Musk’s satellite internet is finally available, and the “global WiFi” that subverts 5G is coming?

Recently, Musk has been on a hot search again. This time he became the " first person to sworn the sovereignty of Mars ."

A netizen posted the terms of SpaceX's Starlink satellite Internet service, saying that Musk has begun to develop a legal framework for the Mars colony.

Immigration to Mars may still be far away, but Musk's other grand plan has already begun to land. Starlink, a satellite Internet project that has been planned for many years, has also officially provided services to users.

According to Musk's plan, Starlink will be composed of 42,000 satellites, allowing network signals to cover every corner of the world, whether you are in the Arctic or in the Amazon jungle, you can connect to WiFi .

Now, users can finally connect to the Internet with the signal of Starlink. What is the experience? And will it become a mainstream communication network in the future, or even "subvert 5G" as some people say?

Musk's satellite internet is available, how is the experience?

Briefly reviewing the Starlink project, Musk revealed this idea in 2015 and formally applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2016.

At first, SpaceX planned to launch 4,425 satellites by 2020, and later increased the number of satellites to 11,943. Now the number of satellites planned by Starlink has increased to 42,000.

What is this concept?

We must know that in 2016, the total number of satellites launched in human history was only about 4,025, and the number of satellites to be launched by Starlink is 10 times this number .

According to SpaceX's previous plan, the nearly 12,000 satellites will be launched in three stages:

  • The first batch of 1600 satellites are located at an orbital altitude of 1150 km, of which the first batch of 800 satellites are used to cover North America;
  • The second batch of 2825 satellites is divided into 4 groups, distributed in 4 different altitude orbits, completing the global network;
  • The third batch of 7,518 satellites are located in orbits at an altitude of 340 kilometers.

At present, SpaceX has successfully launched 15 batches of Starlink satellites, and the number of satellites in orbit has reached 893. SpaceX has also become the world's largest satellite operator .

▲ SpaceX rocket launch trajectory.

Although this number of satellites has not even reached the first phase of the Starlink plan, it can already provide network services for parts of North America. Recently, Starlink has officially launched a public beta for users.

A user who received an invitation to the internal test showed the received email on Reddit. Interestingly, SpaceX calls this service " Better Than Nothing ", which seems to be telling users not to hold too much High expectations.

SpaceX stated in an email that Starlink can currently provide download speeds ranging from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, with network delays ranging from 20ms to 40ms. It is expected that the delay can be reduced to below 20ms in the first half of 2021.

The latest data from Ookla, a network speed measurement platform, shows that the download speed of Starlink's satellite Internet service has exceeded 160Mbps, exceeding 95% of the broadband level in the United States . A user in rural Montana even measured a download speed of 174Mbps.

Looking at the network speed alone, Starlink has performed better than 4G networks. However, in terms of portability and signal stability, Starlink's performance can only be said to be unsatisfactory.

Because you want to use the network service provided by Starlink, you first need to install a flat-panel-sized terminal and a matching router. If you want to network on the move, you must also bring these devices.

A Reddit user named Wandering-coder tested Starlink in a national forest about 24 kilometers away from the service address, which is an area without any operator coverage network.

▲Picture from: Wandering-coder

The test results show that although the download speed has reached 135Mbps, the signal is easily blocked by trees and houses, and it can only be connected for 5 seconds at a time. However, when unobstructed, Starlink's network can circulate access to streaming media, low-latency video conferencing and games.

Finally, the price. The service price of Starlink's public test is 99 US dollars per month, and at the same time, you must purchase a supporting terminal of 499 US dollars to use it.

▲Picture from: Wandering-coder

This price is obviously no advantage compared to the current mobile Internet package, but it is still very competitive in front of traditional satellite Internet operators, and can provide several times the Internet speed at the same price.

SpaceX is currently manufacturing Starlink satellites at a rate of 6 per day, and deploys Starlink satellite Internet at a rate of 2 to 3 batches per month, and stated that by 2021, it will be able to provide high-speed broadband Internet to almost all corners of the world.

▲ Starlink satellites visible to the naked eye. Picture from: Medium

Does this mean that the world can use the "global WiFi" provided by Starlink as soon as next year?

Subvert 5G, global WiFi? Really think too much

Since Musk announced the Starlink plan, public opinion has begun to compare the satellite Internet, which claims to cover the world, with 5G, and some people even said that Starlink may carry out dimensionality reduction attacks on 5G networks.

In fact, this statement is simply untenable, and Musk himself has not expressed similar views .

