In January 2024, SpaceX Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Elon Musk announced that the company will be releasing a portable version of the Starlink Mini satellite dish in the coming months. The terminal will be small enough to fit in a backpack and is expected to be about the size of a 14-inch MacBook Pro. This ABI Insight provides an overview of the developments at SpaceX, the potential impact of satellite Internet, the commercial prospects of the Satellite Communications (SatCom) terminals market, and recommendations for market participants in the SatCom terminals market space.
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Starlink Mini: Revolutionizing Satellite Internet, One Tiny Terminal at a Time
SpaceX, founded in 2002, has been at the forefront of technological innovation in space exploration and Satellite Communications (SatCom). Among its numerous groundbreaking ventures, the Starlink project stands out as a pioneering initiative that is actively reshaping the landscape of satellite Internet. Starlink satellite Internet works by deploying a large constellation of small satellites (~4,900 active as of 4Q 2023) in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to provide high-speed Internet access to users on the ground. Nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites have been planned for deployment, with a possible later extension to 42,000 satellites.
To access Starlink's satellite network, users must utilize a ground terminal, commonly known as a “satellite dish.” These Starlink terminals are equipped with advanced phased-array antennas, enabling them to establish and maintain connections with the rapidly moving LEO satellites. Each terminal is also paired with a modem to facilitate communication. The Starlink terminal links use the Ku-band (12 Gigahertz (GHz) to 18 GHz), while the Ka-band (27 GHz to 40 GHz) is used for the Gateway link. Starlink offers a range of terminal models and sizes tailored to various user needs, including the Standard Actuated Terminal and Standard Terminal (best for residential users), High-Performance Terminal (best for power user, business, and enterprise applications), Flat High-Performance Terminal (designed for mobility applications and challenging environments), and Aviation Terminal, each designed to cater to different types of users and applications.
SpaceX is set to launch the Starlink Mini, a portable satellite Internet dish, later this year. And this backpack-sized dish promises to bring high-speed, low-latency broadband to remote and underserved areas around the world. Key features of Starlink Mini include:
- Portability: Designed to fit in a backpack, making it ideal for travelers, campers, and those in remote locations.
- Affordability: Priced at US$599, Starlink Mini is significantly cheaper than other traditional satellite Internet options.
- Performance: Capable of delivering download speeds of up to 220 Megabytes per Second (Mbps) and latency as low as 20 Milliseconds (ms).
Space Age Revolution: When the Internet Rains Down from Above
Starlink's primary mission is to bridge the digital divide, bringing Internet access to underserved and remote areas where traditional terrestrial infrastructure can't reach—think rural villages, mountainous regions, and even ships sailing in the middle of the ocean. Since the first batch of 60 operational Starlink satellites launched in 2019, Starlink satellite Internet services are now available in more than 70 countries, with an are estimated 2.3 million subscribers to date (4Q 2023).
Starlink’s potential impact can be broadly categorized into several key areas:
- Bridging the Digital Divide: By providing affordable and reliable Internet to remote and underserved/unserved areas, Starlink satellite services can bridge the digital divide and connect millions of people who currently lack access.
- Boosting Rural Economies: Improved Internet connectivity will enable remote work, e-commerce opportunities, and access to global markets, which will revitalize rural economies. Reliable Internet access can also attract businesses and entrepreneurs to rural areas, leading to economic growth and job creation.
- Enable New Applications: Starlink satellite Internet can support the development of new applications and services that rely on fast and reliable Internet connectivity, such as telemedicine, remote education, and global communication.
- Education Revolution: Starlink can connect students in remote areas to online learning platforms and virtual libraries, fostering knowledge sharing and bridging educational gaps.
Exploring the Lucrative Commercial Opportunities of SatCom Terminals
Satellite Internet is on the rise thanks to tech advancements and the need for remote connectivity. SatCom terminals, which connect users to satellite networks, are also evolving. Key trends include miniaturization, phased-array antennas, multiband/multimodal terminals, integrated systems, and cost reductions.
ABI Research anticipates a positive growth trajectory for the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT), Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN), and Non-Terrestrial Network (NTN) handset terminals market and that the market is expected to be valued at over US$238 billion by 2030. Shipments of low-cost flat panel VSATs are also expected to reach up to 2 million a year, representing a 2022-2030 Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 18.6%. For more information, refer to ABI Research’s Satellite Communication Terminals & CPE Shipments: BGAN & VSAT market data (MD-SATTB-101).
ABI Research has three recommendations for market participants in the SatCom terminal market space:
- Go Beyond the Traditional VSAT: While traditional VSATs (typically bulky and not exactly mobile-friendly terminals with Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellite reliance) have long been the workhorses of the SatCom landscape, the market is ripe for diversification. SatCom manufacturers can diversify offerings with options like compact and portable VSATs and multimodal terminals with LEO and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) compatibility. The next-gen SatCom terminals are expected to be compact and portable, highly mobile, and have LEO and MEO connection compatibility.
- Target Untapped Markets: To venture beyond traditional hubs and explore areas with limited terrestrial infrastructure like remote islands, rural hinterlands, and developing/emerging nations. Partner with local governments and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to address Internet connectivity needs in underserved regions. Invest business operations in specific sectors with unique communication challenges—think agriculture (precision farming, crop monitoring), maritime (fishing fleets, offshore platforms), and emergency response (disaster relief, search & rescue). Develop customized connection solutions that address their specific needs and communication workflows.
- Integrate Cutting-Edge Technologies: SatCom manufacturers can optimize terminals for improved performance by implementing AI algorithms that automatically adjust antenna pointing based on real-time satellite position, weather conditions, and signal strength to optimize performance, minimize latency, and reduce manual intervention. Advanced coding techniques to pack more data into each transmitted signal could also be integrated into the SatCom terminals to boost bandwidth efficiency and throughput.