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SpaceX fears Starlink service could be trashed by 5G plan

SpaceX has said its U.S.-based Starlink customers will see their broadband service badly disrupted if Dish Network is allowed to use the 12GHz band for its 5G cellular network.

The decision is in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as Dish Network and others such as New York-based RS Access lobby the agency to let them use the 12GHz band. But SpaceX isn’t happy.

“If Dish’s lobbying efforts succeed, our study shows that Starlink customers will experience harmful interference more than 77% of the time and total outage of service 74% of the time, rendering Starlink unusable for most Americans,” the company said in a message posted on its website on Tuesday, June 21.

The long-running dispute involves a number of companies that are trying to gain access to the 12GHz band that SpaceX already uses for its internet-from-space Starlink service.

Dish has previously published data suggesting that ground-based 5G networks could comfortably share the frequency with low-Earth orbit satellite networks operated by the likes of SpaceX for its Starlink service.

But this week, SpaceX said that technical studies “dating back as far as 2016” suggest that opening up the band to ground-based 5G networks could adversely impact its Starlink service, and it even accused Dish of attempting to “mislead the FCC with faulty analysis in hopes of obscuring the truth.”

The company led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk also shared a 12-page technical analysis explaining how mobile services envisioned by Dish would “cause massive disruptions to users of next-generation satellite services,” such as Starlink.

It explained that a high-gain antenna, like the SpaceX user terminal, is “designed with sufficient sensitivity to receive very weak signals coming from a desired transmitter,” adding that “such antennas do not, however, ‘reject’ interference coming from other directions.” The result is that interference would “completely wipe out the desired signal.”

In widely reported comments, a Dish spokesperson said its “expert engineers are evaluating SpaceX’s claims.”

Dish announced last week that it has launched commercial 5G services in more than 100 U.S. cities — covering around 20% of the nation’s population — by using frequencies in other spectrum bands. But whether it can access the 12GHz band as part of its 5G rollout remains to be seen.

SpaceX has launched more than 2,500 Starlink satellites into orbit for its broadband service, which currently serves more than 400,000 customers in 34 countries.

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Starlink teardown reveals how SpaceX keeps its secrets

A new Starlink teardown has revealed fresh details about SpaceX’s satellite internet dish, including how the company prevents its development hardware from being misused. Launched last year, Starlink relies upon both a growing constellation of satellites in orbit around Earth and an auto-positioning dish on the ground that communicates with them.

The satellite network has been a work-in-progress for SpaceX, with multiple launches of its Falcon 9 rockets adding to the mesh. As that happens, gaps in Starlink coverage have been filled, and more users added to the system.

On the ground, Starlink uses a custom satellite dish that links with a special router. Configured using the Starlink app, it’s designed to automatically move so as to keep the constellation overhead at the optimal angle. However, it has also proved to be a source of fascination among those curious to see what Elon Musk’s company have squeezed inside.

One such group is the Computer Security and Industrial Cryptography (COSIC) research team at KU Leuven, which acquired a Starlink system when it launched in Belgium at the end of May. Researchers there wasted no time in opening up the dish for a teardown, and then extracting the software for further analysis.

They came across some interesting tidbits along the way, not least the fact that SpaceX has clearly been iterating on its core dish design already. The COSIC Starlink hardware differs from what has been seen in prior teardowns, and there are some differences in connectors. Elon Musk recently said that the company is working on halving the cost of building each Starlink dish, since right now SpaceX is losing money on them.

What’s particularly curious is how SpaceX keeps those development systems from getting out into the wild. “Development hardware is geofenced to only work in certain predefined areas, most of which are clearly SpaceX locations,” COSIC’s Lennert Wouters explains. “SpaceX is likely notified if development hardware is used outside these predefined geofences.”

It’s not the only control on getting too much access to the underlying systems. The software exploration also revealed that SpaceX has prevented users from logging in to the live system, by including a check during boot to see whether the hardware has been fused or not. Consumer dishes are fused before they’re shipped, and so the login prompt is disabled.

While hacking a Starlink dish is probably a bad idea – almost as much as mounting one on the hood of your car, in fact – it’s interesting to see the amount of work that has gone into building the system. It’s certainly cost SpaceX no small amount, with Musk suggesting that it could be $5-10 billion in investment before Starlink is fully cash flow positive. As well as the improvements in the pipeline for the Starlink dishes, currently SpaceX is working on the v1.5 satellites – with laser-based links in-between each satellite – and then the v2.0 update sometime in 2022.

