As the Ukranian government officials pleaded for international assistance, the Vice prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov found a unlikely ally in billionaire Elon Musk. Fedorov tweeted the SpaceX founder passionately saying.
This surprisingly led to a prompt response from Musk.
What is Starlink?
Startlink has been offered to public beta testers for almost a year now, with most users reporting positive first impressions about the service. In terms of cost, the terminal hardware bundle (Starlink dish + Wi-Fi router) will set you back $499, and the monthly fee is $99. The company has been trying to shave as much as possible from the cost of the terminal, but a larger problem has been making these terminals fast enough to meet demand, and building a ruggedized version that can survive harsh environments.
Starlink internet works by sending information through the vacuum of space, where it travels much faster than in fiber-optic cable and can reach far more people and places.
While most satellite Internet services today come from single geostationary satellites that orbit the planet at about 35,000km, Starlink is a constellation of multiple satellites that orbit the planet much closer to Earth, at about 550km, and cover the entire globe.
Because Starlink satellites are in a low orbit, the round-trip data time between the user and the satellite – also known as latency – is much lower than with satellites in geostationary orbit. This enables Starlink to deliver services like online gaming that are usually not possible on other satellite broadband systems.
Each satellite features a compact, flat-panel design that minimizes volume, allowing for a dense launch stack to take full advantage of the launch capabilities of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
Starlink’s Network Performance So far
According to Starlink’s official website, the objective of SpaceX is to provide “near global coverage” by 2021. In regards to their broadband internet service, SpaceX have lofty ambitions. Their 2016 application to the FCC states that “the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1Gbps per user)” once the constellation is deployed.
Additionally, during the 2020 Satellite conference’s Q&A session, Musk said that the company is “targeting latency below 20 milliseconds. Latency of less than 20 ms would make Starlink comparable to wired broadband service.
So far, Starlink’s performance is looking very promising. Last August, beta users conducted tests using Ookla’s speedtest.net tool and anonymously published them on reddit. Speed tests showed upload speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 18 Mbps, and up to 60Mbps download speeds.
One reddit user compiled the test results and created the following Image:
Starlink Network’s Commercial Viability
Throughout the month of August, the American West Coast has been devastated by wildfires. Washington state emergency responders started using Starlink user terminals to bring internet service to areas affected by the wildfires.
Emergency telecommunications leader of the Washington State Military Department’s IT division, praised the internet service’s speed and reliability. Hall stated that he has “never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been anywhere near as reliable”.
The Native American Hoh tribe also sang Starlink’s praises. The tribe tweeted that the network has been supplying fast broadband to local residents in the area. They also added that their “children can participate in remote learning” and their “residents can access healthcare.”
From a commercial and economic standpoint, the Starlink project could be worth tens of billions of dollars. Forbes estimates that the network could be valued at $30 billion by 2025. To understand Starlink’s value, we must delve deeper into SpaceX’s business model and the aerospace industry in general.
SpaceX has significantly disrupted the industry. It is the first commercial enterprise to effectively reuse rockets for mission launches and implement that policy on a wide scale.
However, the company operates in a price inelastic market. That is the opposite of Tesla and the EV market where lower prices lead to huge increases in sales. The space launch market, on the other hand, is not a consumer market. Normal people don’t buy rocket launches. Governments or giant corporations do. With the exception of Starlink, SpaceX thus deals with a very targeted and specific clientele.
Additionally, SpaceX’s raison-d’être is to get to Mars and enable the human race to become a multiplanetary civilization. The company needs to generate considerable capital to do so. This is why it has decided to get involved in the broadband internet business.
Let us assume that SpaceX will bring in 50 million users worldwide out of a possible 7 billion by 2025. Provided that monthly subscription costs amount to $80, the company will be able to generate $48 billion a year just from this service.
To top it all off, SpaceX builds, launches and operates the Starlink satellites. They do not rely on aggregators or third-parties. As a result, costs will undoubtedly be lower than the competition.
Thus, from a commercial standpoint, the project possesses a unique value proposition and may even be undervalued by Forbes! Starlink will very likely be an extremely successful enterprise and will enable SpaceX to democratize space access in the upcoming years!
As Ukraine continues to make efforts to mobilize and equip ordinary citizens on the ground to resist Russia’s unprovoked invasion of the country, those who are outside Ukraine who want to help are being asked to get involved in the fight in the virtual world. While the G7 (today with the addition of Japan) mobilize to shut down Russia’s access to the Swift banking system, the country has been running campaign corralling developers to join an “IT army” tasked with specific cyber challenges. It’s also making specific calls to technology leaders to do their part, too.
The “IT Army of Ukraine“, announced yesterday and already with nearly 184,000 users on its main Telegram channel (and that number is growing – it gained almost 10,000 users in the time I wrote this story), is using that account to name specific projects and call-outs for help to shut down Russian sites, Russian agents and those working in concert with the country, and to mobilize those living in Ukraine around work they can do. (It also has a gmail address for those not using Telegram: email@example.com. We have reached out to that address to see if the organizers would speak with us more about the project.)
And it seems to be making some progress. A call out on the channel to shut down the API for Sberbank, one of Russia’s major banks, earlier today appears to have come into play, with the site currently offline. Ditto Belorussia’s official information policy site, which it says was also taken offline after a call out on the channel. It’s taking the tongue-in-cheek approach similar to the one adopted by Anonymous and other activist hacker groups when going after specific targets.
“‘Unbelievable cyberattacks hit Russian governmental services portal, Kremlin, Parliament, First Channel, Aerospace, Railroad websites on February 26th,’” it notes citing Russian media. “‘Fifty plus DDoS-attacks contained over one terabyte capacity.’ Who has done that? 😉 what a pity accident.”
The effort is getting discovered by word of mouth, but also with endorsements from government officials Tweeting out the link. (However it’s not clear that the government is actually behind it.)
“We are creating an IT army. We need digital talents,” Mykhailo Fedorov, who is both Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Digital Transformation, noted on Twitter. “There will be tasks for everyone. We continue to fight on the cyber front. The first task is on the channel for cyber specialists.”
Fedorov has not been wasting his words on Twitter. He’s also been singling out Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to use their platforms and existing products in aid of the efforts, respectively to ban access to Facebook platforms in Russia, and to extend Starlink access to Ukraine to give users a data backup. Success is a mixed bag: Musk has said the Starlink satellites have been trained over Ukraine now; but the Facebook ask seems to be going a little slower (ads have been banned but it seems access has not been, at least so far).
The situation in Ukraine may be solved with the help of online soldiers.
Scarcity has followed the progress and will continue to update.