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CheckMag | No Elon, portable Starlink dishes are a bad idea

A highly portable satellite Internet dish sounds like a great idea - but is it, really? (Image source: Unsplash)
A highly portable satellite Internet dish sounds like a great idea - but is it, really? (Image source: Unsplash)
The portable Starlink dish is actually coming and the question of "why pay over half a grand for bizarrely low connection speeds" is the first to come to mind. With average 2023 cellular connection speeds close to 200 Mbit/s, will a few megabits per second really make the customer happy? More importantly, will the technology still be able to deliver those few megabits per second once tens of thousands of people start using the kit on a daily basis?
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Portable Starlink dishes are slated to become a reality some time in 2024. The dishes are said to be the size of a MacBook and are highly unlikely to cost less than $599 per kit which is what the "normal" current-generation dish costs. There are still no specifics - no images, no dimensions, even - nothing.

With Starlink-compatible phones, satellite connection speeds no higher than 7 Mbit/s are possible. That's in a perfect world, with no objects in the way of the wireless signal, no clouds, no other Starlink-enabled portable devices within a few kilometers. They say that in an event of an emergency, even a tenth of such a connection speed is perfectly adequate for sending a text and a couple of pictures, which is exactly the use case that companies like Apple have floated on multiple occasions.

The new portable Starlink dish will undoubtedly have a more powerful transmitter/receiver than those phones making for higher connection speeds. The question is, how much higher will it be. Are we talking 14 Mbit/s? Or is it up to 21 Mbit/s? Five minutes of moderately compressed 1440p footage take up about 600 megabytes of disk space and to upload such a video file to YouTube in half an hour, one would need an upload speed of 2.6 Mbit/s. This sounds more than doable, provided there are few people using the service in the area. And this is the caveat. Once the first few customers publish their glowing reports, the number of users is likely to swell, leading to much slower speeds for pretty much everyone, both when uploading data and when downloading it. What's the point of having an Internet connection that is available in any part of the world if it takes half a minute to load a short Instagram video?

SpaceX will have to respond to the lack of bandwidth by launching more rockets to put more satellites into orbit. Every rocket launch makes a sizeable contribution to the huge issue that is air pollution. We have at least 8400 satellites orbiting the Earth already. Perhaps the time has come to stop increasing that number and instead focus on other means of delivering quality Internet connection to everybody - preferably ones that do not involve buying costly pieces of equipment that only citizens of higher-income economies can afford.


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Sergey Tarasov, 2024-01-16 (Update: 2024-01-16)