Starlink, SpaceX's upcoming internet service, is taking shape.
Over the weekend, participants in the "Better Than Nothing" beta test shared photos and videos of the setup box. The package is designed to get the early testers connected to SpaceX's growing collection of satellites, which will offer high speed and low latency internet access to people living in remote and underserved areas. Included in the package is a ground terminal, router, and other components to get connected.
"The router looks so clean and beautiful," wrote a Reddit user called "bigskyreleaf," who shared a photo of the new box. While many internet providers offer bland, curved wifi routers, SpaceX appears to be going for a distinctly angular white and silver design.
It bears more than a passing resemblance to the upcoming Tesla Cybertruck electric pickup truck – both firms are run by CEO Elon Musk.
Reddit-shared images also show the shiny dish – affectionately dubbed "Dishy Mcflatface" by SpaceX.
The beta test is another step toward SpaceX's goal of satellite internet at gigabit speeds, with latency fast enough to play video games. SpaceX first started launching batches of SpaceX satellites in May 2020, and has applied for permission to launch a staggering 42,000 satellites. SpaceX achieves its lower latencies by placing the craft closer to the Earth's surface, around 550 kilometers high.
The company warns beta testers that they can expect speeds of around 50 to 150 megabits per second – for context, a megabit is an eighth of a megabyte, and the measurement is common when discussing internet speeds. But Business Insider reported Monday that some users were seeing higher speeds of up to 174 megabits per second.
The beta test doesn't come free. Users are asked to pay $99 per month for the connection itself, plus $499 for the Starlink Kit containing the ground terminal. One tester on Reddit found their order came to nearly $600 after $50 shipping and Washington state taxes. They then paid a further $100 for a ridgeline mount, an alternative to the tripod mount that comes with the Starlink Kit.
Although it all sounds rather expensive and slow, it's still impressive for satellite internet. Unlike fiber optic and other technologies, satellite doesn't depend on local infrastructure to get online – just point at the sky. The United States is served by satellite operators Viasat and HughesNet, but users end up paying similar prices to Starlink for speeds in the tens of megabits. Latency also runs into the hundreds of milliseconds, around 20 times slower than wired.
SpaceX is aiming to start offering services to customers in the northern United States and Canada by 2020. It will then offer "near global coverage of the populated world" by 2021.
The company is inviting fans that are interested in Starlink to register with their name and physical address via the website.
The Inverse analysis – SpaceX's setup looks impressive, and the design is sleek. Company-provided routers tend to be rather drab affairs, so it's nice to see a bit of design flair from the new service's first outing.
Of course, the most technically minded may opt to switch the router for their own box when it comes to filling the house with wifi. Mesh networking setups like Google and Eero allow users to place access points in various parts of the house, ensuring there's no blind spots for service.
Fiber is likely to remain the best option where it's available, but for rural and underserved areas, flaky internet could soon be a thing of the past. As more people work from home during the coronavirus pandemic, could this ultimately change the conversation about where people can live?