Starlink calling India: All your questions answered about Elon Musk’s revolutionary satellite broadband service

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March 3, 2021 11:17 AM

How does Starlink satellite work and how is it different from the traditional internet?

Starlink is a venture under Musk’s SpaceX and it relies on the over 1,000 satellites that the company has already positioned into the Earth’s orbit. (Image: Reuters)

Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite: Starlink satellite, the ambitious high-speed internet programme backed by Elon Musk, has announced that it will enter India next year. The pre-order for the same has begun, with users being able to register for the connection on the official website of Starlink for a hardware deposit fee of $99 (approximately Rs 7,300).

Starlink satellite is currently in a beta testing phase, with limited availability, and during the testing, it has been found to have an internet speed ranging between 50 Mbps and 150 Mbps. This will be ramped up very soon. But how does Starlink satellite work and how is it different from the traditional internet? Here’s everything we know.

Also read | Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite broadband service is coming to India: How to pre-order, price, availability and other details

The Starlink Infrastructure

Starlink is a venture under Musk’s SpaceX and it relies on the over 1,000 satellites that the company has already positioned into the Earth’s orbit. The aim is to make it a nearly 12,000-satellite network, so that high-speed satellite internet can be provided to users. Satellite internet is still in infancy, and is not widely available yet, but still exists. But what sets Starlink apart is the fact that its satellites are up to 60 times closer to the Earth than traditional satellites.

How will that help, you ask? Well, it helps in reducing the latency, which is the amount of time data takes in going from one point to the next. With higher placement of satellites, latency is high, resulting in events like bad quality video calling. With lower satellites, as Starlink claims to have, the latency will be reduced, and so, online games and video calling quality will theoretically be improved.

In the testing phase, the latency of Starlink has been found to be between 20 ms and 40 ms, but in 2021, this will be reduced to 20 ms.

During the testing, Starlink’s internet speed ranged between 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps, but this year, it will be doubled to reach 300 Mbps. The company has the aim of reaching 1 Gbps of internet speed.

Satellite internet connections

Satellite internet makes use of geostationary satellites to provide users with internet connections. This form of internet is typically faster than fibre-based internet because the internet is beamed down to the antenna of each individual user. Currently, since this form of connection is relatively new, most users in India rely on fibre broadband for the internet. While the optic fibre broadband gives high speed, it requires that the transmitter and the receiver are not too far from each other in order to boost the signal. Moreover, optic fibres are fragile and can be easily damaged, as well.

How will Starlink work?

On the company’s end, it is sending out satellites and installing more and more ground stations for back-end support. Moreover, once the user has registered for the connection, they will be provided with a Starlink Kit, which will include the Starlink (the dish), power supply, mounting tripod, cables as well as the WiFi router. Since Starlink requires a clear view of the sky to work properly, the users will have to make use of the Starlink App, which is available on Google Play Store as well as Apple App Store, to ascertain what the best position is for the installation of Starlink.

The Starlink Kit contains the Starlink dish, tripod, WiFi router, cable and power supply. (Image: Starlink website)

A clear view of the sky is a must, the company has said, and obstructions like a single pole or a tree could cause issues.

Starlink requires a clear view of the sky because the Starlink satellite dish connects to the satellite directly, which Starlink describes as a single beam. However, since the satellite moves, the beam also moves, and any obstructions can cause interference in the beam, consequently interrupting the internet connection. This is why the company has suggested that the Starlink satellite dish be installed at the highest point of elevation possible. It has also stated that those living in areas where tall buildings, poles and trees are present should not go for Starlink in the early phase.

Starlink is hoping to conquer this limitation subsequently, though, with the launch of more satellites for this project.

Moreover, Starlink works by linking every satellite dish to a satellite within a designated ground area, which the company refers to as a cell. If the dish were to move out of the assigned cell, no other satellite would be scheduled to provide internet to the dish, meaning the user will not be able to receive internet. Therefore, it is advisable that the users provide Starlink with the accurate address. In case the users booked a satellite from a different location and had to shift after ordering, they will have to get in touch with the service team of the company.

How does weather impact Starlink?

Since Starlink requires a clear and uninterrupted view of the sky to provide internet, heavy rain or wind can disrupt the connection, leading to either slow internet or even outage. On the other hand, the Starlink satellite dish has the ability to detect and melt snow falling directly on it. However, accumulating snow will cause issues and disruptions for the dish, which is why the company has suggested installing Starlink at a location where snow build-up does not take place.

The Starlink dish has also been designed to meet the National Electrical Code (NEC) grounding requirements of the US and therefore, has necessary provisions for lightning protection. Still, any user living in a lightning area must have the appropriate lightning protection in place.

Benefits of Starlink

A major benefit of Starlink is that it can come to the aid of remote or rural areas. Broadband has not been able to properly address the internet needs in these areas, forcing people in such areas to rely on mobile internet, which also does not work to full capacity. However, these areas do have more open space and lesser tall buildings, meaning that they have a clearer view of the sky compared to urban areas. This is where companies like Starlink can step in to address the gap in internet access between rural and urban areas.

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