Space X Starlink Beta Starts In 6 Months, Bringing A Glimmer Of Hope To Crappy US Broadband Market

from the disrupt-the-undisruptable dept

The US broadband market is a competitive mess. US telcos have routinely refused to upgrade their aging DSL lines, as the return on investment has never been fast enough for Wall Street. That has left cable giants like Comcast and Charter (Spectrum) with bigger broadband monopolies than ever before. While many see 5G wireless as some sort of competitive panacea waiting in the wings, there's a litany of problems (cost, reach, competition eroding M&As) that suggests folks should temper their enthusiasm.

Then there's satellite broadband. Long despised by consumers for slow speeds, inconsistent performance, high prices, and usage caps, the sector is poised for disruption by a number of low-orbit satellite ventures. These new offerings offer significantly lower latency using a litany of smaller low-orbit satellites. One of the major players is of course Space X, whose Starlink satellite broadband service is slated for a public beta six months or so from now according to Elon Musk:

The beta is poised to include both Europe and the United States, which the company previously stated should see a full commercial launch sometime later this year. After launching another 60 Starlink satellites yesterday, Musk indicated there were now "420 operational Starlink satellites" preparing to offer service. The service offers the promise of some significant disruption to a sector that very much could use a competitive kick in the ass.

That said, Starlink may never truly challenge the domination of telecom monopolies like AT&T and Comcast. For one, it's still far too early to know what kind of speeds or prices users will be looking at, and it's quite possible that the price point, throttling restrictions, or usage caps could result in the service being a flimsy alternative to fixed-line broadband. Musk has also previously noted how while the service latency should be a LOT better than traditional satellite broadband (20ms versus 200ms or higher), the service isn't going to have the kind of bandwidth needed to seriously compete in denser urban or suburban markets:

"The challenge for anything that is space-based is that the size of the cell is gigantic... it's not good for high-density situations," Musk said. "We'll have some small number of customers in LA. But we can't do a lot of customers in LA because the bandwidth per cell is simply not high enough."

Keep in mind that the US broadband industry is routinely peppered by well hyped potential disruptors that consistently fail to deliver.

Broadband over Powerline, for example, was widely hyped as a competitive panacea by folks looking to deregulate the telecom sector, only to fall flat on its face due to interference issues. The current FCC has similarly justified its pandering to existing monopolies with the promise that competition (be it 5G or satellite) is just around the corner. But there's no shortage of low-orbit satellite ventures thatn have fallen flat on their face, and there's no shortage of politically powerful companies (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Comcast) busily lobbying to ensure another major competitor never upsets the apple cart.

That said, there's still hope that Starlink offers a genuine, helpful option to users left out of reach of traditional options. With more than 42 million Americans still unable to get any broadband at all, and millions more unable to afford it due to limited competition and high prices, the US broadband sector can certainly use all the help it can get.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, elon musk, satellite broadband, starlink
Companies: space x, starlink


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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Apr 2020 @ 3:52pm

    Then there are the issues with it effecting astronomy...

    If only we hadn't created fat lazy monopolies, they would have pushed the tech ahead further to get an edge over competitors...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Bobvious, 23 Apr 2020 @ 5:47pm

    Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

    You'll be talking about this then, https://www.space.com/satellite-megaconstellations-effect-astronomy.html

    Of course one possible compensation is to have those satellites fitted with astronomy gear pointing away from Earth that fills in what they will be masking. This data can then be TX'd back to RX's on Earth which make it all open-source and publicly available.

    Think of a variation on this, https://www.skatelescope.org

    That might (??) fit in with Elon Musk's approach to space.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Richard Bennett, 23 Apr 2020 @ 5:53pm

    If the US broadband market is crappy, it's because Bodey McBodeface is angry he can't download his pirate movies. I stand by my statements. US broadband is best in the world and anyone who disagrees is going to get a new asshole ripped in by Pai himself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 5:59pm

    Re:

    I hate to break your crazy world view but people in the US pirate at the same rate as others when the content is not available or not available at a reasonable time and method to view. The dinosaurs that hold on to outdated ideas will find themselves with no audience or power very quickly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Bobvious, 23 Apr 2020 @ 6:04pm

    Re: Pirate movies

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 23 Apr 2020 @ 9:02pm

    Some Benefits

    It may not be able to replace cable offerings at home but I can see it replacin mobile phone service. It will probably provide seamless service when traveling and at higher speeds than traditional mobile service. You're likely to be able to use it on the plane.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 9:25pm

    Re: Some Benefits

    I can see it replacin mobile phone service.

