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Starlink: Elon Musk’s Answer To The World’s Internet Hunger?

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When you pick up your smartphone, tablet, pc or pretty much any internet-capable device to check up on your social media feed, read some emails and stream some Netflix, you really aren’t thinking about the massive network of fiber optic cables, radio towers and satellites that deliver your sweet crisp internet.

Trust me, you are not the only one. I too did not think about it but as the world gets more connected and the current internet infrastructure gradually stresses out trying to accommodate its new playmates, it tends out that our internet we take so much for granted, needs some help.

With an estimated 3.8 billion people worldwide without internet access and the struggling infrastructure trying to keep up, Elon Musk believes he has found a solution. Starlink. An ambitious project by Space X to deliver high-quality broadband service to densely populated urban centers and unconnected areas of the globe, using a constellation of satellites in low earth orbit.

Back in 2015, Elon Musk announced the work of Space X on a satellite communication network stating that “significant unmet demand for low-cost global broadband capabilities” was in need. Shortly after, a new Space X facility opened in Redmond, Washington to focus on the development of the satellites for the Starlink Project.

Initially, Space X planned to launch two prototype satellites into orbit by 2016 and have the satellite network ready by 2020 but the program was delayed due to development issues of a low-cost receiver that could be installed easily by a user, going against its main theme of affordable and easy access internet service until 2018, when Space X finally launched the prototypes named Tintin A and B.

The prototypes gave Space X the needed test results to continue refining their design. With 60 launched satellites and an additional 12,000 planned over the next decade, Space X’s plan to bring the offline world online seems to be going steady but is it worth it?

SpaceX’s ‘Starlink’ satellite-based internet

We send and receive data across the world by a variety of channels but the most common is through fiber optic cables with some running undersea and connecting continents. Two of the biggest hurdles we face is latency and cost. Starlink uses lasers to transmit data with low latency over long distances being achieved and since light travels faster in a vacuum than in glass, it holds a prime advantage transmitting light in space than here on earth.

A Starlink satellite has an 81 degree point of view with an orbital radius of 550km, giving it a coverage radius of 500km with a latency of 3.6 milliseconds. Too many numbers I know, but stick with me for a second. The privately owned Hibernia Express Transatlantic Cable connecting New York to London has a latency of 59.95 milliseconds making it 39% slower than a Starlink satellite. That’s a massive boost in speed.

With a projected cost of 10 billion dollars, Starlink is still relatively cheaper than linking every corner of the globe with fiber optic cables as even the switch from 4G to 5G in the United States alone has a projected budget of 150 billion dollars in new cable infrastructure. So is Starlink worth it? Will it do what it says? Only time will tell.

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