What is Starlink
Starlink is an ambitious project by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. It currently offers internet service to over 34 countries with its target being worldwide internet coverage. Starlink may just be the most advanced world satellite internet service.
Starlink has been out of pubic Beta since October 2021. The service offers speeds that vary from about 50 – 150 Mbps and latency of less than 50 MS in most cases. Starlink is really a division of the spaceflight company SpaceX, Starlink is also the name of its growing network of orbital satellites. The network began development in 2015.
At the end of 2020, Space X secured grant funds of $885.5 million from FCC. There are currently more than 1,000 satellites in low earth orbit that deliver internet access to beta customers in SpaceX. Broadband service is offered in 32 countries. After one year, Starlink had more than 2,000 functional satellites orbiting. The goal is to have 40,000 Starlink satellites in orbit
What makes Starlink special?
Compared to traditional satellites, a key advantage is the low latency of Starlink’s internet, optimizing video calls and online gaming. Latency is the time it takes to send data from one point to the next.
Traditional satellites are far from earth. They orbit around 35,000 km or 21,748 miles above the earth, so latency is high. While their distance allows for good coverage, there are big delays in sending and receiving signals. Resulting in poor performance.
Starlink Advantages: higher speed, low latency, no data caps
Starlink speeds are very fast for satellite internet.
- Speed is currently, 50 Mb/sec to 150Mb/sec.
- Latency is from 40 ms to 60 ms in most locations.
Although there may be brief periods when there is no connectivity. These drops are especially common if your do not have a perfect view of the sky free from obstructions. The Starlink app can help with that.
Starlink satellites travel close to the earth at 550 km (342 miles.
Starlink satellites differ from traditional internet satellites. Starlink satellites are lighter, about 500 lbs., and more compact. It features only a single flat foldable solar panel, minimizing volume and maximizing launch capability. The 4-phased array of antennas allows huge amounts of signal to be transported and redirected in a short period of time for a lower cost.
Starlink spacecraft is the first to use krypton power ion thrusters, which are less expensive than typical chemical thrusters. These thrusters help reposition the satellites when in orbit and can help de-orbit the satellite, once they reach the end of their life. Thus being both cost-effective and innovative, Starlink will revolutionize internet connectivity.
Who is the Target Market for Starlink?
Ideally, everyone but its main target market is people in remote and rural areas with no access or unreliable access to high-speed broadband. Starlink is not really intended to compete with services such as Verizon Fios, Comcast (Xfinity), or Spectrum.
Starlink is however going to be able to compete with 5G wireless in many areas.
Simple and Fast Set-up:
- The cost is $110 monthly.
- $599 is a one-time payment for the Starter Kit.
The Starlink hardware includes a satellite dish and router, a tripod base that you set up at home to receive the signal from space. Please note that Starlink orders are currently available to a certain number of people per area.
Starlink antennas are powered units that move to track the satellites. Additionally this power enables the antenna to detect and melt snow falling on it and prevent outages and interruptions because Starlink requires a clear view of the sky to connect.
There is a mounting tripod for ground-level installation. Or for a quick start set up to test the internet connection. Most people do a roof installation.
- Starlink also has a free mobile App. It walks a user through the setup process. To make the connection, simply set up a small satellite dish at home to receive the signal and pass the bandwidth on to your router.
A Starlink app for Android and iOS provides augmented reality to help customers choose the best location and position for the receivers. It also lets you use your phone camera to find the best location for the Starlink antenna. Where there is a clear view of the sky.
You can mount the satellite dish on rooftops, yards or the exterior of your home. SpaceX stipulates that optimum location is the most important factor to get the best internet connection and speed.
When the antenna is in place, plug the dish into the router and walk through the Set-Up guide. Then assign a WiFi Network Name (SSID) and WiFi password. From there you’re connected. The satellite you connect to will connect with a Starlink ground station to give you high-speed internet.
What are some of the Limitations of Starlink?
Some astronomers point to possible obstruction of views in their telescopes and camera lenses caused by the reflection of thousands of low-orbiting satellites. They rely on clear sky views; any obstruction compromises their data. Other sectors observe that Starlink satellites may pose a threat to spacecraft sharing orbital space. The European Space Agency had to move its satellite out of the way to avoid colliding with a Starlink satellite practicing de-orbiting techniques
Before Starlink, only 9,000 satellites were launched. Starlink’s goal is to have 12,000 and eventually, 42,000 satellites. These thousands of satellites will add to space litter.
To meet regulatory standards, Starlink gathers inputs from space agencies to mitigate collision risk such as the US Department of Defense debris tracking system to perform autonomous evasive maneuvers to reduce collision. SpaceX has a system to de-orbit the satellites after several months. If the systems fail, the satellites are designed to naturally burn up in the earth’s atmosphere in 1 to 5 years.
