Elon Musk Starlink brings fast broadband to rural UK
The Starlink chain of satellites is bringing high speed connectivity to rural villages across the UK. With more than 1,000 satellites already in orbit, Elon Musk’s satellite broadband service is aiming to cover the globe with 42,000 satellites by 2022. The Starlink network will provide superfast global broadband and is currently on trial in the UK, Northern US, Southern Canada and Europe.
Users will need a £439 starter kit including router, tripod and terminal to connect to the Starlink network, plus a monthly subscription of £89 for 150 megabits per second (Mbps). This is available through the 'Better Than Nothing Beta' test.
Phillip Hall in rural Devon saw his connection speeds leap from 0.5 mbps to between 85 and 90 Mbps. He called the service ‘transformational’ for the IT business he runs from home. Previously he and his partner had only been able to access Teams meetings by switching off every other internet device in the house.
Although fibre is cheaper, with subscription fees of around £79 a month for speeds up to 516 Mbps, there are areas of the UK where fibre remains unavailable. Starlink could be a gamechanger for those hard to reach communities.
Connection to Starlink is made via a terminal or small satellite dish. Musk refers to these terminals as ‘UFOs on a stick’. Users install the Starlink app on their phone then plug in the terminal, which then positions itself to face the sky and tilts to align with the Starlink satellites.
However, Starlink remains in beta testing with planned satellite outages that can impact on productivity and entertainment use. Starlink is continually increasing capacity with an aim to cover the globe by the end of next year.
The project is not without controversy as the satellite constellation fills the sky, spoiling the view for stargazers. But for rural business owners the network is a lifesaver and well worth the monthly fee.
According to the website, Starlink has been conceived for areas where connectivity is traditionally a challenge. By bypassing traditional infrastructure Starlink hopes to blanket the planet with accessible high speed internet with better uptime, data speed and latency.
The appeal of satellite internet is attracting existing providers as a potential solution for rural connectivity issues. BT is in first stage talks with the government-owned OneWeb satellite firm to address the issue of the 190,000 premises in the UK that can’t access a decent broadband service.
With less red tape and fewer competitors than fibre, it seems likely that satellite broadband will establish its capacity infrastructure long before fibre reaches its connectivity targets.
Long term strategy
Elon Musk has already hinted that Starlink will commercially support the SpaceX programme, currently the only space programme with the capacity to shoot payloads into space. Musk makes no secret of the fact that he has ambitions to establish a base on Mars. Could it be that the Starlink early adopters are in fact trialling what will become the specialist communication infrastructure for the first Mars colonists?