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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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PSA: Don’t put a Starlink satellite dish on your car

There’s a saying that goes: if you see a warning sign, no matter how absurd, it exists because someone performed the action advised against. That’s the case with this new warning against putting a Starlink satellite dish on your car’s exterior, an action that recently earned one customer a moving violation citation.

The California Highway Patrol in Antelope Valley recently shared two images of a car that was pulled over because it featured a large Starlink satellite dish on the hood. The images are joined by a warning the state’s Highway Patrol seems surprised it has to explicitly state: you can’t put a satellite dish on your car’s hood.

According to the officer who posted the images on the department’s Facebook account, he or she asked the driver whether the satellite dish on their hood made it difficult for them to see while driving. The motorist allegedly acknowledged that it did, but “only when [making] right turns.” That, of course, is a big safety problem and also a moving violation, at least in California.

Other states no doubt have similar rules on the books about what you’re allowed to mount on your windshield and other areas of your vehicle. Whether you could get away with mounting the satellite dish on the roof of your car is probably a question best left to your county’s law enforcement officials, but there is a better solution regardless.

Assuming you want high-speed Internet service in your car (to stream music, perhaps) and your mobile phone doesn’t have unlimited data, you can purchase an LTE or 5G hotspot and mount it somewhere safely inside of your vehicle. These hotspots can be plugged directly into your car’s USB port and will provide high-speed mobile data as long as you stay within the provider’s coverage area. Even better, you won’t have to worry about a large satellite dish breaking free and hitting the car behind you.

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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’s Starlink satellite Internet may soon power in-flight Wi-Fi

SpaceX’s satellite Internet service Starlink may soon power Wi-Fi services on some flights, offering travelers a new option for connecting to their favorite services while traveling. According to SpaceX’s VP Jonathan Hofeller, Starlink has already performed some demonstrations of an ‘aviation product,’ which the company says it aims to finalize for use on aircraft soon.

SpaceX is already in talks with multiple airlines over the potential use of Starlink as an in-flight WiFi provider, according to a report from CNBC. The company’s VP Hofeller revealed some details about the effort during the Connected Aviation Intelligence Summit, noting that the company is looking to make this aircraft product available ‘in the very near future.’

A number of airlines already use satellite Internet providers for in-flight WiFi services, but there’s a distinct benefit to using Starlink as a provider. Unlike competing services, Starlink’s satellites are in low Earth orbit, offering the potential for faster, more useful Internet access during a flight.

Hofeller noted that because Starlink offers a ‘global mesh’ of satellites, airlines would benefit from using it as a provider by having connectivity anywhere — an experience, he says, that other satellite Internet providers ‘simply cannot provide.’

Starlink is still a budding service at this time, but has rolled out service for some customers under a beta program with plans to expand availability in the future. Other details, including when the Starlink service may arrive as an in-flight option and which airlines SpaceX is talking with, haven’t been revealed.

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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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Starlink Internet service could be “fully mobile” by the end of the year

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and his company are working hard to put more satellites into orbit capable of providing Internet access to people worldwide. So far, SpaceX has hundreds of Starlink satellites in orbit, with more set to launch during the year. Recently Musk made an exciting announcement that the Starlink Internet service could be fully mobile by the end of 2021.

Becoming fully mobile would mean the Internet service could follow customers to different addresses and be used in moving vehicles. Musk also said this week that Starlink could exit beta as early as the summer. So far, Starlink has more than 10,000 people signed up for its beta that launched last October.

During the beta, customers can’t move the hardware from address to address. The beta service only works at one home address. Details on the future of Starlink came when Musk replied to someone on Twitter who asked when they would be able to put the dish on an RV or tiny home or take it between addresses.

Musk replied Starlink would be fully mobile later this year, allowing it to be moved anywhere or used on an RV or truck in motion. He also noted that SpaceX needs a “few more satellite launches” to achieve complete coverage and the system also needs some software upgrades. SpaceX filed paperwork with the FCC to make Starlink mobile in March.

When SpaceX filed the request with the FCC, it said making its service mobile was in the public interest and would allow operators and passengers to access services to increase productivity. Musk also noted that service uptime for Starlink, along with bandwidth and latency, were improving rapidly. Previously, he promised that speed would double and would latency drop by the end of the year.

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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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