Elon Musk has a lot of ambitious plans, and almost all of those have proven to be controversial to some extent. One of the most debated, however, might be his vision of covering the Earth with Internet-beaming satellites under SpaceX’s Starlink program. Although the current state of that service is far from its best, the tech luminary has made it known that it could finally be open to the public as early as next month.
There are currently more than 1,700 Starlink satellites orbiting the planet, serving around 100,000 Starlink beta testers around the world. That’s a far cry from Musk’s initial plan of 12,000 satellites, but it seems that the service has matured enough to leave the beta testing phase soon. How soon? According to Musk, “next month.”
When Starlink finally does shed off that beta label, the number of its users is expected to balloon before the year ends. That said, there will be a hard limit to how many subscribers it could accommodate, imposed by both the laws of physics and the laws of the land. In the US, SpaceX has only been approved to deploy 1 million terminals but is already working on getting a license for up to 5 million.
Despite promises of reliable and fast Internet service, Starlink’s performance hasn’t exactly been consistent, its throughput determined by even more factors than regular broadband. Satellite Internet favors those in rural areas without many buildings, but trees can also pose a problem. The strength of the signal is also largely dependent on the terminal’s proximity to the satellites.
Those problems could become moot as the satellite constellation gets larger. SpaceX is already asking for permission to launch 30,000 more on top of the 12,000 it has been allowed to, something that is already earning a lot of criticism both from rivals like Amazon and special interest groups. A Starlink subscription currently goes for a flat $99 per month fee but also requires and an upfront $499 payment for the terminal, mounting tripod, and router.