Can Elon Musk’s 42,000 Starlink Satellites Provide Stable Internet to India?
If we look at the sky, we might just catch a glimpse of the latest advancement in space and internet tech as though it were a shooting star. Elon Musk’s billion-dollar aerospace company, SpaceX, has made waves in recent times with landmark achievements. One of the ventures of the California-based aerospace company is to offer high-speed, low-latency internet to all parts of the world including the areas where the internet is still inaccessible through the Starlink mega-constellation.
What Is The State Of Internet Connectivity In India?
A low-latency, high-speed internet connection is still a dream in many parts of India, and the globe.
In August 2020, UNICEF released a report which showed that only 24% of Indian households have a stable internet connection to access e-education and other services. The report stated:
“Available data indicates that approximately a quarter of households (24 per cent) in India have access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide. The learning gap is likely to widen across high, middle and low-income families, as children from economically disadvantaged families cannot access remote learning.” This shows that a lot of areas in India are still devoid of internet connectivity. In such a situation, it becomes imperative to support new initiatives that can provide a stable internet connection to every nook and corner of India.
One of such promising initiatives is SpaceX’s Starlink mission which aims to provide high-speed broadband internet to all the areas where the internet has been “unreliable, expensive or completely unavailable”.
What Is Starlink And How Can It Benefit India?
Starlink is a satellite-internet system that operates 550 km above the earth’s surface in the lower Earth orbit (LEO). SpaceX plans to create a mega-constellation of 12,000 Starlink satellites to provide global broadband coverage. In fact, these numbers are only expected to increase as the company seeks approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to deploy an additional 30,000 satellites which will take the total to 42,000. These numbers do not seem to mean a lot until we compare them to the number of satellites that are currently deployed in space. As of April 2020, only about 2600 operational satellites were circling the globe. Therefore, we can only imagine what a mega-constellation with 42,000 satellites can mean for the world of satellite internet to ensure global coverage.
However, we know that there have been other satellite broadband services in the past, so the question which arises is what makes Starlink more reliable than the other satellite internet services?
Starlink’s mission statement notes that it aims to provide fast and reliable internet service to every part of the world regardless of any lack of infrastructure. In fact, what makes it stand out is the fact that the satellites are deployed at a relatively short distance, which according to Elon Musk, ensures a reliable internet connection with a latency below 20 milliseconds as opposed to a typical satellite internet connection which has a latency of 550 milliseconds or more.
Latency essentially refers to the time taken for a signal to transmit to the destination and back to the origin. In layman’s terms, it is the delay between taking an action and seeing the result of the action. Naturally, the lower the delay, the better it is. Low latency is especially important for a good gaming experience to avoid any kinds of lags between the input and output (the behaviour of the character).
A low latency internet network will be extremely beneficial to India’s gaming industry, which is projected to go up to over Rs as per analysts. 143 billion and is estimated to create 40 thousand new job opportunities by 2022. Musk stated in the Satellite 2020 conference:
“We’re targeting latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level like that’s the threshold for the latency.”
Apart from latency, Starlink also has an advantage in terms of availability. This is true for most satellite internet services as they are not dependent on earth-bound cables or desirable terrain. This is what makes satellite internet suitable for remote and rural areas. With Starlink, SpaceX hopes to be able to reach and serve the 3% hardest-to-reach areas to tackle the world’s biggest internet problem at once. If Starlink were to come to India, we might be able to target the remote areas such as the islands, Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep, as well as parts of the North-Eastern states which are devoid of a reliable internet connection. This will, in turn, encourage people to travel freely around the country without the fear of lack of connectivity. This is also expected to boost tourism in the country.
How Fast Is Starlink?
At present, Starlink is capable of offering download speeds of 80Mbps to 150Mbps and upload speeds of around 30 Mbps according to its beta users. Earlier this year, one of the beta users named Anthony lemole took to Twitter and stated: “I am more than satisfied.” The user was able to get a speed of 130 Mbps next to the router. Anthony stated:
“I can not thank @SpaceX and @elonmusk enough for bringing better internet to people like me who live in rural areas with no access to cable or fibre.”, to which Musk responded, “Speed will double to ~300Mb/s & latency will drop to ~20ms later this year”.
Speed will double to ~300Mb/s & latency will drop to ~20ms later this year
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2021
Another Reddit user recorded a download speed of 161 Mbps and an upload speed of 23 Mbps. Yet another Reddit user FouthEchelon19 stated that they were able to stream 4K YouTube videos at 1440p without any buffering. This goes to show that there is already a lot of buzz around the speed offered by the Starlink satellites in the beta program.
The most exciting part, however, is Elon Musk’s long-term goal to be able to bump the download speeds to 1 Gbps and eventually 10 Gbps. However, it looks like Elon Musk will not be able to deliver on his 1 Gbps goal until the intended number of satellites have been deployed to complete the constellation. But with the upgrades expected to roll out this year, it is highly likely that we see more satisfied users as left-out geographic areas enter the next wave of the internet.
Is Starlink Affected By Rain And Bad Weather?
SpaceX designed the dish with a heater in a way that it can withstand rains. Additionally, as per the response received from the beta users so far, it looks as though the Starlink internet is quite effective even when there is a heavy cloud cover. One user recorded a download speed of 94.7 Mbps during heavy rain.
We will have to wait and see if Starlink can effectively withstand India’s weather and show better results than other internet providers.
When Can We Expect Starlink In India?
Recently, SpaceX expressed its urge to launch the Starlink satellite internet services in India. However, SpaceX has to apply for relevant licenses before it can initiate the service in the country. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) stated that it has no objections to SpaceX rolling out the internet service in the country, but the company will have to “comply with the laws of the land and seek an appropriate license and other authorisations before offering the service to Indian consumers.”
Patricia Cooper, SpaceX’s Vice President for Satellite Government Affairs, stated that SpaceX’s high-capacity, high-speed and low-latency satellite network will help to achieve the aim of providing stable broadband connectivity to all Indians in the near future, especially to those who do not have access to the internet as in the urban areas.
As per an estimate, the service might go live in most, if not all regions of India, in 2022.
How Much Is The Cost of Starlink in India?
Indian users can opt for pre-orders for a refundable deposit of $99 (approximately Rs. 7300). This fee will ensure an installation slot for the user for when the service goes live in India. Users can pay through credit cards, debit cards and Apple Pay. The website notes that the $99 deposit is fully refundable at any time, however, the user will lose their priority slot should they claim the refund.
Learn More About Starlink
The Starlink Reddit community is an exceptional non-official resource to interact with users who often post about their experience with Starlink internet.