People frustrated by lack of reliable, cost-effective broadband could be looking to the skies for help. Elon Musk’s SpaceX is just one of several companies seeking to provide broadband services from space with satellites.
Conway Corp. Chief Technology Officer Jason Hansen believes SpaceX will revolutionize access to broadband, particularly in rural America and other parts of the globe where internet access is not pervasive and eventually places where competition doesn’t exist, he said.
“There aren’t a lot of companies, in my opinion, that have the means, methods, and technology to achieve the goal of global broadband coverage, but SpaceX seems to have all the right components to achieve this.”
SpaceX has already launched more than 600 Starlink satellites in the first half of 2021. Hansen said at that pace, they are still about eight years from full constellation, which will consist of about 12,000 Starlinks.
“Because their means, methods and technologies are continually innovating, it would not surprise me to see that timeline cut down to closer to five years as they can launch new Starlinks at an increased rate,” Hansen said. “Of all the operators attempting to serve internet with low earth orbit satellites, I believe he has the best chance to be successful. Early trials are showing very good speeds with low latency and no data caps. The real challenge is scaling. Time will tell.”
Overall, though, he doesn’t expect that SpaceX or similar competitors will have a material impact for people who have wired broadband access. Instead, SpaceX will be more of a competitor to the fixed wireless space and the mobile RV-type markets.
“While fixed wireless certainly has the ability to expand the market, the density in which it has to be deployed is still a question,” Hansen said. “Also, data caps remain an impediment to adoption. If fixed wireless carriers are going to competitively offer home/business broadband, they’ll need to let go of consumption-based monetization and adopt something similar to the ‘unlimited long distance’ model.”
Some consumer advocates are pushing for internet services to be regulated like other essential services, such as electricity and telephone service. But Hansen said the current regulatory environment made it possible for operators to pivot and provide services in creative ways during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it would have been difficult for operators had there been significant regulations to deal with,” Hansen said. “Given how critical broadband became during the pandemic, there may very well be a push to add regulations and to viewing it as critical infrastructure. An overly regulated approach could have a stifling effect on innovation, however.”