Elon Musk’s SpaceX has revolutionized the space industry and now the California-based aerospace company works on delivering its promise of high-speed, low-latency internet to all the corners of the world including India.
Although the penetration of digital technologies has been increasing in India, a lot of areas still remain devoid of stable internet connectivity. And SpaceX’s Starlink mission, which aims to provide internet to each and every corner regardless of any infrastructure limitations, can serve as a ray of hope.
“Starlink will deliver high speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable,” Starlink’s mission statement read.
While satellite internet services are not uncommon, what makes Starlink standout is the distance the satellites are located from Earth — about 550 km in the lower Earth orbit. Given the relatively short distance, Musk claims that the latency should be below 20 milliseconds as opposed to a typical satellite internet which has a latency of 550 milliseconds or more. Musk tweeted:
Aiming for sub 20ms latency initially, sub 10ms over time, with much greater consistency than terrestrial links, as only ever a few hops to major data centers
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 27, 2019
State of internet connectivity in India
A lot of Indians can only dream of a broadband connection. About 35% of people living in north-eastern states do not have access to internet, according to a 2019 Lok Sabha report. Moreover, places that do have access also face connectivity issues due to an erratic network. Many other remote areas have fallen victim to the disparity in access of internet connection, which has fabricated a digital divide in the country. These factors are also stopping people who want to move out of the metropolitan cities to their hometowns. These working professionals rely heavily on the internet to keep up with the work from home culture, and uninterrupted broadband connectivity is simply unavoidable.
However, the government has undertaken several measures to revamp the digital infrastructure of the country. These measures include the introduction of undersea cable between Chennai and Andaman & Nicobar. But these initiatives do not target all the remote areas at once and can get quite expensive sometimes. Even cheaper options such as ground-based towers cannot be built in certain remote areas such as hilly regions.
How will Starlink work?
SpaceX hopes to create a mega constellation of 12,000 satellites for global coverage. However, SpaceX had indicated during an earlier launch that it would take 420 satellites to provide a “minor broadband coverage” and 780 satellites of the first 1,600 to provide moderate coverage. The company has already rocketed 835 satellites at the time of writing.
Notably, Starlink’s internet will not be a mobile service. Instead, the satellites will beam the signal directly to a user terminal which will be on the ground.
Musk tweeted in January, “[The user terminal] looks like a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick. Starlink Terminal has motors to self-adjust optimal angle to view sky… No training required [for installation].”
When will Starlink internet be available in India?
Musk tweeted in April that Starlink will commence the private beta three months from then and public beta in about six months. The primary goal was to first introduce high-speed satellite internet to rural areas in the US and Canada. Keeping up with that, SpaceX has already received regulatory approval from Canada to provide Starlink internet to rural Canadians. The company plans to expand to “near global coverage”, perhaps including India, by next year.
If Starlink actually comes to India, we may be able to target remote areas including the islands, Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep and North Eastern states that lack an internet connection. This will not only allow people to move freely throughout the country but will also boost tourism.