Elon Musk's 'Next-Gen' Broadband Service Is Overheating In The Arizona Desert
from the reinventing-the-wheel dept
As we’ve noted a few times, SpaceX’s Starlink service will be a massive improvement for the up to 42 million Americans that lack access to broadband. The ongoing 10,000 user beta is delivering speeds between 50 and 150 Mbps at low latencies, something that’s much better than the expensive, slow, high-latency, usage-capped traditional satellite broadband service most people hate.
That said, early reviews have also showcased how the service isn’t going to be quite the miracle some Elon Musk fans are expecting. And this week complaints bubbled up among Starlink beta participants that their service dishes have been overheating in the summer sun:
“But according to user complaints on Reddit, the Starlink satellite dish user terminal, affectionately dubbed ?Dishy McFlatface? by SpaceX, is experiencing temperature issues for some users. Reddit user SocietyTomorrow stated that his broadband connection shut down at noon in the Arizona Summer sun, only to kick back on again after being sprayed with a hose.
“I did submit a ticket and they only said it will shut down at 122 [degrees],? the user wrote. ?Sadly tomorrow will be 122, and Wednesday will be 123. Dishy is already out at 112 so [I?m] gonna be quiet at home while I work out a solution.”
To be clear this is the kind of stuff betas are for. It’s not clear that this is happening at any scale (SpaceX/Starlink wouldn’t comment). I spoke with an engineer that has dissected Dishy, and he suggested that fixing the satellite dish’s heat issues, while very likely, could take some time:
“Since they’ve got a lot of custom silicon in there?likely the limiting factor?the turnaround time on this would be very slow,? he added. ?They could resort to some form of active heat removal like fans or thermoelectric cooling, but then they burn a ton of power which would make Dishy even more power hungry than it already is.”
?This is a really tricky engineering problem with some insanely tight constraints,? Keiter said. ?The good news is that the team is pretty sharp.”
But even if engineers resolve the heat problem, Starlink isn’t likely to have quite the impact many people think. Wall Street estimates indicate that limited capacity (aka the laws of physics) means the service will likely be able to serve around 300,000 to 800,000 users with its initial fleet of around 12,000 satellites. That’s around 1% of the U.S. broadband market. Even on the very optimistic end, with 42,000 low orbit, upgraded satellites feeding 60 Gbit/s each several years from now, 6 million users is the max number of potential customers, and those will mostly be rural, boat, or RV users that can afford it.
And this ignores Starlink’s negative impact on night sky research (which US regulators certainly are). And the fact that in a post net neutrality world, the service is likely to eventually impose odd caps and throttling restrictions to manage capacity. And the fact that at $600 for the first month, it’s not really going to be a service for the tens of millions of Americans that lack access due to affordability. And some of the quirky line of sight issues indicated in early reviews.
Fiber networks of course don’t suffer from any of these restrictions, which is why many in telecom circles argue that if you’re going to subsidize broadband, you should be subsidizing future-proof broadband without odd caveats and constraints. It’s also why consumer groups have been a bit disgusted at the fact that the FCC recently threw at $886 million at billionaire Elon Musk so he could deliver Starlink broadband to some traffic medians and a few already served airports. Again, Starlink will provide some help to the uncompetitive US broadband market, but a miraculous US broadband market disruptor it’s not.