fail to deliver.

Broadband over Powerline, for example, was widely hyped as a competitive panacea by folks looking to deregulate the telecom sector, only to fall flat on its face due to interference issues. The current FCC has similarly justified its pandering to existing monopolies with the promise that competition (be it 5G or satellite) is just around the corner. But there’s no shortage of low-orbit satellite ventures thatn have fallen flat on their face, and there’s no shortage of politically powerful companies (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast) busily lobbying to ensure another major competitor never upsets the apple cart.

That said, there’s still hope that Starlink offers a genuine, helpful option to users left out of reach of traditional options. With more than 42 million Americans still unable to get any broadband at all, and millions more unable to afford it due to limited competition and high prices, the US broadband sector can certainly use all the help it can get.

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Companies: space x, starlink

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Comments on “Space X Starlink Beta Starts In 6 Months, Bringing A Glimmer Of Hope To Crappy US Broadband Market”

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Bobvious says:

Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

You’ll be talking about this then,

Of course one possible compensation is to have those satellites fitted with astronomy gear pointing away from Earth that fills in what they will be masking. This data can then be TX’d back to RX’s on Earth which make it all open-source and publicly available.

Think of a variation on this,

That might (??) fit in with Elon Musk’s approach to space.

Annonymouse says:

Re: Re: Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

Just because it is used for one doesnt mean it can’t be used for the other.
Even if the resolution is not optimal, by having each download an image on a fixed time base to a central server, you can then use mosaic software to build images. Make it all public domain and have the various three letter agencies shit bricks when they realize their toys are in the fields of view.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I hate to break your crazy world view but people in the US pirate at the same rate as others when the content is not available or not available at a reasonable time and method to view. The dinosaurs that hold on to outdated ideas will find themselves with no audience or power very quickly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Some Benefits

I can see it replacin mobile phone service.

Nope, unless pizza-box-sized hats come into fashion. The antenna is about 0.5 m × 0.5 m, like those for older satellite phone systems. Passengers won’t be setting up personal antennas on a plane, but I’d expect the airlines to subscribe.

It might be good for road trips, for people with remote cabins, for serious hikers/mountaineers, etc.

OGquaker says:

Re: Paint hurts like hell

Mathematically, space has a large volume, LEO is BIG.
Unlike the previous junk, these devices are designed to burn up much quicker than most everything else ever launched, and are constantly fighting against near-Earth atmospheric drag. The satellite’s short lifetime is compensated by fast upgrades, a cheap rocket taxi and mass production.

Anonymous Coward says:

Dont worry AT&T, Comcast and Verizon etc, I’m sure whichever Congressmen you have in your pockets will think of something to stop Musk. After all, there’s no way the American people can ever be allowed to get decent speed broadband, for a reasonable price, backed up by sensible customer service can they! And then think about what could be done with all the money that would be available as it wasn’t being given to the rip off companies we have at present! A 2nd Fort Knox would have to be built to accomadate the overspill of spare cash!

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