It looks like America may have a winner its great internet space race. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) just authorised SpaceX to launch its broadband satellite service, Starlink. That means Americans could be accessing the internet from space as early as 2019. They'll literally just be pointing their phones at the sky and going online.
Just kidding, they won't actually have to point their phones at the sky to enjoy space internet. The Starlink service will work a lot like Wi-Fi, except instead of needing to find a hot spot, entire sections of the US could get internet access. The proposed system will include 4425 low-orbit satellites that will beam connectivity with frequencies in the Ka and Ku bands.
It actually works exactly like the wireless service on many aeroplanes, except SpaceX promises fibre-fast speeds. The system is expected to go online next year, after SpaceX gets at least 800 satellites in orbit.
"We appreciate the FCC's thorough review and approval of SpaceX's constellation licence," said Gwynne Shotwell, President and Chief Operating Officer at SpaceX. "Although we still have much to do with this complex undertaking, this is an important step toward SpaceX building a next-generation satellite network that can link the globe with reliable and affordable broadband service, especially reaching those who are not yet connected."
Even though everybody loves fast Wi-Fi, Shotwell really highlights what's most exciting about this new space internet. It's going to make connectivity possible in places that might not even get dial-up service. According to the FCC, some 34.5 million Americans don't have access to fixed and mobile broadband where they live. This includes rural areas as well as parts of cities that have been neglected by the Comcasts and Charters of the world.
Starlink also stands to increase competition in the historically monopoly-driven internet business. After all, the majority of Americans only have one choice for an internet provider. The new SpaceX system could fix this.
Of course, all of this is somewhat speculative. We know that space internet is a thing that can work. It is also, however, a very futuristic undertaking that's practically without precedent. Will Starlink be as fast as SpaceX says it will be? Will it reach all the people who need it? We'll have to wait until Elon Musk and friends fire a few more rockets into the heavens to find out.