First of all, Starlink uses Ku and Ka bands, which are not the same frequency band used on mobile phones and cannot be directly connected to mobile phones. Therefore, terminals like those mentioned above are required to receive and convert signals.

In addition, because the satellite Internet uses a high-frequency millimeter wave band, the signal attenuation is also very serious, it is difficult to penetrate obstacles such as concrete, and it is basically impossible to use indoors.

▲Picture from: Electric Shock News

Even if the above-mentioned problems are completely solved, it is not realistic to allow satellite Internet to provide network services like 4G and 5G base stations.

Each Starlink satellite is equivalent to a base station in space. At present, the bandwidth of a single Starlink satellite is 20Gbps, which is equivalent to a 5G base station. However, the coverage of more than 800,000 5G base stations worldwide is also very limited, so even if Starlink is completed The deployment of 42,000 satellites cannot be compared with ground base stations.

Here we need to mention the concept of " flux density ", which refers to the total data traffic per unit area. For example, the flux density of 5G is 100,000 Gbps/km2. Under the same bandwidth, the larger the service area, the greater the flux density. The lower the bandwidth, the less bandwidth is allocated to each user.

With the 20Gbps bandwidth of Starlink satellites and the number of 42,000 satellites, it is not enough to provide high-speed Internet services to global users. Chen Shanzhi, vice president of China Information and Communication Technology Group, pointed out that if Starlink wants to replace 5G and achieve a communication capacity equivalent to 5G, it must provide at least as many satellites as 5G base stations.

We see that the download speed of Starlink's public test can reach 160Mbps, but few people mention the number of users connected to Starlink. If calculated based on the 5G minimum network speed standard of 1Gbps, the total bandwidth of 42,000 satellites can only provide services for 840,000 users.

To sum up, Starlink can indeed provide a network speed equivalent to 5G, provided that the number of users connected to it is limited. This also means that it cannot provide high-speed network services for a large number of users. Of course, it is impossible to replace 5G. As a supplement to 5G base stations.

So what is the use of Starlink satellite internet?

Since Starlink can only provide high-speed network services for a few people, why does SpaceX invest tens of billions of dollars in this project, and who will pay for Starlink?

In fact, Musk did not intend to use Starlink to compete with cellular network operators at the beginning. Instead, he wanted to provide high-speed broadband Internet services to areas where " access is unreliable, expensive or completely unavailable ."

Although the user scale is relatively small, this is also a vast market for the front (money) scene.

The Internet is now called a hydropower and coal-like infrastructure, but there is still more than 70% of the geographical space on the earth , and about 3 billion people have not achieved Internet coverage . These areas may not be able to access optical fiber, or the population density is too low, and the construction of base stations cannot recover costs.

▲The 57th World Press Photo Contest (Holland), the award-winning work "Signal".

In the United States, there are also more than 20 million people with network access speeds less than 25Mbps. For this reason, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to allocate US$20.4 billion in 10 years to support gigabit broadband access services in rural areas in the United States. , And SpaceX is currently working hard to secure this order.

In addition, the WiFi services provided by airplanes and ocean-going vessels to passengers basically come from satellite Internet. These WiFi services often charge more than US$10/hour, and the network speed is slow and the delay is high. Starlink can reduce the dimensionality of traditional satellite Internet services.

Another application scenario that is easy to be used by the Internet is in the financial field. It is subject to the limitation of optical fiber transmission distance and speed. Major financial exchanges in the world will have a certain delay in transactions. Although it may be only 100 ms, it is necessary for high frequency financial transactions In other words, the amount fluctuates in the millions.

Although the bandwidth of satellite Internet is not as good as that of optical fiber, the propagation speed of light in a vacuum is also faster than optical fiber, which can effectively reduce the transaction delay of exchanges.

In addition to civilian use, Starlink has another important market in the military field.

As early as 2018, SpaceX won a $28.7 million contract with the U.S. Air Force to "use commercial space interconnection defense experiments" to allow the Air Force to use satellite interconnection services for communication.

In May of this year, the U.S. Army and SpaceX signed an agreement to test the use of Starlink to transmit data on military networks. This agreement lasts for three years.

At the same time, a recent report by the Pentagon in the United States also pointed out that Starlink will soon be an ideal replacement for GPS. The communication speed of Starlink is 1 million times that of GPS satellites, and the directivity of microwave frequency antennas is 10 times that of GPS, and both delay and accuracy are better than GPS.

In this way, military fighters, aircraft carriers, and submarines can achieve high-speed communications in overseas battlefields, thereby creating a high-speed military Internet system that connects land, sea and air . This is very important for modern battlefields with increasingly higher levels of informatization.

