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Leaked – Images of SpaceX’s Starlink Broadband User Terminals

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 (9:41 am) - Score 14,393
starlink user terminal SpaceX

New details of the beta trial for SpaceX’s forthcoming Starlink broadband service, which will be based off a vast constellation of compact Low Earth Orbit (LEO) spacecraft (satellite), have been leaked across the internet after they were discovered hidden within the company’s website.

The new LEO platforms weigh around 150-260Kg each and, with solar panels folded, are often smaller than an adult and orbit at around 500-1300km above the Earth, which is significantly nearer than their giant satellite cousins in geostationary orbit (GEO / GSO) at c.35,000km. As a result of this such satellites should be able to achieve significantly faster latency times of 25-40ms and SpaceX has previously hinted at 1Gbps broadband speeds.

The downside of this approach, when compared with the double decker bus sized GSOs of old, is that you need an awful lot of LEO satellites to achieve global coverage. At present SpaceX’s Starlink project has already launched nearly 600 LEO platforms and they have an ambition to deploy 4,425 by 2024 (possibly followed by 10,000+ at a later date).

SpaceX is now broadly on course to reach 800 satellites before the end of this autumn (they tend to loft about 60 at a time), which is enough for partial global coverage and an early commercial launch by the end of this year or early 2021. More recently the company have begun accepting beta invites and the first trial customers are expected to be connected very soon (we’ve signed up too because.. ISPreview.co.uk).

Leaked Details

So far SpaceX has been annoyingly vague with any details of their service (we’ve tried and failed to reach their media team), but that started to change this week after users on reddit did some data mining around the public Starlink support website and uncovered new details – focusing on both the service and the company’s beta plans.

Arguably one of the most interesting aspects of this is that we get our first proper look at the company’s vital user terminals, which are small compact dishes (these remind us of the smaller ones that you sometimes see sitting on top of camper vans or mobile homes) that will initially need a clear view of the Northern sky in order to function (alignment should become more flexible as more LEOs are introduced).

NOTE: The Starlink system can currently only provide internet service in a very specific range-between 44 and 52 degrees north latitude.

starlink wide user terminal perspective

Aside from the dish terminals, the pre-assembled “Starlink kit” that will be sent to beta testers is also expected to include an unspecified wireless (WiFi) router, a power supply and mounts for the system. Apparently, beta testers will get a choice of different mounts, including no mount at all, a Ridgeline Mount, Lawn Mount and Volcano Mount (the latter is more intended for high roof installs).

Participants will be expected to install these themselves, but they’re so compact that such work should be fairly easy (assuming you’re comfortable with a screwdriver and drill). All of this will be free unless, at the end of the trial, you fail to send it back within 30 days (there’s no indication of how much SpaceX will charge if that occurs).

Furthermore users will also get to use the service itself “free of charge“, although there is a small caveat to that: “SpaceX will ask you to input your credit or debit card information and your card will be charged a small amount in order to test SpaceX’s ordering and billing systems. For example, at the initial sign-up you will be charged approximately $3.00 total and thereafter, a reoccurring charge of approximately $2.00 per month.”

On top of that users will be required (i.e. if you don’t do this you’ll be terminated from the program) to dedicate an average of 30 minutes to 1 hour per day testing the Starlink Services and providing feedback on a periodic basis. “Feedback requests from SpaceX will come in the form of surveys, phone calls, emails, and other means,” said the company.

Otherwise participants will be expected to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and essentially keep quiet about their experience during the beta, which rarely stops all such leaks. Finally, the bad news is that at launch the beta will only be available to northern parts of the USA and lower Canada (i.e. focusing upon those living in rural / remote communities, such as in the Washington state area). We can understand this, although it’s still a little disappointing given that Starlink does now have workable coverage in parts of the UK.

Alternatively, there’s always the rival OneWeb system, which has just been rescued by the UK Government (here), although it’s no longer clear when we’ll see a consumer broadband package from that platform.

Leave a Comment
59 Responses
  1. Avatar Ryan says:

    The only hope the ignored parts of the UK will get to have faster internet I think will be these LEO satellites.

    Hoping the trail is a success and looking forward to seeing the progress.

    Unless by some miracle we get something better than 25/3 we get now on FTTC in our town of 15K houses. No virgin, no altnet, no fttp, no 5G.

