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BT and EE Explore Starlink to Boost UK Broadband and Mobile

Monday, Jan 15th, 2024 (7:29 am) - Score 7,120
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National telecoms giant BT (EE) has reportedly entered into talks that could eventually see them harnessing SpaceX’s global constellation of Starlink ultrafast low-latency broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which could be used to help improve both internet and mobile connectivity to remote areas.

BT is no stranger to harnessing satellite technologies to help deliver digital connectivity. For example, they supported the Satellite and Terrestrial Network for 5G (SaT5G) project (here), which made it possible to develop solutions that can integrate a standard commercially available 5G core network into a live satellite network. BT is also conducting various government-backed UK rural broadband and mobile trials with one of Starlink’s rivals, OneWeb (here and here).

NOTE: Starlink’s network current has 2.3 million customers across the world and just 42,000 of those are in the UK (up from 13,000 last year) – mostly in rural areas.

Suffice to say that we’re not at all surprised by a new weekend report from the Telegraph (paywall), which reveals that BT is testing the Starlink system at its Adastral Park research centre near Ipswich – part of an effort to find new ways of tackling the hardest to reach locations (e.g. remote rural). On the other hand, consumers in the UK can already take Starlink’s broadband service.

The operator’s network currently has around 5,353 LEO satellites in orbit around the Earth (altitude of c. 500km+) and they have approval to add roughly 7,500 more by the end of 2027. Customers typically pay Starlink from £75 a month, plus £449 for the home kit (standard dish, router etc.) and £20 for shipping on the ‘Standard’ package, which promises fast internet latency times of 25-50ms, downloads of c. 25-100Mbps and uploads of c. 5-10Mbps.

On top of that, Starlink is also in the process of launching its new global Direct to Cell mobile roaming service for use with regular unmodified Smartphones, which would require support from both a mobile network and Ofcom in order to launch in the UK. EE would clearly be a good fit for something like this, given the BT Group’s wider experience in the field.

However, the newspaper indicates that BT’s initial talks are focused on more of a non-consumer angle, with the operator looking at Starlink more as a solution to support business broadband and mobile connectivity to remote sites (e.g. oil rigs at sea). BT would not want to merely resell Starlink’s broadband product, and so is instead examining how the space-based network can be used to complement their own terrestrial connectivity services (backhaul etc.).

At present all of these various satellite linked solutions are still in the very early Proof of Concept (PoC) or field-trial stages, and so we don’t yet know how many of these will ultimately feed through to become fully fledged products. So for now it’s probably best to view all of this as BT seeing what’s possible, rather than as a guarantee of a future service offering.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
10 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Rental genius says:

    Don’t forget to mention you can also rent the kit for £10 a month in the UK

    1. Avatar photo Pete says:

      I presume you mean “per day” not per month?

  2. Avatar photo Ben says:

    Not sure how effectively it’ll be given the multiple layers of contention – I guess only time will tell…

    1. Avatar photo XGS says:

      Given the existing connectivity to things like offshore and indeed a bunch of international onshore rigs it’d be a huge upgrade.

      It’s never going to be used as a replacement for fixed line full fibre but LEO in general offers many advantages over geostationary satellite.

    2. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      presumably it’ll be like their work with OneWeb on Lundy Island – it’s for places where they can’t get fibre or microwave in at any reasonable cost.

  3. Avatar photo Anon says:

    This is quite interesting given their existing partner agreement with Oneweb

    1. Avatar photo ramzez says:

      Indeed shouldn’t we invest more in our technologies

    2. Avatar photo Scott says:

      BT don’t own OneWeb, it is a logical option is to go to the market and find an additional supplier that may compete on price.

      It’s up to OneWeb how it chooses to respond. For BT outside of price competition is ensures that it is not held to ransom by a single supplier.

      As the article notes – there is a non consumer aspect to working with Starlink, being able to resell a Starlink service is a logical step for the BT Business (formerly Wholesale/Global) division as it’s can be sold globally.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Quite possibly, although they already had something like this before, although the pricing / details were kept bespoke. But at that price and capacity, it may make it difficult for this to be used to serve smaller rural communities, with terrestrial Microwave / FWA links seeming to make more economic sense.

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