SpaceX has introduced a “global roaming plan” that allows customers to access the Internet through Starlink from anywhere on land. The plan will require a $200 per month subscription and a $599 upfront fee for the Starlink kit. The kit includes a dish that connects to the Starlink satellite constellation and a WiFi router.
In June 2022, the FCC approved SpaceX’s application to provide Internet access for large vehicles like planes, RVs, and buses. The application indicated that SpaceX planned to serve customers who were frequently on the move. The “global roaming plan” expands on that to accommodate individuals whose lifestyles require them to travel a lot.
Starlink will use the lasers on its upgraded Version 2 satellites to help provide connectivity. Some of the Version 1.5 satellites already have laser communications. SpaceX says the laser communications can help reduce latency to between 10 and 20 milliseconds. It also previously said that the Version 2 satellites will be capable of transmitting data at speeds up to 80 Gbps per satellite.
The Version 2 satellites will also use lasers to communicate with other satellites when there are no ground stations available. Some countries and remote regions like the polar regions have very few, if any, ground stations.
However, SpaceX warns, some places may still have poor connectivity even with the global roaming plan. An email sent to potential customers indicated that it expects connectivity to improve as it begins to launch the Version 2 Starlink satellites. Longtime SpaceX followers may remember that it called Starlink’s beta program the “Better than Nothing Beta,” a reference to the lack of good Internet access options in some remote or low-income regions.
SpaceX says the service is still dependent on gaining regulatory approval from international governments – an occasional headache. SpaceX previously had to refund some potential Indian customers’ deposits after India said Starlink was not authorized to operate in the country. It is also working on gaining regulatory approval in Thailand, Pakistan, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and South Korea.
SpaceX may be working on new ways to monetize Starlink after some back-and-forth about funding Starlink operations in Ukraine. Elon Musk previously said that SpaceX is burning through $20 million a month to provide Starlink service in Ukraine, most of which is probably being used to defend against Russian cyberattacks and jamming attempts, and can’t afford to keep it up forever. (Actually good cybersecurity is EXPENSIVE, especially when one has to fend off attacks by a hostile nation’s military.) It was negotiating with the Pentagon to provide continued funding after previously partially suspending service due to lack of payment.
Outside of gaining funding for keeping Starlink going in Ukraine, SpaceX is looking at a version of Starlink called Starshield, which can be used for military defense. It also worked out deals with airlines to provide in-flight Internet access and activated a plan to provide Internet access for aquatic assets like boats and oil rigs. Royal Caribbean became the first cruise line to take SpaceX up on its Internet service for ships.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had mentioned that it can be difficult for a satellite Internet provider to avoid bankruptcy. However, SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell previously expressed confidence that the market is big enough to potentially help fund other SpaceX projects like Starship development once Starlink becomes profitable.
The $200 per month “global roaming plan” could help by providing Internet access to individuals who are often on the move – even to places where they might have difficulty picking up a Wi-Fi signal otherwise. It may still have some gaps in coverage. However, it promises that those gaps are beginning to close.