SpaceX Launches Its Starlink Internet Service into Space

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By Harriet Sumnall | 3Q 2019 | IN-5511

In the past six months, SpaceX has raised more than US$1 billion to roll out Starlink, its new satellite constellation venture, which aims to offer high-speed Internet around the globe. The first wave of satellites that will provide this service was launched at the end of May and is only phase one of the mammoth launch SpaceX is planning. To get a sufficient service available, a minimum of 12 more deployments of this multitude are required, to bring the service to a significant operational capability. The constellation however, will not be complete until the full planned figure of 11,972 satellites are launched, which will offer full worldwide coverage.

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The First Wave

NEWS


In the past six months, SpaceX has raised more than US$1 billion to roll out Starlink, its new satellite constellation venture, which aims to offer high-speed Internet around the globe. The first wave of satellites that will provide this service was launched at the end of May, and is only phase one of the mammoth launch SpaceX is planning. To get a sufficient service available, a minimum of 12 more deployments of this magnitude are required to bring the service to a significant operational capability. The constellation will not be complete, however, until the full planned figure of 11,972 satellites are launched, offering full worldwide coverage.

Blocking the Orbit

IMPACT


SpaceX is competing against Amazon’s project Kuiper to launch its satellite constellations that will offer global Internet connectivity via the use of satellites. In 2Q 2019, Amazon announced the plans for its project, including its goal of launching over 3,000 satellites on a Low Earth Orbit (LEO). The Starlink project announced by SpaceX, however, has the competitive advantage due to its ownership of a significant amount of the infrastructure required to launch LEO satellites. While the Starlink project is purely for the release of Internet services, its competitors plan to extend their services to allow for satellite Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity. Competing vendors may struggle with their launches on a LEO basis due to the priority the Starlink project holds.

At an altitude of 200 km, LEO is in much closer proximity to the Earth than the geostationary orbiting satellites, which are in orbit at an altitude of 35,800 kilometers. Because the LEO orbital route is closer to Earth, it has a smaller perimeter. This means that there is not as much room for satellite displacement when the orbit becomes more crowded. The increasing number of satellite constellations planned on LEO altitudes creates problems for the future due to the congestion that would be created if new satellites were launched. A congested space network will not only create an unsuccessful environment for these two significant constellations but will also prevent smaller satellite operators from being able to launch their satellites.

Space for Satellites in IoT

RECOMMENDATIONS


Having a global Internet connection via the use of satellites will lead to the ability to use satellites within the IoT market. Though terrestrial networks are currently the preferred connectivity option for IoT solutions and devices, specific application segments are seeing a growing use of satellite connectivity.

Agriculture, asset tracking, and maritime tracking are three verticals where satellite connectivity is growing, and ABI Research forecasts that there will be 1,260,000 connections within the agricultural space via satellite connectivity by 2024. The agricultural space is a maturing market for both IoT connections (ABI Research forecasts that there will be two million connected farms by 2024) and the use of satellite technologies. Satellite connectivity is better used in areas that are more remote in nature, which is evident in specific market verticals that are displaying the use of satellite connectivity.

Though Starlink is planned to be hugely successful, there are many aspects that could prevent this if they go wrong. If all goes well, however, eventually a global service will be available. With the first taste of the constellation launched, 340 further satellites are required to be launched to provide a partial service, which would be beneficial for the North American region, in which Comcast currently holds the majority of the Internet connectivity market. If Starlink is to be as successful as promised, there is ample market opportunity for SpaceX to grasp worldwide, especially in Middle Eastern and African countries. IoT connectivity however, has a significantly lower number of opportunities because many more vendors are attempting to enter the market to compete against traditional satellite providers such as Global Star and Iridium.  Both SpaceX and Amazon plan to create and provide faster Internet access, even to those who are not currently connected. Announced data access speeds are in the range of 20 to 60 Mbits per second, claiming to be enough to stream 4K video to 40,000 people at once. Amazon’s constellation is more focused on IoT deployments, which could be threatened by the new Starlink Internet-providing satellites due to the priority that SpaceX will place on its own infrastructure over its competitors’. This would delay the deployment of IoT solutions via the satellite space.

Both constellation projects, especially Starlink, will offer faster Internet access compared to ground-based cable and fiber optic networks over long distances, even to areas that are not connected now. Not only does this cause a whirl of excitement and growth within the IoT space, it also allows less advantaged regions to benefit from the simple technologies that more advantaged regions enjoy on a daily basis. This means that the overall ability to use IoT solutions will increase globally due to the ability to connect, no matter where the market is based.

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