SATELLITE INTERNET NETWORK HAS 70,000 USERS IN 12 COUNTRIES AND AIMS FOR GLOBAL COVERAGE BY AUGUST
Elon Musk said his private rocket company SpaceX is prepared to spend up to $30bn to expand Starlink, its satellite internet network that has 70,000 users across 12 countries.
Musk said Starlink was on track to provide global coverage — “everywhere except the poles” — by August and aims to have 500,000 users “within 12 months.”
SpaceX has 1,500 satellites in low orbit providing broadband internet service for Starlink, a service that fills geographic gaps between areas covered by ground-based fibre connections and 5G, Musk said. At full capacity, the service will have 12,000 satellites.
“It’s really meant for sparsely-populated regions,” said Musk, speaking from California in a video interview for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “We’re really getting to parts of the world that are hardest to reach — the most difficult to reach 3 per cent, possibly 5 per cent.”
The $30bn figure cited by Musk was new and multiples higher than earlier forecasts, though it was not clear if this projection could be compared directly with previous estimates. Musk said the numbers would vary depending on whether the development of the Falcon 9 rocket was included.
In a 2018 TED Talk, chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said that establishing 12,000 satellites would cost “about $10bn or more”.
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Musk said SpaceX expects to invest $5bn-$10bn in Starlink before it becomes cash flow positive, and estimated the overall costs at between $20bn and $30bn. “It’s a lot, basically,” he said.
Musk did not comment on Starlink’s revenue potential, but in the past he has predicted it could attain annual revenues of $30bn by 2025.
Musk acknowledged that all previous attempts to provide constellation-based broadband services, going back to the 1990s, have failed. He joked that, a few years ago, his goal was simply to avoid bankruptcy.
The cost of a Starlink “terminal”, or satellite dish, is $499, plus a monthly subscription cost of $99. Musk said the hardware costs were about twice what the company was charging customers.
The billionaire also said Starlink had signed two big telecoms partnerships, but he declined to name them.
In December, the Starlink project was awarded almost $900m in US federal subsidies to support rural broadband connections. The award accounted for about one-tenth of a $9.2bn auction held by the Federal Communications Commission and will be distributed monthly over a decade.