According to a tweet by Elon Musk, SpaceX plans to bring Starlink out of beta. Starlink currently provides Internet access for 100,000 customers, including beta testers and users who gained early access through deals that SpaceX made with school districts, Native American tribes, and remote communities in Chile. It also has a waitlist of more than 500,000 possible customers.
Access to Starlink has a high upfront cost in the form of a one-time payment of $499 for the terminal and equipment that provide connectivity to the satellite constellation. However, SpaceX that it plans to gradually slash that price down to $125 by improving manufacturing efficiency for Starlink terminals. It currently produces 5,000 terminals a week at a cost of $1,300 each.
Starlink promises that users will see download speeds between 50 Mbps and 150 Mbps, though Elon Musk thinks SpaceX could get that speed as high as 300 Mbps. Results from Speedtest.com has recently returned an average download speed of 97.23 Mbps for Starlink Internet with 45-millisecond latency time. Musk says that latency could eventually drop to 20 milliseconds, which could make it attractive for applications like competitive gaming.
By way of comparison, “traditional” ground-based internet gets an average download speed of 115.22 Mbps. Competitors like ViaSat and HughesNet get average download speeds of 18.13 Mbps and 19.73 Mbps, respectively.
And, yes, the competing satellite Internet companies do seem to hate Starlink with a passion, to the occasional annoyance of Elon Musk:
Beta testers also reported that Starlink terminals do well in harsh winter weather. However, they do occasionally shut down during the exceptionally hot summers seen in areas like Arizona. SpaceX may be working on a fix for the latter problem, as the terminals may need to be updated to allow for the next generation Starlink satellites that recently received regulatory approval anyway.
Demand for Starlink is so high that some customers who are interested in signing up occasionally reported long estimated wait times to receive their terminals – sometimes even being told that they might have to wait until 2023. SpaceX has not yet said whether the manufacturing facility that it is building in Tulsa to manufacture new Starlink satellites will also manufacture the terminals, though it wouldn’t be too out of line to assume that it’s working on improving its ability to churn them out.
Beyond that, SpaceX has decided that Starlink is ready for prime time and will likely turn its attention to filling its existing orders on that long waitlist. SpaceX president Gwynn Shotwell estimates that the satellite Internet market could be as high as US$1 trillion, possibly enough to fund SpaceX’s ultimate goal of enabling crewed missions to Mars if it can attract a large enough market share.
This indicates a potentially large untapped market consisting of individuals that might have simply lacked the opportunities that come with reliable, affordable Internet access due to living in a low-income area or one that hasn’t seen much investment in development of Internet infrastructure. This is a market that Starlink could reach now that it is nearly ready to come out of beta.