SpaceX rolls out Starlink “Better Than Nothing Beta” in the US and Canada

A Starlink user terminal prototype. (SpaceX)

SpaceX has officially begun rolling out what it’s deemed a Starlink internet “Better Than Nothing Beta” across the United States and Canada.

The culmination of a mere 11 months of dedicated Starlink launches, SpaceX says that the constellation – some 820 satellites strong – is now large and mature enough to begin covering all of Canada and the US in 2020, “rapidly expanding to near global coverage of the populated world by 2021.”

While global coverage is thus close on the horizon, SpaceX is striving to make it abundantly clear to early Starlink beta customers that the constellation is in a state of extreme change and instability and will be far from perfect: literally Better Than Nothing, for the time being.

Alongside the first beta invite emails from Starlink, the SpaceX division appears to have made both iOS and Android apps available on their respective app stores. The apps feature a minimalist design leaving plenty of room for expansion and mainly exist to help onboard customers and guide them through the relatively simple setup process.

Starlink is designed to deliver high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable, expensive, or completely unavailable. Under Starlink’s Better Than Nothing Beta program, initial service is targeted for the U.S. and Canada in 2020, rapidly expanding to near-global coverage of the populated world by 2021.

The Starlink app is designed to help you:

• Identify the install location that will ensure the best quality of service
• Check for obstructions that can interfere with service
• Setup your Starlink hardware
• Verify your WiFi connection
• Run speed tests
• Troubleshoot connectivity issues
• Contact support


Starlink App description – Android/iOS

SpaceX’s Android and iOS Starlink apps are effectively identical.

The Starlink beta invite also informs early users that they should expect to receive speeds of 50-150 Mbps and latency (ping) between 20 and 40 milliseconds with occasional service outages and connection interruptions. Curiously, the invite also flies counter to previous hints in the code of SpaceX’s Starlink.com website that beta testing would be free for testers, revealing that Better Than Nothing Beta service will cost $99 per month and require each user to purchase a $499 Starlink user terminal.

While undeniably steep as far as most consumers of normal US and Canadian internet services are concerned, the sheer quantity of social media users revealing the obscene prices they pay for mediocre internet across North America suggests that even Starlink’s high beta pricing can compete with – or obliterate – existing rural providers.

SpaceX has likely produced just a few thousand user terminals in pursuit of a factory capable of delivering millions annually. (NASASpaceflight – bocachicagal)

A step further, SpaceX’s Hawthorne, CA Starlink user terminal factory has just barely begun volume production, all but guaranteeing that the efficiencies possible through economies of scale have yet to be realized. Phased-array antennas have never been mass-produced at the scale Starlink will need to serve even a minuscule percentage of prospective customers, meaning that SpaceX is likely to learn a great deal as it attempts to be the first company to do so.

If one assumes that SpaceX can quickly cut the cost of service and user terminals in half while dramatically improving network performance, Starlink will quickly become a no-brainer in many developed broadband markets.

SpaceX appears to be shipping Starlink user terminals and setup packages to beta users almost immediately after orders are placed. Lacking any kind of obvious non-disclosure agreement (NDA), it appears that the first reviews from Starlink beta users are likely to begin rolling in a matter of days from now.

Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
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