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      Starlink isn’t supposed to bring faster broadband to city of 10k people with DSL infrastructure that already have 20mbs. I would be suprised if Starlink will have higher speeds then 20mbs.

    2. Avatar Philip Cheeseman says:

      Yep very very similar situation but 20/5… I’ll take whatever I can get though so openreach better hurry up with fttp or I’ll have already ditched the land line… I’m signed with starlink and waiting.

    3. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I would be suprised if Starlink will have higher speeds then 20mbs.”

      I wouldn’t. The LEOs are designed in such a way that we should be expecting ultrafast (100Mbps+) or better levels of performance in a real-world setting. But of course that has yet to be proven, yet anything too much slower could potentially be beaten by existing and new GSOs (except on latency) and SpaceX knows that.

      The LEO approach isn’t going to work unless they can deliver a big step-change and that’s the key point.

    4. Avatar Marek says:

      Why you wouldn’t? Starlink isn’t rival to high speed broadband but to people with DSL that reaches 1mbs or no broadband at all. It may have higher speed then current high attilude satelites but still there won’t be enough bandwith. What is 20gbs for whole state in USA or single country in Europe? You can’t beat physics and limitation of wireless spectrum like with other wireless technologies like LTE/5G or wifi.

  2. Avatar craski says:

    I too have volunteered for the Starlink beta as our nearest fibre is still >5km away. Fingers crossed! We have fixed wireless at the moment and that works really well but I’m still keen to test Starlink as we cant reach everyone economically even with the fixed wireless and 4G is still very patchy here too albeit that it works well for those that can get signal.

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      Most likely you won’t be able to use Starlink if you have infrastructure so close.

    2. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      Why not? I can’t see Starlink turning people down just because there is FTTP 5 miles from them. It may not be affordable, but that is a different issue.

    3. Avatar craski says:

      @Marek
      I dont know what info you have to justify that claim. There are so many gaps in the BDUK coverage that are a perfect target market for Starlink. People who have no other options are those most likely to be prepared to pay a premium.

    4. Avatar Marek says:

      Musk stated Starlink is targeting 3 to 5 percent of people living in most rural areas. Dense populated areas aren’t rural. You think Starlink is supposed to go against normal broadband?

    5. Avatar craski says:

      Nope I do not and fully understand it is not meant to compete with “normal broadband”.

    6. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      From a consumer’s point of view there is no difference between having no fast broadband and having FTTP 5 miles away.

    7. Avatar Marek says:

      You can’t understand what you read? Most rural areas, 3 to 5 percent mean most extreme cases, cities or villages with access to normal broadband. And remember, not everyone on cities have access to wired or high speed broadband, new houses may not have anythign at all beside wireless options beside living in or near urban areas.

      @AnotherTim
      So what if you aren’t living in rural area? Then you won’t be able to use Starlink.

    8. Avatar craski says:

      Ha ha. The irony behind your comment “You can’t understand what you read” is the best laugh I’ve had all day. Keep up the good work 🙂

    9. Avatar Ruch Osmiu Gwiazd says:

      @Marek, it is too expensive to keep it running and target 3-5% of potential users. I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be limitations like monthly usage cap etc.

    10. Avatar Marek says:

      So you think you know better then Musk? I didn’t imagine this things, these are just quotes from him but hey let’s be ignorant right?

    11. Avatar Ruch Osmiu Gwiazd says:

      @Marek
      No, I just think that you are very naive and never had a contact with serious business pipeline.

    12. Avatar Marek says:

      Naive? So you are talking whatever you want because you say so, without any sources? This is naive thinking, not mine. But hey you can think about breaking laws of physics, nothing stops you.

    13. Avatar John says:

      You think just because they are targeting the most rural areas that means they will refuse customers on a more urban setting?

      There’s a difference between what a company targets and them refusing to take money from those they weren’t targeting.

      Starlink will provide over 100Mb/s and will be ideal for someone on slow FTTC who is happy to pay a bit more for faster speeds.

  3. Avatar Iain says:

    Sounds interesting, but as you say initially only USA and Canada. Does ISPreview.co.uk have a secret North American base?

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Starlink will launch in the UK too as one of their early markets, but so far the beta doesn’t include us.

    2. Avatar Spurple says:

      They could tell you, but then they’d have to… Lol.