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SpaceX Starlink: A Billionaire’s dream of internet for all

Elon Musk is a profound visionary of modern times and his vision to colonize Mars is the ultimate dream humankind has its eyes on. While setting foot on the red planet with SpaceX may happen sometime in the future, Elon has another ambition that’s agonizingly close to commercial viability.

We are referring to Starlink internet service, which promises to provide internet connectivity to virtually any corner of the planet – except the North and the South Poles. This is possible with the ever-expanding network of private satellites orbiting the earth – around 340 miles from the Earth’s surface. The venture has its roots within SpaceX, and with the $885.5 million funding from the Federal Communications Commission in the latter half of 2020, Starlink is now ready for the next internet revolution.

Starlink simplified

Starlink or the network of constellation of orbital satellites has seen gradual progression ever since its inception in 2015. The first batch of prototype satellites was launched into the low Earth orbit in 2018 and at that time more than 1,000 of them settled in orbit courtesy of dozens of successful launches onboard the Falcon 9 launch vehicles. The initial launch from the Kennedy Space Center – delivered 60 satellites – and took place in January 2021. That was followed by dozens of launches with the last one being undertaken in May 2021.

Currently, the total number of these low orbital flying satellites is almost 1,800. In February Elon officially said that the Starlink service is being delivered to over 10,000 test customers and over 70,000 have already signed up for the service. The focus is on acquiring new customers who have no access to high-speed internet due to the physical limitations of fiber internet. SpaceX is confident that it will deliver global service by this fall, even though there are some roadblocks such as regional regulatory approvals.

According to the Starlink website “the service is not limited by the ground infrastructure and is the only solution for uninterrupted internet access where it has been a challenge to bring low latency, reliable network speeds.” This sums up Starlink as a service suited for “areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge.”

Internet speed and connectivity

For now, in the beta test phase, the service is only available in a few U.S. States, parts of Canada and UK, and other select areas across the globe. Since this is the initial phase of the Starlink service operations, the speed varies from 50 to 150Mbps with the latency anywhere between 20 to 30 milliseconds. This will eventually improve with SpaceX launching more satellites into the orbit. Musk tweeted at the start of this year that the service will achieve a speed of 300Mbps by the year end.

Cost and availability

The ongoing “Better Than Nothing” beta program is accepting pre-orders for the service in select locations. Upfront the installation of the hardware required (mountable dish and router) for satellite connection is $500. Thereafter a payment of $99 per month provides access to high-speed internet without any interruptions once the test phase has identified all the loopholes. For now, the cost is on the higher side, but if you live in an area where fiber internet connectivity is not available or very unreliable, this is the way forward in the longer run.

Even if you are lucky enough to be in an area where the service is available, the pre-orders may take as long as six months to fulfill. As per SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell it was confirmed that the service has no short-term plans to add more speed or pricing tiers – they want to keep it simple until everything stabilizes. However, he added that the upfront costing will scale down as new customers are added in the coming years.

Challenges and disadvantages

Given that other similar ventures have failed in the past, the ability to even get the commercial internet dream going is an achievement in itself. There are tons of challenges like space debris, interference with the ISS and NASA services and visibility of the Starlink satellites from the earth in the dark. Since the satellites orbit close to the earth’s face and considering the number is going to increase exponentially, the shining satellites may obstruct the night sky view. According to International Astronomical Union, the unforeseen consequences include hindrance in protection of nocturnal wildlife too.

SpaceX has been hard at work to address the brightness of satellites. They tested DarkSat with a non-reflective coating in early 2020, and then the VisorSat satellite with the sunshade visor in June 2020. Starlink launched the batch of satellites with the sunshade visor in August last year to reduce the reflective impact.

Another challenge is the weather conditions which can affect the speed and latency. First up, in regions prone to snowfall, it can affect the service as snow covers the Starlink dish, obstructing the line of sight. User will have to clean up the snow buildup or install the dish in a location where minimum snowflakes land on it. Heavy rain and winds can also have a bearing on the speeds or might lead to a temporary outage.

The wrap-up

SpaceX is also considering the option of providing internet in-flight. It is in talks with multiple airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi service. This will give potential clients a better option than the traditional satellite internet as Starlink satellites are in earth’s low orbit, bringing faster internet at a comparatively low cost.

At the recent Mobile World Congress, Elon Musk accepted that Starlink is still a long way away from being cash flow positive. It could take an investment of $20 to $30 billion to get it running. Elon predicts that at least a third of that amount (around $5-$10 billion) will have to be spent before the service gets to being profitable.

The current issue for Elon and his team is to amass this colossal amount through funding or getting more customers to use the service. This is achievable (at least for Elon, given the visionary he is) but going to be a very difficult task given that Starlink is still not stabilized fully for reliability and global reach. There is a probability, the entire project goes bankrupt in the coming years if things go south.

