Connecting the Unconnected: Starlink’s Expansion into Asia Signals a Shift in Closing the Digital Divide

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By Andrew Cavalier | 3Q 2023 | IN-6998

Starlink, the satellite broadband service from SpaceX, has expanded into Japan, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and various other countries in Asia to provide end-user Internet connectivity. The solution serves multiple purposes for the region. Not only does the service provide much needed connectivity for rural communities and maritime shipping routes throughout Asia, but in Japan’s case, a connectivity solution for defense applications. With more than 25,000 islands and distributed areas throughout Asia, it is challenging to provide terrestrial connectivity, let alone 5G, to every country. The expansionary efforts of Starlink are bringing to light the significant opportunity for connecting the unconnected in Asia and building a more inter-connected world.

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Starlink Spearheads Distributed Connectivity Solutions in Asia


Since the beginning of 2023, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite operator SpaceX has been rapidly expanding into Asia. The end-user satellite broadband service, Starlink, is already available in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Myanmar, Indonesia, Australia, and Vietnam, with larger markets to follow. Starlink has not only provided much needed high-speed end-user broadband to remote communities throughout the region, but also supported the rollout of high-speed Internet coverage via cellular backhaul, with KDDI in Japan using the service to deliver broadband Internet to 1,200 remote mobile towers across Japan. In this way, satellite-enabled broadband solutions have been gaining momentum in the region, reinforcing their role in connecting the region’s unconnected, and supplying critical resiliency for defense in the region, as displayed by recent interest in Starlink by Japan’s defense ministry.

Closing the Digital Divide and Enhancing Security across Asia-Pacific


Starlink’s entry into the Asia-Pacific market has the potential to significantly improve access to high-speed Internet throughout the region. Starlink’s packages offer a key advantage by granting customers access to high-speed Internet in underserved areas. This means that people residing in rural or remote regions can now enjoy Internet connectivity on par with their urban counterparts, with speeds of around 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) and latencies of around 20 milliseconds. These low-latency links provided by Starlink satellites can enhance or introduce entirely new Internet services, such as online banking, e-commerce, and education. Despite many of these countries having high terrestrial network coverage, the opportunity for Starlink remains significant in the region, with the GSMA estimating a coverage gap of 4% of the population and a usage gap of 52% of the population for the region as of the end of 2022. With more than 25,000 islands and distributed areas throughout Asia, it is challenging to roll out terrestrial connectivity, let alone ensure it can be economical to do so, to every region. The Philippines, with more than 7,100 islands and a combined residency of over 100 million people, for example, stands to benefit greatly from a cheap and effective satellite solution like Starlink. For Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, the rural population ratio can be as high as 22% in Brunei Darussalam or 76% in Cambodia (2020). ABI Research estimates that the global opportunity remains larger still, with more than 330 million premises remaining unconnected in 2023.

While Starlink is shaping up to have a strong presence in Asia, it is not alone in establishing a satellite broadband connectivity foothold. Operators such as Kacific, OneWeb, Hughes Network Systems, and Viasat, which provide managed services and distribute satellite Internet connectivity, have also been building relationships in the region. In this way, Starlink’s enterprise-focused segments—maritime, aviation, and government—are not the only or the best options on the block. With the impending launch of Amazon’s lower-cost Kuiper satellite broadband services in the coming years, and operators Hughes Network Systems and Viasat offering consumer broadband, even Starlink’s consumer-oriented services may eventually come under threat.

Accelerate the Integration of SatCom for Remote and Distributed Connectivity


As Starlink enters these markets, many nations have a viable option to balance infrastructure development project budgets and forgo the high upfront Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) required to build out the necessary infrastructure for affordable terrestrial and satellite connectivity. Alongside this, communities can gain access to vital high-speed connectivity that enables access to higher education, higher wages, and a general boost to the overall economic growth, while reducing poverty rates. In this way, a holistic approach to enabling Starlink and satellite broadband in the region can help unlock digital transformation at all levels of society. The following are a few recommendations:

  • Improve Transparency and Collaboration with Regulatory Bodies: Reward transparency and engage in collaborative programs to ensure compliance with local regulations, spectrum allocation, licensing, and coordination to facilitate the smooth deployment and operation of satellite broadband services.
  • Address Affordability and Accessibility: Develop strategies to make Starlink and satellite broadband services affordable and accessible to a wide range of users, particularly in rural and remote areas where traditional terrestrial connectivity is limited. Explore partnerships and subsidies to bridge the affordability gap and promote digital inclusion.


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