How will Mobile Starlink begin to Alter the World Around Us?
When Elon Musk recently announced his Starlink broadband internet service would become mobile, I began to imagine how that seemingly insignificant announcement would change the world.
A Quick Refresher on Starlink
Starlink is the satellite-based internet service by SpaceX. Customers will be able to point their receiver to the sky to get online service. Starlink has nearly completed placing its first round of satellites in low earth orbit – roughly 340 miles above the earth.
There are other satellite internet services in use already but most operate at higher altitudes in order to provide broader coverage. The higher altitude increases signal latency, though, even though the difference in speed between these and Starlink is measured in milliseconds.
OneWeb is a similar low-orbit satellite internet venture, currently co-owned by the U.K. government and the India-based Bharti Group. They appear to be a step behind Starlink, as they are still launching satellites and running tests in preparation of offering initial commercial service later this year.
The News from Elon
The latest pronouncement from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is that Starlink service at 300Mbps will be available across most of the Earth by the end of this year. In the current beta testing phase, the service is offered only for a fixed user location, but Musk stated that the service would eventually be fully mobile.
His comments and the filings the company has made with the Federal Communications Commission seem to indicate this mobility will come in two rapidly sequenced stages.
First, users would be allowed and able to deploy the fairly bulky equipment in locations other than their initially designated location. It sounds like this will be the case very soon.
Second, it appears that Starlink’s technology will be able to be attached to vehicles and used on the go – on vehicles including boats, planes, trucks, and RVs. For the time being, though, the technology will be too large to mount on the average car, so we won’t see them in a Tesla anytime soon.
What does all of this mean for our future?
Work from Anywhere Means Anywhere … and on the Go
Not only will we be working from home, we’ll also be working from mobile personal offices. Picture yourself on a Zoom call in your RV journeying across North America and beyond. Or on a sailboat in the Caribbean. Yes, more of those idyllic, superimposed audio conferencing backdrops we see today might be the real thing in the future!
As we discussed last year, sales of RVs will skyrocket. They won’t just be for retirees and weekend campers anymore.
Enhanced Autonomous Navigation
Satellite-enhanced telematics will significantly advance the progression of autonomous transportation. Cellular internet access can be spotty and unreliable, subject to earthbound anomalies.
Faster-speed, satellite-based technology will be a more reliable platform for helping vehicle sensors see and react to situations around them. Think of it as a significant extension of satellite radio. We’ll probably still face coverage gaps in tunnels though.
Employees aren’t the only ones who will work from anywhere. Satellite-empowered internet that travels with a company can form the backbone of a mobile business. We saw this coming a few years back.
Food trucks? Sure, but thanks to fast, mobile satellite internet service, we’ll have mobile restaurants and nearly any other kind of retail experience. We see some of this now, of course, in things like the mobile laundromats that are typically pulled into a hurricane-ravaged region for days at a time.
But mobile businesses won’t just be limited to putting a store module on the back of a flat-bed truck or pulling a trailer to sell merchandise at the state fair. We’ll be putting all of the mobile company’s backend support out there as well – conceivably in a different location week by week, complete with secure Cloud-based business operations ranging from accounting and finance to HR.
The best technology allows us to do multiple things at once. While their big rig is heading down I-80 under satellite-based, autonomous control, the “driver” could take a nap … or they could have a side-job, like working for a call center or editing a manuscript.
Where on Earth?
The current beta version of Starlink is available to users in the northern U.S., Canada, and the northern parts of the U.K., with download speeds of approximately 150 Mbps.
The beta phase will end this summer. As more satellites are launched and come online, Starlink’s geographic reach will grow quickly to the point where, as noted above, it will be in position to serve most locations around the earth by the end of 2021, with the final locations covered by 2022.
Starlink has launched approximately 1300 satellites already, and tens of thousands more are anticipated – not only to cover more of the earth but to provide even better service in areas that are already covered. Musk promises download speeds of 1 gig or more in the not-too-distant future.
That doesn’t mean Starlink or any other satellite-based Internet service will be available to the citizens of every nation, though. Each country must approve its use in their territory. Many nations have already signed up, and registration has been requested in many more. But some might hesitate for their own reasons. Russia, for example, previously rejected OneWeb’s proposal to operate in that country, citing security concerns.
Future Societal Trends
This promise of enhanced internet mobility is just one more step in our evolving take-it-with-you-wherever lifestyle. It’s one less anchor holding us to our home, home city, and even home country.
And when people and businesses are more mobile, they’re in a stronger position to “vote with their feet” with regard to local tax, zoning, and lifestyle laws and regulations.
Globally based technology solutions tend to break down borders. This one will as well. While we probably won’t ever become “one world,” Starlink and similar services will certainly make it easier to navigate in all corners of it.