Speaking virtually at Mobile World Congress 2021 this week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company’s Starlink satellite broadband service recently crossed a “strategic” threshold of 69,420 simultaneous users. He also suggested the company could have “several hundred thousand” to over 500,000 users in the next 12 months.
Musk said that Starlink would be able to offer global broadband service, with the exception of the polar regions, by August. He positioned the LEO service as complementary to fiber and 5G services, serving the three to five percent of the world that didn’t have such access. It would be best for “low density” areas with some capability to serve “medium density” areas, but Musk didn’t explicitly define what medium density would look like.
Starlink v1.5 satellites being launched from Vandenberg Space Force Base this summer into polar orbits will include laser intersatellite communications links, as well the forthcoming 2.0 satellites coming out next year that will be “significantly more capable.” Starlink will be connecting its satellite network more directly into major interconnection points and clouds around the world to reduce latencies, implying that such connections would be extend beyond its announced connectivity arrangements with Google.
Musk said SpaceX was currently “more than a thousand dollars” per dish today – “We are losing money.” Efforts are underway to develop next-generation terminals that have the same or “roughly the same” capability as today’s models, but cost a lot less, with efforts to drop equipment costs to $250-$300 – a price point cited when the company first announced the Starlink effort several years ago.
For the cellular MWC crowd, Musk said Starlink had “two quite significant partnerships” with major carriers and was in discussion with a number of others to provide Starlink access, including providing backhaul for some rural 5G deployments per local regulatory licensing requirements.
Rocket fans likely perked up when Musk said that the future iterations of the Falcon 9 first stage rocket could possibly fly as many as 20 to 30 times; the company has flown at least one Falcon 9 first stage 10 times with several logging 8 or more flights. More flights would enable SpaceX to further lower the cost of putting satellites and other hardware into orbit.
Elon’s latest speech comes as OneWeb launches enough satellites to provide broadband service where Starlink currently can’t – at the poles. OneWeb has completed its “Five for 50” campaign and can now provide its enterprise-grade services from 50 degrees latitude north and south on upward. The new capability is likely one reason Musk is telegraphing Starlink’s efforts to deploy polar-orbiting satellites to provide service in those regions for national security customers.