    Nope, unless pizza-box-sized hats come into fashion. The antenna is about 0.5 m × 0.5 m, like those for older satellite phone systems. Passengers won't be setting up personal antennas on a plane, but I'd expect the airlines to subscribe.

    It might be good for road trips, for people with remote cabins, for serious hikers/mountaineers, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2020 @ 9:30pm

    Re:

    So... someone putatively unable to download infringing works made US ISPs the awful shit they are? That is quite an accomplishment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Bruce C., 23 Apr 2020 @ 11:03pm

    Re: Re:

    You mean like Fox News?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Tin-Foil-Hat, 23 Apr 2020 @ 11:07pm

    Re: Re: Some Benefits

    Well that sucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Apr 2020 @ 11:57pm

    Re:

    Again, Richard Bennett, as much of an asshole as he is, posts via a real login.

    Stop pretending to be him and just posting more trollish stuff. It's not a good thing. It's not funny. It just makes you an asshole.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Rocky, 24 Apr 2020 @ 3:13am

    Re: Re: Re: Some Benefits

    You can always switch to PIzza-Box-Hat and it'll all work out! :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 5:45am

    Re: Re: Some Benefits

    The antenna is a steerable beam antenna, so would probably need a motion sensing upgrade to work well on a head, or most moving vehicles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 5:47am

    What's the deal with space junk?

    I mean, you stick your hand out of the side of your rocket and your whole arm is ripped off by a fleck of paint from 1983?

    What is that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 6:07am

    Re: Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

    "Of course one possible compensation is to have those satellites fitted with astronomy gear pointing away from Earth "

    Most do. But their purpose is for station keeping.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 6:10am

    Re:

    The earth has rings and they are getting more dense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Annonymouse, 24 Apr 2020 @ 11:15am

    Re: Re: Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

    Just because it is used for one doesnt mean it can't be used for the other.
    Even if the resolution is not optimal, by having each download an image on a fixed time base to a central server, you can then use mosaic software to build images. Make it all public domain and have the various three letter agencies shit bricks when they realize their toys are in the fields of view.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Annonymouse, 24 Apr 2020 @ 11:20am

    Re: Re:

    Only need to start worrying once the density approaches that of the average Congress critter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 1:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Some Benefits

    It wouldn't be all bad, if they can solve the mention-sensor stuff mentioned in another comment. Dermatologists are always trying to get people to wear wide-brimmed hats—prevents skin cancer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 1:58pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

    They are used for alignment to star charts, I don't know if the system can output images as you describe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2020 @ 2:43pm

    Dont worry AT&T, Comcast and Verizon etc, I'm sure whichever Congressmen you have in your pockets will think of something to stop Musk. After all, there's no way the American people can ever be allowed to get decent speed broadband, for a reasonable price, backed up by sensible customer service can they! And then think about what could be done with all the money that would be available as it wasn't being given to the rip off companies we have at present! A 2nd Fort Knox would have to be built to accomadate the overspill of spare cash!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Bobvious, 24 Apr 2020 @ 3:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: issues with it affecting astronomy...

    What I'm suggesting is that they SHOULD be outputting images. If you put something in the sky that blocks the view, you have an obligation to "restore" that view. Besides which, the image quality from above our atmosphere should be better than below.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    OGquaker, 24 Apr 2020 @ 3:53pm

    Re: Paint hurts like hell

    Mathematically, space has a large volume, LEO is BIG.
    Unlike the previous junk, these devices are designed to burn up much quicker than most everything else ever launched, and are constantly fighting against near-Earth atmospheric drag. The satellite's short lifetime is compensated by fast upgrades, a cheap rocket taxi and mass production.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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