In parallel, there are plans to bring the version 1.5 Starlink satellite that uses laser-based links to drastically improve connectivity. That said, this system is more cost-intensive investment and can take things to another level, if everything goes as planned.

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SpaceX Starlink Speedtest results are very inconsistent

Elon Musk envisioned that SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation would be able to deliver Internet to areas underserved by most carriers. The service, however, would have to cater to a broad range of users and locations located in a narrow band of areas where those satellites could actually reach. Starlink promised speeds faster than your average DSL or fiber Internet and Speedtest creator Ookla discovered that be true but only for certain areas. In others, it actually did worse than what consumers already had.

Always take benchmarks with a grain of salt, of course, and Speedtest has been called out more than once for some of its methods or results. That said, if used across a series of tests, it does serve as a metric and starting point for discussion. And there will probably be a lot of that discussion around these results from Starlink.

Given Musk’s goals and boasts about Starlink speeds, it’s easy enough to be disappointed with Speedtest’s results in areas covered by the service in the US and Canada. Median download speeds ranged from 40 Mbps to 93 Mbps, a far cry from the above 100 Mbps figures that were initially reported. What makes the situation worse is that the median may actually be worse than fixed broadband in some areas.

That said, these results were actually a bit expected if you examine the locations that gave the best and worse speeds. The worst ones were located in dense cities with tall buildings that would have naturally blocked satellite signals from getting through with full strength. Satellite Internet, after all, works better in wide, open spaces.

That does raise questions on whether Starlink will be a viable business in the long run. The people that would benefit the most from such an Internet connection might not be located in places that would actually afford such a service. Then again, the constellation is far from complete yet and the service could improve once more satellite litter our skies.

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FCC approves SpaceX Starlink agreement to expand for Alaska

An approval was revealed this week by the FCC for SpaceX and their next wave of Starlink satellites. The approval was for a modification to the license SpaceX holds for deploying satellites to an altitude of 550 kilometers. Per the release, the FCC suggests that “Based on our review, we agree with SpaceX that the modification will improve the experience for users of the SpaceX service, including in often-underserved polar regions.”

Multiple organizations objected to the deployment of SpaceX satellites in orbit at a new lower altitude. It was claimed that there was significant threat of interference issues with already in-play elements at the new altitude. Per the FCC’s assessment under Commission precedent, the FCC found that SpaceX’s modification “will not present significant interference problems.”

Specifically the FCC said that this modification would not result in new interference to other NGSO systems “in certain areas where previously interference did not exist.” SpaceX claims that their new deployment will help to rectify scarcity of internet connectivity in areas like Alaska. With Starlink service, SpaceX says they’ll be able to “finally bring ubiquitous internet connectivity within reach for these areas.”

SES/O3b, Juiper, Viasat, Kepler, DISH, and OneWeb all maintain that the SpaceX Third Modification “is a complete redesign of SpaceX’s authorized system that will substantially increase interference into other systems.” The FCC approval document notes that SpaceX claims that its system will not increase interference, and that it, “far from increasing interference into other systems, will in fact improve the overall interference environment.”

Per the agreement, SpaceX must launch 50% of the maximum number of proposed space stations, place them in orbit (in their assigned places), and “operate them in accordance with the station authorization” by March 29, 2024. SpaceX must also report to the FCC if during any “continuous one-year period” there are three or more satellite disposal failures.

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SpaceX wants to put Starlink satellite dishes on large vehicles

SpaceX’s somewhat controversial Starlink satellite constellation aims to bring high-speed Internet to places that traditional cables and radio waves don’t always reach. It seems that it doesn’t just apply to remote areas but also to moving vehicles that don’t always get the best Internet connectivity. In line with that grand goal, SpaceX is asking the FCC for permission to deploy Starlink even on trucks, aircraft, and trucks.

SpaceX notes that Internet users don’t just stay at home and, despite movement restrictions these days, people need a reliable connection even while on the go. Those needs can range from your usual business uses cases during flights to truckers driving across the country and everything in between. SpaceX wants to serve these customers as well by installing a Starlink dish on such vehicles.

These “Earth Stations in Motion” or ESIMs are noted to be electronically identical to the home terminals that Starlink testers have installed in their homes. While the latter could be set up by almost anyone with some technical know-how, ESIMs will require qualified installers. SpaceX doesn’t expect these ESIMs to add to the 1 million terminals it was granted permission to install but it requested for an expansion to 5 million anyway in a separate filing.

