Innovation

The early clues on what SpaceX's Starlink will cost

SpaceX's internet service is set to offer high-speed access, but at what cost?

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Starlink could offer super-fast broadband internet to the most remote areas of the world – but the details of SpaceX's plan remain somewhat obscure.

Elon Musk envisions a constellation of thousands of satellites at relatively low altitude, providing responsive and high-speed internet access. All users need is a receiver around the size of a pizza box pointed at the sky. The service is expected to go live this year for the northern United States and Canada, before moving on to the rest of the world next year. Starlink pricing and monthly costs, however, remain relatively mysterious.

See also: The FCC may face legal repercussions for approving SpaceX’s Starlink constellation

SpaceX has so far launched three sets of 60 satellites. A fourth launch is planned for Wednesday at 9:06 a.m. Eastern time, taking off on a Falcon 9 booster from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company has applied for permission to launch up to 42,000 satellites, but astronomers have voiced concerns that even the first batch is disrupting their work.

The constellation is part of SpaceX's plan to cover the costs of more ambitious projects, like a city on Mars that could cost up to $10 trillion. The internet connectivity industry brings in around $1 trillion in annual revenue, and Musk reasons that if SpaceX can capture even three percent of that, it could earn more than the approximately $5 billion up for grabs in the rocket launch space.

Here's what we know about how much Starlink will cost.

A SpaceX Starlink launch.NurPhoto/NurPhoto/Getty Images

SpaceX Starlink: how much will monthly access cost?

SpaceX has yet to give an answer officially, although Musk has ruled out offering it for free. Unofficially, there are a number of clues that can provide guidance.

First, a quick primer. Analysis from HighSpeedInternet found that the average advertised internet package in the United States costs $50 per month during the promotional period, and $60 thereafter. But that's if you're lucky enough to live near stable, well-connected infrastructure. Rural and less-connected areas may have to skip the wired approach if infrastructure is lacking, turning to the skies where satellites don't care about your local area.

That's where it starts to get expensive. Analysis from SatelliteInternet found that the average price of satellite broadband runs to around $100 per month. They found there are two major providers: Viasat charges $102.86 on average, while HughesNet charges $94.99 on average.

So where does SpaceX fit into all this? SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell gave a clue when she spoke to CNN in October 2019, offering a ballpark figure:

How will SpaceX compete with exiting internet providers in the US?
Is anybody paying less than 80 bucks a month for crappy service? Nope. That's why we're gonna be successful.

Shotwell did not, however, make any firm announcements on pricing.

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SpaceX Starlink: how much will installation cost?

The system is expected to use a dish to connect. This, Musk explained in January, would use an object that “looks like a thin, flat, round UFO on a stick.” This stick is also fitted with “motors to self-adjust optimal angle to view sky.”

Shotwell described it further in October 2019:

Consumers, hopefully, are going to receive a box with a user terminal and a cord, and it'll sit either out of window on a roof or out on a kind of on a pole in your yard.

During a 2015 speech, Musk suggested it could come at a steep price. The CEO floated the idea of a figure somewhere around $100 and $300.

That means, all in all, Starlink could launch for somewhere around the $80 per month mark, plus an extra $100 to $300 for installation costs.

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