Other solutions are as more satellites are placed, they’ll be able to move further from the earth. This will reduce visibility. The January 2020 batch, in fact, included one called dark set, painted with an experimental black coating, to reduce brightness.
Will Starlink Replace Cell Towers?
No. Not at all. Starlink is not able to directly serve mobile phones in the way a cell phone tower does. Starlink could however be used as backhaul for some cell towers that are not within reach of running fiber to.
Starlink will not replace cell phone towers but my compliment them in some remote locations. There is a possibility that some of these towers could even be solar powered and completely off grid.
These towers will be designed to relay off each other, so if one tower can’t get to the Sky because of clouds or the weather, it’ll connect from the nearest tower it can talk to. Every tower is online all the time, regardless of which of the towers can access the Sky.
Starlink is not going to replace ground based internet whatsoever. Instead Starlink is going to provide broadband internet to regions that never had ground based internet.
Starlink is not a real threat to fiber or cable based internet services. Wired internet services are inherently more stable and consistent, especially during peak hours.
What is 5G wireless technology?
5G is the fifth generation of wireless technology. It enables a network designed to connect virtually everyone and everything, including machines, objects, and devices. 5G wireless technology will deliver higher multi-Gbps peak data speeds, lower latency, increased reliability, massive network capacity, more availability, and a better user experience to more users.
Higher performance and improved efficiency will bring about next-generation user experiences, deliver new services and connect new industries. 5G will expand the mobile ecosystem and impact industries such as remote health care, telemedicine, precision agriculture, and digitized logistics.
5G – can handle more traffic
5G has the potential to be about 10x faster than 4G and LTE with a theoretical peak speed of 10 Gigabytes per second. Real world 5G speeds are closer to 200 – 700 Mbps. In areas where the cell tower is overlyncongested 5G tends to perform about the same as 4G.
How 5G operates: overview
Any information that a user sends or receives in a network is carried through the air with the help of radio frequencies.
5G operates in a similar way but uses higher radio frequencies. It carries more information faster. 5G uses multiple input and output antennas to avoid physical objects like buildings and trees, obstructing communication.
The 2 main components of 5G are the Radio Access Network and the Core Network.
- The Radio Access Network includes small cells, macro cells, towers, and home systems connecting users and devices to the Core Network. Cells use multiple input multiple output (MIMO) antennas that enable one to receive and send data in large volumes simultaneously. Small cells complement the macro cells.
- The Core Network integrates the internet more efficiently. The Core Network manages all the internet and data collections. The Core manages the advanced features of 5G, like Network Function, Virtualization, and Network Slicing. Network Slicing is cutting the network into several slices for specific businesses or industries. For example, emergency services can work on a network slice independently from virtual reality. The core network is almost exclusively built out using fiber optic cables.
New Technologies Emerging as the Foundation of 5G
Your Smartphone and other electronic devices at home use specific frequencies on the Radio Frequency Spectrum, under 6 gigahertz. The frequency spectrum between 3 gigahertz to 6 gigahertz was not a problem before. There were not as many connected devices needing bandwidth. The emergence of things like virtual reality, augmented reality, automated cars, smartwatches, and more devices going online stress the need for constant and fast connections.
These frequencies are now crowded. If all these devices remain in the current frequency spectrum, no device will get the proper bandwidth to operate as designed to. The result is slower service. The carriers can only submit data on the same amount of radio frequency spectrum. The solution is to open up more territory
At present, engineers are experimenting with broadcasting on shorter millimeter waves, between 30 and 300 gigahertz. It is the first time that this spectrum has been used for mobile devices. Opening this spectrum gives more bandwidth for all users. However, millimeter waves can’t travel over obstacles and buildings. They are absorbed by plants and rain. They require nearly line-of-sight communication. To solve this problem, we need smaller cells.
Small Cell Networks
Higher frequency waves have a harder time traveling through obstacles. If you move behind an obstacle, the signal is lost. Small cell networks will solve this problem. Using thousands of low-powered mini base stations (these are closer together than traditional towers) form a relay team to transfer signals around obstacles. Especially useful in cities. These can be installed on top of buildings, even on streetlights.
As a user goes past an obstacle, the smartphone automatically uses another base station in a better range of his device, allowing him to keep his connection. This ensures high speed and low latency.
Stands for multiple inputs, multiple outputs. With dozens of antennas to handle all cellular traffic. 4G stations have dozens of ports for antennas that handle all cellular traffic. MIMO can support a hundred ports. Thus increasing the capacity of networks. But MIMO comes with complications such as interference and signal reflection.
