SpaceX Starlink in India — A Potential Catalyst for Rural Development

Artist’s illustration of Starlink satellites in orbit and actual image of consumer terminal — Credit: SpaceX

At the start of this year, we saw Tesla register its India entity, and subsequently, they started hiring people for different jobs. And now towards the end of the year, we see another Elon Musk company — SpaceX registering its India entity for Starlink business.

The company is named ‘Starlink Satellite Communications Private Limited’ and is incorporated on 1st November 2021. This will now enable them to get the required licenses and start building ground stations.

Even though the India entity is formed now, SpaceX had opened Starlink reservations for India back in February 2021. Anyone, who wants to take the connection can go on the Starlink website and put in their address for service location, and make a refundable deposit of 99 USD.

This is important because the service will be extended on a first come first serve basis. Once your area can be served you will be asked to make the payment of 500 USD as the cost of hardware and then there will be a monthly charge of 100 USD.

Yes, 100 USD per month is unaffordable for most people in India for an internet connection. Especially when we can get a fiber internet connection for as low as 10 USD per month.

Now, I’m not sure of how exactly the cost will work out, given that SpaceX is targeting the least served areas of the entire planet. These locations usually have people with very low incomes, which is the reason for traditional service providers not building enough infrastructure to service them.

Another important thing to note is that the cost of this service will remain the same across the world irrespective of geographic and/or economic differences. And the hardware produced and service that is being provided is already at a subsidized rate than what it costs to manufacture and run these operations.

Behind this same cost policy, I believe there is a larger goal of connecting the entire world to the internet and creating a sense of unity for the entire human race, and inspiring people to explore the stars and be a multi-planet species.

With that, let us try to understand what Starlink is, how it works, and how does the India roadmap looks.

Artist’s illustration of Starlink constellation in low earth orbit — Credit: YouTube/Real Engineering

What is Starlink?

Starlink is a high-speed, low latency internet service. Much like fiber-optic broadband connections but instead of data running through cables, this service uses satellites for communication. The download speeds as of now range between 100 Mb/s and 200 Mb/s with latency as low as 20ms in most locations. This is very helpful in high data rate activities like playing video games, streaming, video calls, etc.

Since this service uses satellites for data communication, it can potentially be used anywhere on earth given we have enough satellites in the orbit which can beam signals down on the surface. Thus, it becomes particularly suitable for remote locations which have unreliable service or no internet service at all.

Remote communities can get access to information which in turn enables access to education, healthcare, and every other type of benefit that the internet has to offer.

60 Starlink satellites stacked up together ready to be launched on Falcon 9 rocket — Credit: SpaceX

How does it work?

Internet from a satellite is not a new concept. We all use satellite communication for our television sets. These are satellites stationed in geostationary orbit around the earth, which is approximately 36,000 km above the surface. Due to this huge distance, there is significant latency which does not allow for interactive use cases like playing video games and video calls.

Ground-based systems like fiber optics broadband connections offer low latency but are expensive and slow in terms of scaling services to remote locations. Thus a better alternative is required and that is where Starlink comes in.

Instead of putting satellites in far-away geostationary orbits, SpaceX is putting them closer in low-earth orbit, at about 500–600 km above the surface. This enables high-speed, low latency connections. But since satellites are so close to the earth, each one can not cover a large portion of the surface, and thus there need to be far many satellites in orbit.

Starlink Kit — Dish, wifi router, cables, and mount — Credit: SpaceX

From the perspective of an end-user, they receive something called Starlink Kit that includes the Starlink dish, wifi router, cables, and mount. And only prerequisites are the clear view of the sky and power outlet.

The Starlink hardware, both the satellites and consumer terminal is engineered by SpaceX. They have gained a significant amount of expertise in building and launching rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX is deploying the most advanced broadband internet system in the world.

SpaceX today has more than 1500 operational satellites in the orbit and they are already providing services in more than 16 countries. As the number of satellites grows, the coverage will continue to improve, and as more ground stations are built, and as the software is optimized, we will potentially see gigabit level data speeds with extremely low latency.

India roadmap:

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, preorders for India have already started since February 2021. So if you are keen on getting the connection for yourself, you better visit the Starlink website, complete the deposit and secure a spot on the waitlist. There are already more than 5000 preorders from India.

Also as mentioned earlier, SpaceX now has a wholly-owned subsidiary in India which is headed by Mr. Sanjay Bhargava as Starlink Country Director, India at SpaceX. Sanjay has previously worked with Elon at X.com (later PayPal) and did crucial contributions in building that business.

He has been providing us regular updates on the developments of Starlink India on his LinkedIn profile. I would highly recommend following him there to stay updated. Here are some of the details shared by him.

Why you may want to consider preordering Starlink:

The goal is to start with remote areas which have no broadband connectivity at all. There is a huge global backlog on the number of Starlink terminal shipments but most of whatever that will be shipped to India will first be prioritized for focused rural constituencies. And then, they have a stretch target of 200,000 active terminals in India by December 2022.

Tweets by Elon Musk and Sanjay Bhargava on the developments of Starlink India

Further, Mr. Bhargava’s wife, Mrs. Anita Kapur Bhargava has volunteered pro bono to support Starlink India’s strategy to catalyze rural development. She has shared a detailed presentation on the steps to be taken by different participants to effectively build this ecosystem.

Presentation — Catalyzing Rural Development:

Starlink India is working with Niti Ayog to identify 12 districts for initial deployment. The 1st phase includes 20 terminals in Delhi schools and 80 terminals in schools in one rural district close to Delhi. The 2nd phase includes 12 rural districts, three each from north, south, east, and west of the country.

All broadband providers, governments, and local entrepreneurs are encouraged to work together. If people can utilize these services and help create outcomes that enhance the GDP of the rural district, increase jobs and achieve sustainable development goals, these experiments then can become a base for scalable global solutions. Please refer to the above presentation to learn more in detail.

Further, Sanjay has done a few video chat sessions with different students and entrepreneurial bodies to spread the awareness and importance of rural development and how Starlink can play a pivotal role in improving people’s lives. All those links are available on his LinkedIn.

Falcon 9 rocket launching 60 Starlink satellites to orbit — October 2020 — Credit: SpaceX

Conclusion:

It is very exciting to see SpaceX entering the Indian market with Starlink. As we now know that Starlink will become the most advanced broadband internet system in the world, and having access to such a service will make a significant difference.

Additionally, if we can make rural/remote areas 100% broadband-enabled, it will immensely help uplift the lives of millions of people. It can be through online education, healthcare treatments, or just by building more awareness and presenting opportunities.

Let me know how you think about this and/or if you have any questions. I would be very happy to talk about it in more detail.

I run a creator account and a podcast called ‘The Space Road’ on different social media platforms, where I talk about disruptive innovation at SpaceX, Tesla, Bitcoin, Neuralink, and more. Please check it out and I hope to see you again soon.

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I write about disruptive innovation at SpaceX, Tesla & Bitcoin. These innovations are changing the way we live our lives & will significantly impact our future.

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Chetan Kale

Chetan Kale

I write about disruptive innovation at SpaceX, Tesla & Bitcoin. These innovations are changing the way we live our lives & will significantly impact our future.

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