Despite the application’s wording, Elon Musk later clarified that on Twitter that ESIMs are not intended for passenger cars, particularly Tesla EVs. The terminals are just too big and, as such, are intended for larger vehicles, like an RV as the smallest example.

While the application will open up new business opportunities for SpaceX, not to mention new classes of customers, Starlink continues to face opposition, doubt, and even complaints from all sides. In addition to concerns about the satellites littering the skies especially at night, other network operators are worried that Starlink could also interfere with other services that may use the same bands in the future.

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SpaceX will build a new factory in Austin to design Starlink systems

SpaceX is pushing hard to get more Starlink satellites in orbit to expand its satellite Internet connectivity around the country. While the main part of that system is the satellites SpaceX puts into orbit, another critical component is the hardware that end-users place in their homes to receive access from the satellites. SpaceX has now announced that it’s building a new factory in Austin, Texas, that will design systems to help it build satellite dishes, Wi-Fi routers, and other hardware for the Starlink network.

Word of the new factory came from a job posting seeking an automation and controls engineer. The job listing said that the employee would play “a key role” as SpaceX strives to build millions of consumer-facing devices shipped directly to customers. The listing says those devices would include Starlink dishes, Wi-Fi routers, mounting hardware, and more. It’s important to note that the factory would not build the dishes and routers on site but would be designing systems meant to improve the manufacturing process.

Specifically named in the job listing would be designing and developing control systems and software for production line machinery to tackle “the toughest” mechanical, software, and electrical challenges that come with high-volume manufacturing. The employee would also be required to focus on flexibility, reliability, maintainability, and ease-of-use.

The Starlink service has been a dream for many subscribers. While the service is still in beta, it has more than 10,000 customers and provides speeds much faster than other satellite-based services can provide. SpaceX has a long history of humorous names and calls the user terminal “Dishy McFlatface.” Currently, the Starlink service costs $99 per month with a one-time $499 fee for the user terminal, mounting tripod, and router.

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SpaceX Starlink beta opens for $99 reservations and some patience

SpaceX is opening up preorders for its Starlink beta, as the satellite internet service readies an expansion for those wanting to dump their ISP in favor of Elon Musk’s orbiting constellation. A private Starlink beta opened up in mid-2020, with around 10,000 people currently using the service according to SpaceX’s most recent announcement.

Now, though, that beta looks set to expand considerably. Starlink is now accepting applications – complete with a $99 reservation fee – more generally, though how soon you’ll actually get service will depend on a number of factors.

You’ll need to add your address when you fill in the application, as currently Starlink doesn’t have service for every location in the US. That, as well as how quickly you sign up, will control how soon you might get onboarded, SpaceX says. The $99 reservation fee is refundable, and you’ll get an email later on to confirm when the Starlink Kit is ready to ship.

That kit includes the Starlink dish and its mounting tripod, along with a WiFi router and power supply. There are also the necessary cables in the box, both to power the dish and to link it to the router which must be placed indoors. Starlink also offers an optional roof mounting kit.

The kit as a whole costs $499 in the US, plus $50 shipping and handling, though Starlink is also expanding the beta in the UK and Canada. Service is priced at $99 per month. Depending on where you’re located, you may be waiting some time, too: 6+ months, SpaceX warns.

As for what you can expect, currently Starlink beta subscribers can expect to see data speeds 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s the company says, while latency might range from 20ms to 40ms in most locations. “There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all,” subscribers are notified, depending on the completeness of the satellite constellation. Currently, however, there are no data caps.

The system is designed to be as straightforward to set up as possible. The Starlink app – available for iOS and Android – walks through connecting the dish and WiFi router, and then helps the user orient it to ensure maximum line-of-sight with the satellite network. Currently, Starlink doesn’t support moving the system to a new address, though in time that is expected to evolve. Still, for now anyway, if you were hoping to use Starlink on your RV and go off the grid, you’ll be disappointed.

SpaceX recently launched a new cache of satellites to join the growing constellation. Currently it has more than 1,000 in place, though aims to increase that number more than tenfold by the time the system is complete.

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This SpaceX Starlink limit has killed my satellite internet dream for now

SpaceX successfully launched another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, aiming to add to the coverage of its internet service, but while the constellation may be moving it turns out your dish can’t. Like a lot of people, I’ve been hoping to score a space on the Starlink “Better Than Nothing Beta” which is giving some users early access to the company’s internet network, but it turns out there’s some fine print that might limit how you hoped to use it.

Rather than wired cable or fiber optic links, internet service through a phone line, or terrestrial wireless like 4G and 5G, Starlink looks to space for its connection. SpaceX plans a huge number of orbiting satellites – known as a constellation – which would effectively blanket the planet in coverage.

