SpaceX has already begun closed alpha testing of Starlink user terminals in anticipation of the constellation's internet service debut. (Richard Angle)

SpaceX Starlink beta arrives in the UK, sets sights on rest of Europe and Australia

As of the first day of 2021, SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet beta program appears to have arrived in the United Kingdom in just one of numerous international debuts expected this year.

While not guaranteed to be the first outright, Reddit user OptiSport became the first confirmed Starlink beta customer outside of North America after receiving a beta kit (antenna dish, stand, and WiFi router) on or around January 1st. Beta invites began to roll out to those signed up at around mid-December, but OptiSport appears to be the first UK beta user to actually receive a Starlink user terminal.

According to others that received invites, SpaceX’s UK beta will kick off with pricing similar to the US and Canada, charging users £439 (+£54 shipping) for the dish and router and £89 per month for service. While the US – generally offering some of the slowest, most expensive internet in the developed world – is quite a different story, Starlink’s UK beta pricing unequivocally narrows its customer base to those simply unable to access the UK’s otherwise solid broadband infrastructure. Offering average download speeds of 100-150 Mbps, Starlink’s £89 UK offering can’t really stand with existing fiber, where the closest comparable mass-market option offers speeds of up to ~500 Mbps down for just £62 per month.

Still, as several /r/Starlink users and prospective UK beta applicants noted, those that fall outside of the UK’s wired infrastructure often find themselves stuck with expensive and inconsistent LTE/3G service or expensive, shoddy, and heavily constrained satellite offerings (£150/mo, 150GB data cap).

SpaceX’s Starlink beta UK rollout appears to be extremely cautious. At the moment, SpaceX appears to be shuffling a large portion of its active constellation, performing what is known as plane change maneuvers to modify where certain batches of satellites (known as planes) overfly the Earth.

Presumably meant to expand coverage and better distribute existing satellite capacity, there’s a chance that those plane change maneuvers – seemingly affecting almost 60% of all operational Starlink satellites – is harming network performance for those reliant upon some of those impacted planes. SpaceX did bluntly name the service as Starlink’s “Better Than Nothing Beta” but it’s still possible that the company has slowed beta rollouts during a period of engineered – but temporary – instability.

Regardless, SpaceX is currently hard at work seeking approvals to deliver Starlink internet services in more than a dozen other countries – each of which typically requires its own byzantine, unique, and nontransferable application process. Clear candidates for near-term Starlink service debuts include Greece (licensed, NET Q1 2021), Australia (partial license secured), and Germany (spectrum license secured, NET early 2021). Countries in the early stages of licensing include France, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Japan, the Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia.

Ultimately, although countries with nationwide state-run censorship like Russia and China will pose major challenges, SpaceX’s goal is to offer Starlink internet to almost anyone on Earth.

SpaceX Starlink beta arrives in the UK, sets sights on rest of Europe and Australia
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