In Depth’Race to the Stars’ (2/4). Starlink’s promise of fast internet access everywhere on the planet poses a threat to telecom operators. Though they stay quiet, their radars have spotted the rockets, and some shots have already been fired.
Is Elon Musk threatening to bring the sky down on the heads of telecom operators? By promising Internet access everywhere on the planet thanks to his Starlink satellite constellation, the US entrepreneur is turning their world upside down. Going online by pointing a dish at a satellite is not a revolutionary idea: the first mass-market satellite internet connections date back to 2008. But their speed could not compete with wired (ADSL and fiber) or cellular (4G and 5G) connections.
In contrast, Starlink’s satellites, positioned in low Earth orbit (at an altitude of 550 kilometers) and no longer in geostationary position (36,000 kilometers), are reversing the balance of power: their theoretical data transmission rate compares favorably with a very good 4G network. Most importantly, the speed of data communication between Earth and space (latency) is 50 times faster than that of conventional satellites and supports applications such as video calls or network games.
Launched in France in May 2021 – and despite a two-month interruption in the spring of 2022, to clear an appeal filed by two environmental organizations – Starlink already claimed to have 10,000 local subscribers at the beginning of December, or 54% more than at the end of the summer. A quick start, compared to the “tens of thousands” of subscribers claimed by Nordnet, the Orange subsidiary providing Internet access via geostationary satellites, launched in the mid-1990s.
Worldwide, Starlink, which is available in 40 countries, claims more than 700,000 subscribers and as many on a waiting list. The number of users is higher, claims Elon Musk’s group, because each Starlink antenna was said to supply an average of 2.5 people, or even several dozen, simultaneously, if it is installed in a school.