    3. Avatar Marek says:

      Early market? Musk mentioned Africa and UK so far doesn’t have any ground station, does it?

    4. Avatar AnotherTim says:

      I registered too, and they have been in touch to ask for a more precise location than a postcode, so I’m guessing they are considering UK trials.

    5. Avatar Jake4 says:

      Ground locations should only take a few days to install and setup (excluding the time it takes for a fibre connection & Power to be laid and connected) based on the publicly available pictures.

    6. Avatar Marek says:

      You mean few days after are formalities are sorted out? This isn’t instant proccess like those frequency licenses or being able to operate as ISP in current country.

  4. Avatar Granola says:

    As FTTP is a “cash cow” for a fast connection (once the cables are in place it is money for old rope, recoup the investment and let the profits roll in) this must have some serious investment to recoup and ongoing costs compared to a bit of cable in the ground, will the cost be prohibitive unless you are really isolated and have deep pockets ?

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      This will be very expensive at start, most likely few hundred of dollars because terminals will be costly.

    2. Avatar craski says:

      @Marek
      Setting up a fixed wireless install already typically costs around £150 to do DIY and more if you pay someone to do it so if Starlink comes in at around £200 mark, thats not significantly more. Monthly subscription is still also not yet known though.

    3. Avatar Marek says:

      Fixed wireless can cost 10-15 pounds in Poland :).

    4. Avatar craski says:

      Very lucky to have that option. Delivering fixed wireless to remote rural area of Scotland would not be economically viable at £10 / month.

    5. Avatar Marek says:

      Very lucky? You should check out price of fiber broadband in Romania or India. Do you also think they are luck, so maybe you want to move out there and change your British salary for Indian, Romanian or Polish one? Of course you will still pay same price for cars, laptops etc :).

    6. Avatar Ruch Osmiu Gwiazd says:

      @Marek,
      I don’t know what you were doing for life in Poland, but salaries in IT (software development, devops, sys/network admin) are very similar to the UK now. While living costs are still lower than in the UK.

    7. Avatar Marek says:

      I’m not talking about IT because not everyone works in this field and no, salaries aren’t familiar. For some seniors or architects maybe but helpdesk, first line, mid levels? That’s why Eastern Companies have outsourcing and cost centers in Poland, to reduce cost just like their offices in India.

  5. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    Now Huawei kit is going to be removed, the rate of investment will slow to a crawl, I do wonder if Star link could come to the rescue and provide a better internet connection than our current UK 4g offering?

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      Starlink isn’t supposed to rival 4G/LTE/5G but provide access to rural areas, 3 to 5 percent according to Musk statements.

  6. Avatar Mark says:

    Silly question maybe but will the dish need power? Also I’m assuming that a cable of some kind will need to be fed from the dish to the router ?

    1. Avatar Mark says:

      Thanks for the link. Pretty cool stuff.

  7. Avatar Whatzisface says:

    How do you register with Starlink from the UK? Their submit button on their website remains inactive every time I’ve tried.

    1. Avatar Iain says:

      Mmm, it just worked for me. You do need to choose an address from the autocomplete, however, as opposed to it accepting any input.

  8. Avatar LBB says:

    If I’ve read this correctly, the coverage ends before you get as far North as Birmingham?
    Starts South of France? That’s a bit of a shame for Scotland – who’d need this!

    1. Avatar Marek says:

      Starlink won’t be operational in Europe during this year, maybe even won’t launch here in 2021.

  9. Avatar John Tay says:

    I’m using virgins 1gb so meh

  10. Avatar Joe Thornton says:

    They don’t have “Solar Sails”, they have “Solar Panels”. Solar sails are a very different technology that use particles from the sun to propel through space.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      You are of course correct and I’m not sure how I missed that mistake in the proof read. Embarrassing for an amateur astronomer :).

  11. Avatar Nick says:

    I’ve not read too much into this but can we assume that if you are located slightly North, say, of the 52 deg Latitude that you will start to lose speed etc or strictly no signal at all?

    1. Avatar craski says:

      As far as I am aware, Starlink has not explicitly stated the expected coverage limits in terms of latitude for each phase of the constellation becoming operational. There is a guy called Mark Handley on youtube who has done some interesting analysis based on the FCC filings made by Starlink for the satellites. Have a look at those to get an idea of the potential coverage. e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k73AFybi7zk&feature=youtu.be

  12. Avatar Neil says:

    Musk needs this to work to pay for his Mars program.

