Elon Musk's Starlink satellite broadband service will be available worldwide starting in August, with the exception of the North and South Poles, the billionaire entrepreneur stated Tuesday during a session at the virtual Mobile World Congress 2021.
"Right now, Starlink is operating in roughly 12 countries," Musk said, adding that "more are being added every month."
Musk's SpaceX business has launched over 1,800 low-orbit satellites into space for the high-speed internet service. Starlink already has over 69,000 active clients, according to Musk, and the service is fast expanding.
"Within the next 12 months, we'll have a few hundred thousand users, probably over 500,000," Musk stated. Starlink had roughly 10,000 users in February, but it reached the 70,000 mark this month, Musk said.
Musk predicts that deploying the high-speed internet service will cost SpaceX $5 billion to $10 billion. The service isn't affordable when compared to other broadband options. It costs $99 each month, and subscribers must purchase the $499 satellite dish equipment.
However, Musk stated that the service is not for everyone. He claims it's for the 3% to 5% of the world's population who don't have access to the internet.
"It's truly about getting to the toughest to reach, the most difficult to reach regions of the planet," he explained. "It's a fantastic addition to fibre and 5G."
Because of their lower altitude, low-altitude satellites have an advantage over conventional satellite internet systems in terms of latency (the time it takes signals to travel between satellites and Earth). Latency and download speeds are critical for providing internet service, and Musk claims that the Starlink setup's latency and speed make it a good stand-in for 5G and fibre when they're unavailable.
"We estimate latency to be around 20 milliseconds for the Starlink system, which is equal to ground-based fibre and 5G latency," Musk continued.
SpaceX is already partnering with wireless carriers across the world to provide "backhaul," or the connection cellular companies require to aggregate traffic from their base stations to the internet, as a result of this technological improvement.
"I'd want to be able to announce two fairly substantial collaborations with large country [carriers] right now," Musk said, "but obviously we defer to our partners to make any announcement." "We're also in talks with a few more [carriers] about providing Starlink access."
SpaceX is also losing money on the hardware it sells to access the service, according to Musk. SpaceX charges $499 for the gear, which costs almost $1,300. Musk stated that the company is working on this, as well as technology that will reduce the cost of the customer device to $250 or $300.
"Right now, we're working on next-generation terminals that will deliver the same level of capabilities at a significantly lower cost," he explained. "Because obviously, selling terminals for half the price at scale isn't very enticing."
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