Beamforming is essentially a traffic signaling system for cellular signals. Instead of broadcasting in every direction, it will allow a base station to send a focused stream of data to a specific user. Its precision prevents interference and is more efficient. That means stations can handle more incoming and outgoing data streams at once
If you’re in a cluster of buildings, try to make a phone call. Your signal is ricocheting off and around the buildings and crisscrossing with other signals from users in the area. A massive MIMO station receives all these signals and keeps track of the timing and direction of their arrival.
It uses signal processing algorithms to triangulate exactly where each signal comes from and plots the best transmission route back through the air to each phone. Sometimes, it even bounces packets of data in different directions off of buildings or other objects to keep signals from interfering with each other. The result is a coherent data stream sent only to the target receiving device.
How can Starlink and 5G Co-Exist, and Benefit Each Other?
Previously, the fastest non-wired internet available was 4G. 5G is a big step forward, with a major upgrade in speed achieved by using higher radio frequencies to transfer data. More data at faster speeds. Because 5G uses higher frequencies, there is a big problem with distribution. More cell towers are needed to achieve the same coverage we have today.
But the existing cell towers of today that do not support 5G will need to be replaced. Huge infrastructure is needed to give coverage in rural areas. The disparity between internet speeds in cities and rural areas is already a problem, The need for 5G infrastructure will add to the problem of imbalance.
Some wireless carriers do not deploy resources in areas with low populations because installing infrastructure is costly and difficult. Satellite companies, like Starlink on the other hand, can offer broadband to rural or remote areas with minimum terrestrial infrastructure. 5G-enabled satellites can transmit high data rates globally.
A global alternative capable of delivering access to high-speed internet throughout the whole planet is needed. This futuristic project is envisioned by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in Starlink. A Space X-operated network of 12,000 satellites that will provide high-performance internet anywhere, to anyone with a small, affordable receiver.
A Leader in LEO Satellite Technology
Deploying low earth orbit satellite constellations is part of today’s space race. In October 2020, SpaceX began offering satellite internet to customers. Users will connect to Starlink, a constellation of 1,000 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. Even as SpaceX, through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will bring broadband to rural communities, Starlink has declared continued investment in its LEO network, with its long-term plans for forty thousand satellites.
Elon Musk sees Starlink as the satellite broadcast service that complements “terrestrial” fiber and 5g services. It is inevitable that connections to hard-to-reach and remote places globally will be made possible.
Why is Fiber Still Going to be Relevant
Fiber optics carry data by using light pulses through strands of fiber at maximum speed. Bundles of optical fiber transmit signals faster than traditional copper cables. Fiber optics send data at 70% of the speed of light. There is less attenuation or loss across long distances and fiber optics are less affected by electrical interference. They are more difficult to wiretap. And are less valuable to scrap thieves.
Optical fibers are the backbone of much of the world’s Internet and telecommunications infrastructure.
As the Internet and wireless communication penetrated modern society, this led to a great demand for broadband transmission capacity. From less than 1% in 1995, the portion of the world’s population with an Internet connection rose to 40% in 2016. Three-fourths of all internet users in 2014 were based in the top 20 countries, according to internetlivestats.com.
People and businesses have become increasingly connected, so today, much of their daily life and work is online –with e-mail communication, online shopping, streaming videos, Cloud-based computing, and business analysis using Big Data’, billions of people depend on fast broadband connectivity.
Providers of telecommunications have switched to data transmission through fiber-optic cables, first at the core of their networks, and gradually expanding fiber-optics ever wider. Starlink is not going to replace cell towers or fiber optic cables. They all serve very different purposes.
Key Features of Fiber Optics
#1 – Speed
Fiber optic communication will likely remain at the core of the internet. Most long distance data will be carried by fiber optic cables, not by satellite or wireless technologies. Fiber will also continue to offer the best performance for residential and commercial internet deployments.
#2 – Reliability
The wires in a cable connection can get overloaded during peak traffic.
- With fiber optics, there is no throttling.
- With cable internet systems. Internet providers use “throttling” to prevent outages.
During peak times, your internet service provider may lower your cable speed from 100 Mbps to 20 or lower to ration their service.
Fiber optic internet speed does not throttle because fiber optic is less susceptible to overload.
#3 – Download and upload speeds are the same for fiber optic
Cable internet generally has slower Upload speeds. Because most users do more downloading than uploading, internet providers allocate more bandwidth to downloads. This could be potentially changing with the release of DOCSIS 4.0.
Starlink is not going to replace 5G and cell phone towers. Starlink and cell phone towers will happily coexist. Neither is really competing with each other. They are complimentary technologies rather than competing technologies, as with fiber. Fiber is king and likely always will be king.