Episode 4: coming soon: Starlink, Facebook in India, Wi-Fi may soon get a lot faster

  
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In this episode we discuss some updates on the development of Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet technology, we look at how Facebook is getting itself in to India, and provide an update on a new and exciting Wi-Fi standard.


Coming Soon: Starlink

Elon Musk’s satellite internet service has been making headlines over the last week as the satellite constellation has been visible in the night sky across the UK at various times but more interesting is what these satellites are doing and how Elon Musk is developing the service called Starlink.

Earlier this week Starlink launched another set of 60 satellites to bring the total in the constellation now up to over 400. It’s been just less than a year since the first set were launched in May 2019. The plan is for there to eventually be some 40,000 satellites to bring internet to the whole planet.

This has only really been possible due to the huge cost reduction in rocket launches where, again, Musk set the way forward with reusable rockets and thrusters.

It was announced earlier this week that the Starlink service will begin private beta testing in just a few months time with public testing being made available before the end of the year. It’ll take around another 6-8 launches before there’s enough satellites to start the network working properly.

At first, and probably for some time actually, the service will be limited to only certain areas of the planet, initially the higher latitudes towards the poles. The cost will also limit its uses. I would not be expecting this to be used as a day-to-day internet service for the masses, instead being limited to special use cases such as the military, oil rigs and hugely rural areas where it’s just never going to be cost effective to lay fibre. Of course, as the service develops it will no doubt get cheaper and better value for money.

There are, or were at least, some competitors to Starlink which gave some hope that a bit of competition would really push the value for money but the biggest competitor, OneWeb, very recently filed for Bankruptcy. They cited COVID-19 as the main reason but of course this can’t possibly be entirely to blame.

As with many of Elon Musk’s business ventures this feels like something very futuristic - 40,000 satellites giving us high speed internet. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this be a success, even if astronomers aren’t.


Facebook x Jio

Facebook is paying $5.7bn for a 10% stake in the Indian giant network operator Reliance Jio. Representing Facebook’s biggest investment since it bought WhatsApp for $19b back in 2014.

Jio has over 350 million subscribers with a market share of around 65% so it’s certainly the largest telco in India. To out that in to perspective, EE the largest in the UK, has around 30 million customers. With a population of nearly 1.4 billion India is obviously a very lucrative market and only a fraction smaller than China.

Facebook has been trying to expand out in to East for some time with various attempts in to China where it has entirely been locked out and so India is a very good second choice. They have a growing population with growing wealth and skyrocketing GDP which is about to become greater than that of the UK at just under $3 trillion. Indian’s also seem to love their phones with 1.2 billion phone subscriptions they consume an average of 8.3GB of mobile data each month, on par with the highest in South Korea. Looking at this data they appear to be a very advanced country but of course we know they still have huge growth potential.

This will no doubt be a major factor in Facebook’s investment decision, getting access to all of these customers and their lucrative data will see Facebook continue to thrive even when customers in other parts of the world start falling out of favour with the company. 

I would suggest that this will be the first of many ventures between Facebook and their new partner in India. This investment is largely for relationship building at the moment with a small element of access to customers.


Wi-Fi 6 gets US approval

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave approval this week for a huge lump of new spectrum in the 6GHz band which will be solely used for license exempt technology. It’s expected that Wi-Fi will be the major user of this.

This is a huge step forward for Wi-Fi technology which for a long time now has been plagued by interference in the current 2.4 and 5GHz spectrum which have limited space available and suffer from interference from things such as microwave ovens and overzealous wireless printers. This new spectrum will bring higher speeds which should now match the higher speeds we get from broadband, into the Gbps. Most Wi-Fi currently operates at a fraction of the actual line speed. More beneficial though should be the lack of interference from other Wi-Fi routers given the huge amounts of space available.

Ofcom, the UK equivalent of the FCC, announced the start of a consultation on the same subject last year and it’s now hoped that this will speed up somewhat.

New Wi-Fi6 compliant routers and user devices such as phones and tablets should start going on sale later this year. One issue though is the shorter range of this higher spectrum. It’s expected that most homes will need a mesh network of multiple routers placed around the home for optimal coverage. At the moment some internet providers offer this, for a price of course. If this becomes the norm then expect our bills to rise.

However, we should all look forward to our new high speed and reliable Wi-Fi service, even if it does cost a little bit more each month.