Planetary-scale ISPs require a policy Rethink of Global Proportions
Our tiny blue planet is quickly being encased in layers of fast-flying, low-earth orbiting satellites in an effort to provide Internet access to earth’s three billion unconnected and slowly connected inhabitants. Like much of the 21st-century space race, these efforts are backed by billionaires, fueled by their egos, and shaped by their vision for humanity’s future. Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos are leading the way in deploying constellations of internet delivering satellites, while governments (Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia) have announced plans to follow suit.
While the Internet delivered by satellite is not new, it previously has been expensive, slow, and unable to support real-time applications. In the 90s, Motorola’s Iridium network pioneered the use of massive constellations of fast-moving low-earth-orbit satellites to deliver voice and data services. The basic technology is sound, and today’s generation of satellites are capable of high-speed, redundant connectivity even in the remotest places on the planet.
Starlink (a division of SpaceX) is the leader in this area with over 2000 satellites deployed, and a launch cadence that will double that capacity in the next year. The Starlink service is moving out of beta testing, and users are experiencing data speeds between 50Mb/s and 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms. Current costs are $499 for the ground station and $99 a month for the service. Starlink says users can expect to see a doubling of the bandwidth to 300Mb/s and latency consistently at 20ms or less as more satellites are deployed. The completed Starlink network may involve anywhere from 12,000 to 42,000 satellites, depending on FCC approvals.