On the 24th of May 2019, Starlink launched a Falcon 9 rocket containing 60 satellites into space. This marked the first step of their ambitious plan of bringing low cost, ultra-low latency and high-speed internet to every corner of the world.
Starlink is the brainchild of Elon Musk and is owned by SpaceX. He has recently received approval for the launch of 12,000 mini low-orbital satellites into space from the Federal Communications Commission and has plans to launch a further 30,000 of them. Without getting into technical jargon, these devices will orbit the earth covering it in a web of internet connectivity. Theoretically speaking, anyone who has a receiver will be able to access high-speed internet at any location;- from the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the arid sand dunes of the Sahara desert.
The implications for this technology are far-reaching. The Starlink satellites communicate with light travelling through a vacuum. which travels faster than light travelling through conventional fibre networks, meaning reduced latency. Let’s take a look at the financial markets where every millisecond counts. A trader in London making a purchase order from the New York Stock exchange through the Starlink network will be approved 10 milliseconds faster than a trader using conventional fibre networks, giving that particular firm a huge advantage. This perhaps explains why Starlink did not struggle to get the $15 plus billion in funding needed in order to launch the network.
The UN has estimated that more than half the world’s population are not connected to the internet. Providing the infrastructure needed in developing countries as well as remote regions is currently far too costly to make it viable. Without the need for any bulky tech or fibre networks, individuals would only need a small receiver to get connected using the Starlink network. Imagine the global impact if these people could get online. Starlink would mean billions could reach a range of life-enhancing online services such as healthcare, skills and education, finance and jobs, as well as information and entertainment.
There are of course disadvantages and issues with Starlink. 40,000 satellites whizzing around the earth in low orbit is bound to cause light pollution. Astronomers have been voicing their concerns that the sky will be too littered to explore and make scientific observations and discoveries in the future. If these satellites fail, millions of pieces of space junk could also fall back to earth. Privacy has also been a hotly contested issue in recent years and certain governments and agencies will have a field day if everyone is connected, with the enhanced possibility of a real-life big brother and surveillance-led world. Additionally, Starlink will likely meet changes in already censorship-heavy states. These countries will not welcome the prospect of millions of citizens being able to bypass their own countries’ censored networks.
One of Starlink’s aims, as I have already mentioned, is to bring affordable internet to everyone. This being said, there lies an issue in how the company defines ‘affordable’. Recent estimates have put the pricing of Starlink at around $80/month. 71% of the world’s population currently live on less than $10 per day so at current estimates, most people won’t actually be able to afford it, leaving the world’s richest to take advantage of the network, whilst leaving the majority without.