This may also be Musk's confidence that Starlink can bring in 30 billion US dollars in annual revenue in the future. The investment bank UBS predicts that the global satellite Internet output value will reach 805 billion US dollars in 2030, and Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas predicts that it will reach 1.1 trillion US dollars by 2040.

Although you and I may not be the target users of Starlink, Starlink does have its abilities in many fields. Professor Lv Tingjie, a doctoral supervisor in the School of Economics and Management of Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications , said :

Aerospace Internet will become a very effective supplement to ground base stations, and it will most likely be used in the second half of 5G. When the era of Internet of Everything really comes, it will become a very cost-effective network connection solution that can truly connect everything.

The past low-orbit constellation networks have failed. Will Starlink be an exception?

To discuss whether Starlink can succeed, we must first look at how the past satellite Internet projects have failed.

Musk is not the first person to provide communication network services through satellite Internet. As early as the 1980s, Motorola launched the Iridium satellite program to cover the world with 77 satellites, allowing users to call anywhere in the world. Telephone, this is also the first low-orbit satellite constellation.

However, the price of Iridium is between US$3 and US$8/minute, which has become vulnerable after the popularity of lower-cost optical fiber and ground base stations. Iridium invested more than US$5 billion, harvested only 55,000 users, and declared bankruptcy within 15 months of its launch.

With the gradual reduction in satellite production and launch costs, satellite Internet has entered people’s attention in recent years. OneWeb is known as SpaceX's biggest competitor.

OneWeb announced in 2017 that it would launch 648 satellites to form a satellite Internet, and signed contracts with the United States, Russia, and Europe. It has received nearly 3.5 billion US dollars in financing from Qualcomm, Softbank, Coca-Cola and other companies. Marcelo Claure, chief operating officer of Softbank Group, also said:

OneWeb is expected to become the world's largest and the first truly global communication network.

However, in March of this year, OneWeb suddenly declared bankruptcy . Of the 648 satellites originally planned to be launched, only 74 were eventually launched. However, under the background of the epidemic, SoftBank decided not to inject capital into OneWeb, and OneWeb, which had lost its funding source, could not continue.

From ambitious to bankruptcy, this is the norm on the satellite Internet track. Musk also joked at the World Satellite Conference:

Guess how many low-orbit constellation networks did not go bankrupt? zero.

Looking back on these failed satellite Internet projects in the past, as Jingwei Ventures concluded in a report, there are three important reasons :

  • The cost and capacity of rocket launches;
  • The cost and lifetime of the satellite;
  • Market demand .

As for cost savings in rocket launches, no one has done a better job in the aerospace industry than SpaceX.

SpaceX has reduced the launch cost by nearly 90% using recyclable rockets. In addition, it can launch 60 satellites with one arrow . The cost of launching each satellite is only 356,000 US dollars. No other organization can Reach this level .

As for market demand, it has been mentioned above. The vast majority of many satellite Internet projects ended in failure, but some people have already proven their feasibility in the commercial market.

Remember the Iridium project that filed for bankruptcy above? It did not disappear because of this, but adjusted its positioning after reorganization, and continued to survive as a supplement to ground communications. Iridium NEXT also completed deployment last year and has 1.3 million billable users.

This is not to say that Starlink will be successful, but it is indeed the most likely ground-orbit satellite Internet project to achieve its goals.

At present, more and more countries and companies are investing in the field of satellite Internet. At least 16 companies around the world have announced plans to cover the global low-orbit constellation, including large technology companies such as Samsung, Boeing and Amazon.

China also has its own satellite Internet projects-Hongyan Constellation and Hongyun Project. On April 20 this year, the low-orbit satellite Internet was included in the scope of the “new infrastructure” that was first specified by the National Development and Reform Commission.

For Musk, Starlink will become an important source of income for SpaceX in the future, to support Mars migration and other money-burning space projects. It can be said that Musk’s stars and seas are likely to depend on the success or failure of the Starlink project.

Reference materials:

" Small Rocket's Analysis of SpaceX's Starlink Project's Low- Earth Constellation " [M/OL], Small Rocket WeChat Official Account (ixiaohuojian)

"In- Depth Report on the Satellite Internet Industry, Geometry of Opportunities in the Industry Chain under New Infrastructure "

" Why is Musk's Starlink project worthy of vigilance?

" Ten Thousand Satellites, Ten Billion Dollar Space Gambling Era "

" Chen Shanzhi Explains LEO Satellite Communication: Complementary Relationship with 5G, Convergence in 6G "

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