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Elon Musk's Starlink: The challenges and constraints of satellite internet for mobile users

Under Elon Musk's guidance, SpaceX has successfully deployed six Starlink satellites featuring direct-to-cell capability, marking a crucial milestone in the journey toward global satellite-based internet.

Written By: Saumya Nigam @snigam04 New Delhi Published on: January 10, 2024 9:56 IST
Elon Musk's Starlink
Image Source : STARLINK Elon Musk's Starlink

SpaceX, under Elon Musk's leadership, has launched the first six Starlink satellites with direct-to-cell capability. This has taken a significant step towards global satellite-based internet. This move aims at enhancing global connectivity and eliminating the dead zones, and there are a few limitations that the potential users need to be aware of.

Limited speed and coverage

Elon Musk has highlighted a crucial point in a post, where he stated that the satellite internet will initially target the areas where there is no connectivity. While offering access to text, voice and data for LTE phones across the world, Musk was cautious about the speed per beam which is limited to 7Mbps. 

Furthermore, the expansive coverage of the beams may not compete with terrestrial cellular networks, particularly in regions with decent connectivity.

Rollout phases and connectivity waiting periods

The phased rollout plan has indicated that the initial focus is on the areas which lack connectivity. The text support introduction is expected to begin this year itself, with broader availability. Direct-to-cell connectivity for IoT devices is slated for support in 2025, indicating a gradual expansion of services.

Large-scale deployment plans

SpaceX has been intending to launch around 840 direct-to-mobile phone satellites within the next 6 months. This ambitious plan further aims to strengthen global coverage, but the effectiveness of the service may vary based on regional demands and infrastructure.

Speed discrepancy and device impact

The offered speed of 7Mbps might raise concerns, especially when people will be comparing it with the existing high-speed internet services which are provided by terrestrial cellular networks. In regions like the UAE with an average speed of 324.92Mbps and India with 94.62Mbps, the Starlink service may face challenges in meeting the expectations of the users. 
The shared bandwidth among multiple devices on a 7Mbps beam could impact the internet speed for individual users.

Direct to Cell technology: How it works?

Starlink's Direct to Cell capability will be relying on an advanced eNodeB modem onboard the satellites, which functions as a space-based cellphone tower. This technology further aims at enabling network integration which is similar to standard roaming partnerships.

Collaborations with mobile network operators (MNOs) are crucial for integrating Starlink's services into existing cellular networks. Furthermore, the reports suggest the partnerships in some countries, but specific details about the service's launch in India remain uncertain.

Ongoing industry dynamics

In a recent statement from Vodafone Idea, it was further clarified that no ongoing talks for collaboration with Starlink. Simultaneously, reports have further suggested that Reliance Jio might receive regulatory approval for launching satellite internet services in India, indicating dynamic developments within the industry.

In the end, while SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet holds promise for enhancing connectivity in underserved areas, potential users should consider the limitations in speed, coverage, and deployment phases before expecting widespread and high-speed availability.

ALSO READ: CES 2024: Samsung unveils a foldable display with dual-folding capability

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