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Starlink from SpaceX can bridge the digital divide

Starlink from SpaceX can bridge the digital divide

Starlink is on the brink of providing an upgrade to the way the global economy accesses the internet as we know it. With a first of its kind satellite mesh-network system Starlink is set to provide internet to even the most remote parts of the world. A project spearheaded by world renowned tech billionaire and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, Starlink is a breakthrough in internet service access and will connect the world by bridging the digital divide between urban and rural communities.

Starlink is just internet right, so why the big fuss?

Starlink will be the next giant leap in achieving internet coverage on a global scale. The project has ambitious goals of providing users with 10Gbps of download speed and that’s an incredible feat for satellite internet. That means you could potentially download multiple movies, at once, within seconds, and while sitting in a remote location. Currently the download speeds are ranging at about 300Mbps so there is a way to go but, we’re rooting for them.

Won’t internet delivered by satellite be too slow

The Starlink network, besides having a very cool name, also promises to provide users with extremely low latency. This means that customers using the network for online gaming and video streaming will enjoy endless nights of these activities with their friends and family with very few, if any, disruptions caused by lagging. In fact, Elon Musk said at the 2020 Satellite Conference in Washington, DC that “We’re targeting latency below 20 milliseconds, so somebody could play a fast-response video game at a competitive level, like that’s the threshold for the latency.”

Starlink from SpaceX can bridge the digital divide
Speeds could reach up to 10Gbps

How many satellites does it take to deliver internet connection?

Currently, Starlink have managed to launch 1,200 satellites into orbit. At full capacity Starlink says that a total of 12,000 satellites will be orbiting the earth. The company will continue to launch satellites in a phased approach with the goal to have about 8,000 satellites orbiting just 500km above the planet, and the remaining 4,000 orbiting much higher up, at around 1,200km. 120 Starlink satellites are being manufactured every month. They aim to have all systems in place and ready to go by the end of 2021.

The benefits of Starlink internet connection

It’s not only the speed of connection at which the Starlink system will provide internet connectivity but also the access that ‘hard-to-reach-users’ will have no matter their geographic location. The setup, according to Musk, is a two-step approach that can be done in any order, he says “It’s very important that you don’t need a specialist to install it. The goal is that… there’s just two instructions and they can be done in either order: point at sky, plug in”. We can then safely deduce that the other two-step approach is ‘plug in and point at sky’ [LOL].

Rural or urban, first-world or not, Starlink will not discriminate in its service. Whether you’re situated in Los Angeles or a small farming town in the Kalahari, your internet speed will be the same once the system is at its full functioning capability. “Starlink is ideally suited for areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge. Unbounded by traditional ground infrastructure, Starlink can deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable”, reads the Starlink website.

Stralink brings internet to rural areas
Internet in rural areas

Another benefit is that there is no need to lay cables in the hard-to-reach areas which will be costy and far more time consuming. The Starlink service can be activated in an area at the press of a button. However, it is not conducive to highly populated areas due to bandwidth restrictions. So, your current fibre internet service provider will still be your best option if you live in an urban area.

Bridging the digital divide

Starlink will allow schools and businesses in rural areas to have access to internet speeds on par with schools and businesses in urban areas. This is great progress to bridging the digital divide and creates opportunities that were not previously available. The only setback is that the cost is not yet conducive to low-income areas but hopefully, over time, this will become a thing of the past.

Due to the rockets designed by SpaceX, Starlink can launch a multitude of satellites into orbit using the same rocket. With takeoff and landing capabilities, SpaceX rockets can be used over and over again to launch satellites into space with minimal waste and cost in terms of not having to build a rocket for each new launch. Having to build a rocket for each mission would lead to an exorbitantly high cost of operation which would ultimately affect the end user purchase price.

Bridging the digital divide
SpaceX Rockets (not depicted here) can launch more than one satellite

Currently, only fibre internet lines can compete with the rate of download speeds Starlink is aiming to provide. SpaceX have designed the satellites in such a way that they are able to orbit the earth lower than any other internet satellites currently in space. This does not mean however that fibre internet will become obsolete, on the contrary Musk reassures telco companies by saying, “I want to be clear, it’s not like Starlink is some huge threat to telcos. I want to be super clear it is not. In fact, it will be helpful to telcos because Starlink will serve the hardest-to-serve customers that telcos otherwise have trouble doing with landlines or even with… cell towers.”

