Elon Musk's SpaceX expands Starlink satellite internet service to more than 30 countries

Satellite internet, while not as fast as 5G, can reach users even in the most remote areas

Pupils at a school in Sotomo, Chile, which became the first country in the southern hemisphere to have access to Starlink. AFP
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Starlink, the satellite internet service operated by Elon Musk's aerospace company SpaceX, is now available in more than 30 countries, the billionaire businessman said on Friday.

People who want to have access to the service in areas marked “available” on Starlink's updated map will have it “shipped immediately”, the world's wealthiest person said.

Mr Musk's count of 32 countries does not include the US, where Starlink was first launched, local media reported.

The countries where Starlink is now live include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tonga, the UK and Ukraine.

The expansion of Starlink is significant as it brings satellite internet further into the mainstream, and also brings the internet to a larger audience in remote areas.

What is Starlink (and SpaceX)?

Starlink is a satellite constellation service that provides internet access using satellites that orbit the planet at between heights of 200 kilometres and 2,000km.

For perspective, the International Space Station is at 408km, while Hubble Space Telescope is at 547km.

The service provides high-speed, low-latency broadband internet. Within each coverage area, orders are fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Meanwhile, SpaceX is Mr Musk's vehicle for space exploration. One of the company's ultimate goals is to colonise Mars.

SpaceX is going head-to-head with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin, which have both launched flights to space with their founders on-board.

How fast is Starlink?

Starlink's website says users can expect to experience download speeds between 100 megabits per second and 200Mbps, with a latency as low as 20 milliseconds in most locations.

The company intends to reach speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second.

Starlink’s median download speed was 104.97Mbps in the fourth quarter of 2021, up from 87.25Mbps in the previous quarter, according to web analytics site Ookla.

The launch of more satellites and fine-tuning of the service is expected to increase speeds further.

How does satellite internet differ from 5G services?

To have access to the internet using a 5G connection — or any broadband connection — you need to be within range of a cell tower. The closer you are, the better and faster your connection should be.

With a satellite, you can gain access to the internet, even in the middle of nowhere.

Which is faster?

This is no-contest as 5G, which is up to 20 times faster than 4G, can provide download speeds of anywhere between 1Gbps to 10Gbps, depending how close you are to a cell site.

Starlink's planned top speed is at the low end of 5G at this point.

How much is a Starlink subscription?

A subscription to Starlink will set you back $110 a month, plus a one-time equipment fee of $599.

But if you need to access high internet speeds from remote locations and your business can afford it, you can sign up for Starlink Business, which costs $500 a month with a $2,500 one-time equipment fee.

The service offers higher speeds with more than double the antennae capacity.

Does Starlink have any competitors?

Yes. In the US, it is up against Viasat, which offers speeds of up to 100Mbps, and HughesNet, which offers up to 25Mbps. Both are veterans in the industry, having been founded in 1986 and 1971, respectively.

What differentiates these two from Starlink is that they do not have any installation or equipment fees. However, there is a cap on monthly data, up to 150 gigabytes for Viasat and up to 75GB for HughesNet, while Starlink has unlimited data.

Viasat and HughesNet also have fee scales, ranging from $49.44 to $199.99 and $64.99 to $159.99, respectively.

In terms of subscribers, HughesNet leads with about 1.3 million, while Viasat has around 670,000. Starlink has about a quarter of a million subscribers, Mr Musk hinted in February.

Has Elon Musk announced the next steps for Starlink?

Mr Musk has not announced any specifics so far beyond his tweet on Friday. However, the Starlink map does outline countries that are on the wait list.

Another announcement could be imminent as the Philippine government announced in March that it signed a deal with Starlink, which would make the country the first in South-East Asia to receive the service.

Updated: May 13, 2022, 12:01 PM