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But satellite internet nerds, Elon Musk stans and people who live in rural areas with poor broadband coverage have been signing up in droves for the chance to test Starlink since it became open to the public since the beta program in February 2021.

A year later, Musk tweeted that Starlink had hit 250,000 customers. While it’s unclear what the company’s current waiting list looks like, as of last May, the company had 10,000 active customers and a waiting list of 500,000. In October, SpaceX pushed back its wait times for Starlink to “late 2022, early 2023” after initially expecting orders to ship between late 2021 and mid-2022. In a Reddit thread where Starlink customers share when they first ordered a service and when they actually received it, posters report wait times of up to 14 months: Some placed orders in February 2021 and come to receive their equipment this month. One user even reported having his pre-order canceled after missing an email with their seven-day window to claim the service.

“I am no longer a horny beta user on an exclusive waitlist. I am now a bittersweet hater who may never forgive the company for its treatment,” the user wrote in a post. I understand that there may be more demand than supply, but COMPLETELY cancel my order and send me to the end of the line? Wow.”

Aside from the furious early adopters, the important question remains: how does Starlink compare to traditional high-speed internet? In the United States, it still lags behind, according to research firm Ookla.

A Ok so A March report found that SpaceX’s internet service offers median download speeds of 104.97 megabytes per second and upload speeds of 12.04 Mbps, lagging the median download speeds of broadband providers from 131.3 Mbps and download speeds of 19.5 Mbps.

However, Starlink easily outperforms competing satellite internet providers. HughesNet only gets download speeds of 20.92 Mbps and upload speeds of 2.54 Mbps, according to Ookla, while Viasat offers 21.81 Mbps downloads and 2.88 Mbps uploads.

However, Starlink’s service depends on the country. Starlink beats broadband by massive margins in multiple countries including Australia, Mexico, France, Italy, Ireland, UK and Germany. Starlink also has slightly faster download speeds in Canada, with speeds of 106.6 Mbps compared to fixed broadband download speeds of 96.4 Mbps.

Although it outperforms broadband in some countries, the price is much higher than what your average broadband ISP charges. A Starlink terminal, which includes a satellite dish and a router (which users must install themselves), costs $599 to install and then $110 a month for service — and that’s just for the subscription plan. base. The premium plan is $2,500 for setup and $500 per month for service, promising speeds of up to 500 Mbps.

Compare that to Verizon, which claims to offer 300 Mbps download speeds for around $40 per month with an installation fee of $99 for its basic plan, or Spectrum, which offers a basic 200 Mbps plan for around $50 per month (installation costs $50 more for professional installation and $20 for self-installation). Of course, real-world download speeds are often much slower than promised by ISPs, but for the average Internet user, especially those living in the suburbs or in the city, Starlink might not be worth it. the penalty.

Starlink is designed primarily for remote and rural areas, as its satellite dishes work best with a clear view of the sky. It promises download speeds of between 100 and 200 Mbps, although it only reached a median download speed of over 100 Mbps in Q4 2021.

Starlink itself claims to provide “high-speed broadband Internet, even in places where access is unreliable, overpriced, or completely unavailable.”

But the service has a long way to go. On the one hand, SpaceX needs to shoot more satellites into the sky. The company is currently working to build the Starlink constellation of satellites, having launched more than 2,000 satellites into orbit in dozens of launches since its launch in late 2019. SpaceX aims to deploy a total of 42,000 satellites, making its megaconstellation even more mega. Although speeds will likely improve once Starlink builds its constellation, the process is costing SpaceX a pretty penny. The Starlink constellation could cost the company between $20 billion and $30 billion in total, Musk said in June.

For Starlink and other satellite internet operators to compete with fixed broadband, the cost of everything – from launching a satellite into orbit to the materials needed to manufacture it – is going to have to come down, said Brooke Stokes, associate partner of the research firm McKinsey. & Company.

“Then I think you wonder how patient investor capital will be versus how quickly these megaconstellation operators can create markets and unlock demand,” Stokes said. This question puts Starlink, which operates the largest constellation of satellites in the sky, in a precarious position.

That doesn’t seem to deter Musk, however, whose huge investment fuels big ambitions. Starlink could have colossal returns, bringing in as much as $30 billion a year by 2025, Musk predicted last year, making about 10 times the revenue its launch services business would bring. But for Starlink to actually generate that much revenue, it would have to become more than just an internet service provider. It would have to be the Internet service provider, serving tens of millions of subscribers each year. (Years agoSpaceX predicted that Starlink would attract more than 40 million global customers by 2025. For context, Spectrum has 32 million Internet customers in the United States, and Verizon has approximately 6.74 million.)

Needless to say, Musk’s ambitions are, well, ambitious (but when aren’t they?). Blair Levin, nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and policy analyst at New Street Research, said the total addressable market of people living in rural and remote areas and would in fact be willing to pay the monthly amount Musk is asking. Starlink just isn’t high enough. And the infrastructure bill passed in November has spent tens of billions of dollars in grants to states to expand rural broadband, Levin said, a factor that could also eat away at Musk’s market in the United States.

“This is a significant investment in the more efficient network which will have its [capital expenditures] paid and for whom operating expenses are going to be lower,” Levin said. “So it’s going to hurt the potential of [Musk’s] Business.”

One possible saving grace in the bill is a $30-a-month grant, totaling $14 billion, to rural families through the Affordable Connectivity Program to help cover the cost of the internet, Levin said, bringing the monthly cost of Starlink down from $110 to $80. per person.

But Starlink might have better luck focusing on corporate contracts, Stokes said, such as major contracts with cruise ships and airlines. Although the consumer Internet market is the largest in terms of potential markets, it is highly fragmented, Stokes said, with many users unable or unwilling to afford the high cost of Starlink.

Starlink may also have realized the importance of corporate contracts: SpaceX signed its first inflight Wi-Fi agreement with JSX earlier this month to cover up to 100 aircraft, and is currently in talks with Delta Airlines to board its services (although this partnership will likely take a few years to materialize, given that Delta is expected to equip its planes with Starlink equipment).

The verdict? From speeds to order processing to expanding its customer base, Starlink still has a long way to go. But Musk seems committed to the cause — at least unless he’s too busy taking over Twitter.

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