Internet from space? Elon Musk's satellite internet service up and running

3rd November 2020

The United States will soon be able to get internet coverage in its sparsely populated and largely rural northern states directly from satellites provided by Elon Musk's Starlink.

Starlink now has 900 satellites in low Earth orbit undergoing beta testing for users in the northern US and southern Canada.

Low-orbit satellites transmitting internet connectivity would eliminate the need for non-cost effective technologies like fiber cables or cellular towers.

While data can be sent to and from high-orbit satellites, it is costly and requires a high-tech vase station to facilitate the movement of data.

By using lower orbits, costs are reduced as the ground station equipment will use less power and thus be less expensive.

A large number of satellites also increases coverage, allowing for many more customers to use the service.

Those who have signed up to Starlink's "Better Than Nothing Beta" (so as not to raise expectations) will pay $99 (R1 603) a month and will pay $500 (R8 095) upfront for the base station equipment consisting of a tripod, Wi-Fi router, and a terminal to connect to the satellites.

With an offered speed of between 50 and 150 megabits per second (Mbps), the cost is not too bad.

SpaceX emailed customers last week: "As you can tell from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations. Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all."

Considering that the target audience is people with no immediate access to fiber networks or cellphone towers, that is acceptable.

The prospect of the technology being applied in places like rural Africa could help the continent reach a new level of development as it would be just that much easier for it to reach out to the world.

The Daily Maverick's Shapshak highlighted the idea that smallholder farmers could sell their harvest via smart online platforms such as the Mastercard Farmer Network, allowing farmers to deal with buyers directly and increasing their yields.

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