Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, is getting ready to begin closed beta testing for Starlink – a high-speed internet service facilitated by highly compact, low-orbit satellites.
Beta testing is expected to begin in the U.S. and Canada later this summer in private and public phases, with complete global access planned for 2021. The service promises to be inexpensive and superior to other satellite connections, which have suffered from high latency.
Latency, also commonly known as lag, refers to the amount of time between an input and a response. A signal has to make its way from your device to a terminal to a satellite, then from the satellite back to the terminal and your device. High latency has long been the scourge of satellite internet due to the physical distance between the end user and the satellite; typical latency for a satellite connection is at least 1,000 milliseconds. In contrast, SpaceX is promising that Starlink will have a latency of only 30 milliseconds and a speed of one gigabit per second.
How can Starlink offer such low latency? Part of the answer lies in the satellites’ altitude. Communication satellites can generally be found at least 1,000 km above the Earth’s surface. Starlink satellites nearly cut the distance in half, orbiting 550 km above the Earth. In addition, Starlink satellites connect to each other using lasers to communicate at nearly the speed of light.
There are still several unknowns about the Starlink program such as possible data caps, speed variability, impacts of weather on service quality, and so-on. These questions will hopefully be answered through the two planned phases of beta testing and announced closer to the actual release of Starlink.
If successful, Starlink could be a significant boon to rural communities that have no or insufficient internet connectivity. The cost of the service and receiver box is currently unknown; SpaceX CEO Elon Musk estimated that the receiver boxes would be in the $100 to $300 range during a speech announcing the start of the satellite internet project in 2015.
For a chance to participate in the Starlink private beta test, register online with SpaceX through the Starlink website.
Website of source