SpaceX Starlink on the right track for 500,000 customers

SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk at the Kennedy Space Center

Paul Hennessy | SOPA pictures | Getty Images

Elon Musk said Tuesday that SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet network “recently” exceeded nearly 70,000 active users and expects to see rapid growth in the coming year.

“We are well on the way to having a few hundred thousand users in 12 months, possibly over 500,000 users,” said Musk in a virtual speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, ​​Spain.

Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project to build an interconnected Internet network of thousands of satellites, known in the aerospace industry as the Constellation, to deliver high-speed Internet to consumers around the world. SpaceX initially rolled out the service with a beta program for select consumers for $ 99 per month, and last year sought regulatory approval to test the network in-flight and expand the service to large moving vehicles like ships and trucks .

It is now the largest constellation of satellites in the world, with more than 1,500 Starlink satellites put into orbit to date.

SpaceX announced last month that Starlink has received more than 500,000 orders and deposits to date, although users may not receive them. Starlink’s user base has grown, from approximately 10,000 users in February to Musk that “surpassed the strategically remarkable number of 69,420 active users” that month.

The low altitude of SpaceX’s satellites reduces the latency in its service compared to traditional satellite services, Musk pointed out. Latency is the delay in an Internet network that defines how long it takes for a signal to travel back and forth from a destination. Latency and download speeds are important measures for an Internet service provider.

“The latency for the Starlink system is similar to the latency for ground-based fiber and 5G, so we expect latency to be less than 20 milliseconds,” said Musk.

The company “loses money” on the satellite antennas it makes available to its customers, Musk said, because the hardware costs nearly $ 1,300 each but SpaceX charges $ 499.

“We’re working on a next-generation terminal that will provide the same level of performance, roughly the same level of performance, but cost a lot less,” said Musk.

As the company’s management previously stated, Musk estimates that Starlink SpaceX could cost anywhere from $ 5 billion to $ 10 billion to be fully operational, and then up to $ 20 billion to $ 30 billion in investment over the long term. SpaceX believes it can open up an even bigger market, however, and estimates that Starlink could bring in up to $ 30 billion a year – or roughly ten times the annual revenue of its rocket launch business.

Starlink is “up and running in about 12 countries now, with more being added every month,” noted Musk.

“We have two pretty significant partnerships with a big country [telecommunications companies]which I could announce now, but of course we leave it to our partners to make any announcement, ”said Musk. “And we’re in talks with a number of others [telecommunications companies] to grant Starlink access. “

Musk also said SpaceX is getting closer to launching next-generation versions of its Starlink satellites.

“We are nearing the launch of the 1.5 satellite, which has laser links between the satellites and which will be used specifically for continuous connectivity across the Arctic and Antarctic regions,” said Musk. “Next year we will start launching the second version of our satellite, which will be significantly more powerful.”

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