    If it works as intended, then the income will dwarf that from customer satellite launches.

    At the moment the satellites don’t have their inter satellite communications, which will allow high value clients, such as inter bank trading systems to trim their ms trading times between London, New York, Singapore etc.

    Also the U.S.military/air force are very interested and have been running tests, since it would give them more bandwidth, while provide back up to their current communication network.

    Lots of work to be done, but things are getting ticked of the list.

  13. Avatar Pablo says:

    4G would always be a better option if available compared to this. It’s also very beta they plan to mesh the satellites together but haven’t figure it out yet so they all have to have visibility of the ground station to work which at such low earth orbits probably means many are in the blind at any given time. They will figure it out but if you think you’ll have this next year I think you’ll be very disappointed.

    1. Avatar Neil Mullins says:

      In very large countries, 4G is not necessarily a solution for internet acces, since each 4G tower must be connected into the fibre backbone. If we say that range of a tower for 4G is 7 km (Radius), which would give a area cover of 153 km. That is with ideal terrain … flat. The USA covers 9.834 million square kms.

      However the a satellite at a height of 550km have a workable diameter of 940km, giving a area covered of 963,997 kms (squared). Which would give plenty of scope to drop ground station in a convenient position, next to back haul. Yes each satellite must have at least two ground stations in sight at any one time. The one it is talking to, and the one it will be talking to next.

      However to improve latency even further the initial satellites are a lower orbit , reducing the latency, but reducing the area covered by each satellite requiring more ground stations.

      As was mentioned earlier this video by Mark Handley covers the topic nicely. and he is open about what he knows and doesn’t know, but his pedigree on the subject is very extensive if you look at his CV.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m05abdGSOxY

      The inter satellite stuff isn’t there, from my reading of the subject, but the ground to satellite is a known quantity. Maybe not at this scale 🙂 I did read that the cost of the consumers phased array dishes may be pricey, but that may well follow the lines of PS4/5’s and Xboxes, where the company gets it money back via the subscription over time. If it works and is affordable, where would the consumer go for an alternative Comcast/AT & T. How well have they served their customers?

    2. Avatar LBB says:

      @Neil Mullins – Thank you for the Starlink YouTube video links.

      These are incredible. 3D simulation of the satellite constellation by each orbital plane and constant recalculation of most efficient available transmission paths.

      The different stages of deployment are covered (ie 400/800/1600 satellite) will likely make perfect sense after watching this.

      Right now, I think they have completed 9 launches X60 satellites. Think after 796 satellites they can start accepting customers with uninterrupted service. Problem is until 3-4 more Falcon9 launches, the service is quite ‘patchy’. If anyone now knows more than me… take over, it’s your turn..! (dig dig dig, throws shovel and runs…)

  14. Avatar Casey Mittleider says:

    Wonder if Starlink will choose my location? Im at 46° latitude, Im at 580ft elevation I have a clear view of the Northern sky and I live in Pomeroy WA. which is rural eastern WA. *actually Im 46°1/2 latitude Casey M.

    1. Avatar Neil says:

      Well if you submit your details, you may get lucky and get into the beta (or unlucky depending on how you feel about beta testing products, I tend to be in the latter tbh).

      https://www.starlink.com/

      The documents explain that the beta service will come to the northern United States and lower Canada. The current constellation offers service between 44 and 52 degrees latitude.

      https://www.inverse.com/innovation/spacex-starlink-beta-test-how-to-sign-up

  15. Avatar Casey Mittleider says:

    Does anybody have corporate Rocketlab email? I wish them luck on there next launch attempt,Casey M.

  16. Avatar Casey Mittleider says:

    How do you put a pic on your profile box on here? Casey M.

  17. Avatar Mrh says:

    LOOK LIKES THE USER MODULE IS A SATTELITE SEND AND RECIEVE ANTENNA THAT IS FORBIDDEN TO INSTALL AND USE IN MY COUNTRY(IRAN)SO THERE WILL BE NO FREE INTERNET FROM STARLINK HERE…WE DONT HAVE SPEED PROVLEMS AS MANY USERS ARE CONNECTED TROUGH GPON FIBER BUT THE INTERNET IS NOT ACCESIBLE FREELY.

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