Cool facts about the satellites

At this point in time Starlink has launched enough satellites to make up 25% to 35% of all satellites in space. With 11 000 more satellites to go, Starlink will undoubtedly be crowned, ‘Space King’. With no signs of slowing down, we could witness history in the making within our lifetime.

The satellites weigh about 259kg and travel at between 7.28km/s and 7.70km/s or 28 080km/h. This is called orbital velocity or, ‘flippen fast’.

When the satellites were first launched, they caused some concerns for astronomers as they were too bright and interfered with scientific observations. SpaceX, to curb this problem, added sunlight blocking visors on top of all the satellites which are called ‘VisorSats’.

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Fibre internet service provider verse the fibre network operator.

Internet service provider verse the fibre network operator.

There can be confusion between what an internet service provider (ISP) does versus what a fibre network operator (FNO) does. Who is responsible for what when it comes to bringing a rocket-fuelled internet experience into your home? Allow us explain, to put you in the picture.

The modern-day, digital age middleman.

Here’s what an internet service provider is supposed to do.

Customers browse internet service offerings online with the intent to purchase high-quality fibre internet so they can watch Netflix, Showmax and more recently, Britbox

The customer makes a purchase decision for the fibre internet package that would best suit their needs. They choose that package based on the FNO available in their area. That FNO could be VUMA, Openserve, MTN, Octotel, or any of the many FNO’s available. The FNO is the company that ran fibre optic cable, either above or below ground, to a point where connection to the home is the next step. 

The ISP is the middleman between the FNO and the customer and the entity that implements the next step. The ISP delivers internet connectivity by installing a WiFi router and opening the gateway to deliver fibre internet into the home. 

Internet service provider deliver fibre internet to the home.
ISPs deliver fibre internet to the home.

It’s all about a great internet experience.

The primary function of an ISP is to provide a great internet experience at a competitive price. The ISP is client-facing and has the mandate to supply quality service and look after the end user by ensuring they have the best internet experience. Once connected, the ISP then provides the customer ongoing after-sales support. At RocketNet we have an array of complimentary services available to our customers. These include the RocketNet Probe app and an RSS feed that provides live network status updates.

If disruptions occur in internet connectivity, the ISP, not the FNO, is obligated to resolve those issues with the customers they manage. 

It's all about a great internet experience.
It’s all about a great internet experience.

The fibre network operator is a wholesaler.

An FNO is not the manufacturer of fibre optic cables that connect the world to the internet. They are the wholesaler of those cables. They make the internet available by laying fibre cables under or above the ground and specialise in ICT (information and communications technology) infrastructure rather than working directly with customers. 

From time to time, an FNO tries to approach customers directly. The trouble with this approach is that it comes at the cost of poor customer service, and if a customer doesn’t get what they pay for, there’s limited recourse. Recourse is limited because the FNO owns the cable connected to that customers home. Therefore the customer has no luxury of moving to a different ISP.

ISPs create healthy competition and accountability.

When you have multiple ISPs competing for customer acquisition and loyalty, it keeps service delivery and pricing on a level playing field. When end-users have different ISP’s to choose from and not one FNO, then each will innovate and sweat to keep customers happy.

Customers must have a choice of service providers
Customers must have a choice of service providers.

ISP’s focus on customised internet service experiences rather than the infrastructure. In this way, customers benefit the most. One FNO can distribute through 20 ISPs that are all competing for customer attention. Only the best internet service experience at the most competitive price will keep winning customer’s over. And, if an ISP drops the ball, the customer can switch. That is why customers should deal with independent internet service providers. 

What is meant by an independent ISP?

Glad you asked. What we mean by independent is that an FNO does not own a specific ISP. They exist purely for customer engagement. ISPs are those who keep the balance between holding the FNO accountable to competitive pricing and maintaining service delivery at the highest standard.

So, our advice is to choose an independent ISP and stick with them as long as they provide you with the best service.

A RocketNet sales pitch.

A value held at RocketNet is that we fundamentally believe in providing our customers with a great internet experience. Being an internet service provider (ISP) is our passion and not a means to an end. If you are suffering from a poor experience, we will turn those poor experiences into great ones.