On the ground, users have a Starlink kit that includes an auto-configuring dish which communicates with the satellites overhead. A tethered router then shares that connection with your WiFi devices. It’s designed to be easy to set up: you just check in the Starlink app to make sure you’re positioning the dish with line-of-sight to the constellation overhead, and then the dish itself automatically adjusts to keep that focus.

Right now, the beta program is making some very cautious promises. Users can expect 50-150 Mb/s rates at this early stage, and 20-40 ms latency. “There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all,” Starlink warns, since the satellite constellation isn’t complete yet. The goal, the company says, is 16-19 ms of latency by summer this year, as well as an increase in coverage and speed.

What you might not have realized – and what I didn’t until I checked the beta FAQs again – was that, though the Starlink kit is designed to auto-configure, it’s not meant to be moved. “Starlink satellites are scheduled to send internet down to all users within a designated area on the ground,” SpaceX explains. “This designated area is referred to as a cell.”

That’s a problem if you planned to move the dish outside of that area. “Your Starlink is assigned to a single cell,” Starlink says. “If you move your Starlink outside of its assigned cell, a satellite will not be scheduled to serve your Starlink and you will not receive internet. This is constrained by geometry and is not arbitrary geofencing.”

Clearly, for many users, the idea of being able to bypass the sluggish DSL or cable connections they currently have to choose from and go for a potentially much-faster satellite connection is still mighty appealing. It was enough to help SpaceX score a multi-million contract to provide rural connections in the US, too. This cell constraint won’t impact you if you just want to mount the Starlink dish on your roof, though if you plan to move then SpaceX may require you to return the kit and end service.

It’s more of an issue if, like me, you had plans to take Starlink on the move. Personally, I liked the idea of being able to take the internet system to trade shows and events, bypassing slow hotel networks or overloaded conference center WiFi with a much faster alternative. 50-150 MB/s may pale in comparison to fiber, but it’s a whole lot better than the skinny pipe that most hotels offer (and typically charge plenty for).

Others, I know, had ambitions of taking Starlink with them as digital nomads. The idea is appealing: mount the dish on your RV or truck, and head off into the wilderness without having to worry about roaming beyond cellular networks. Early users even showed how that could work, taking test kits out into a forest and showing what sort of speeds you could expect.

It’s unclear just how large each individual Starlink cell is, and so how much scope there is to move around in it. Still, it doesn’t sound like my dream – or that of others – to pack up a Starlink kit and go mobile around the country is feasible.

Update: According to the Starlink team, the ability to move your system to a new location is coming eventually, though as you might’ve guessed it’ll depend in part on having more satellites in the sky. There’s no word on just how many satellites that actually means, nor what sort of timeline might be involved to get there, and there’ll apparently be new hardware and software required too. It’s not entirely clear at this stage whether you’ll be able to simply roam around, digital nomad style, and have the dish keep you connected regardless, or if this is more about registering new fixed addresses whenever you move house, but it still seems like good news for the longer-term prospects of Starlink. [Thanks Michael!]

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SpaceX Starlink Internet service has over 10,000 subscribers

SpaceX has been putting load after a load of Starlink satellites into orbit to help get nationwide coverage for its Internet service. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced this week that the Starlink Internet service has over 10,000 subscribers in the United States and abroad. The public beta program for Starlink only kicked off in October 2020.

For many people, it’s the only real viable option in their area and is priced at $99 per month in addition to a $499 upfront cost for the hardware. The hardware includes a user terminal and Wi-Fi router that connects to the satellites in orbit. The ultimate goal for Starlink is to provide global Internet coverage allowing connectivity in regions that are traditionally underserved by broadband.

Currently, Starlink Internet service is available in select areas of the United States, Canada, and the UK. Two years ago, the FCC gave SpaceX approval to launch 11,943 satellites. Currently, the goal is to have 4425 satellites in orbit by 2024. SpaceX is also said that Starlink service is meeting and exceeding 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps uploads for individual users.

SpaceX also says the vast majority of users on the servers are seeing latency at or below 31 milliseconds. Those speeds mean Starlink is much faster and has much less latency than other satellite-based Internet services. SpaceX gave information on Starlink users in a petition to the FCC where it asks to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier.

This designation is important for the Starlink service to allow it to provide service to regions in Alabama, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. SpaceX has been awarded access to those regions under the FCC Rural Digital Opportunities Fund aiming to bring broadband to rural areas. SpaceX says that designating it as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier is in the public interest because it allows the company to receive support to facilitate the rapid development of broadband and voice services.

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