In a conference yesterday, Elon Musk said SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband will have latency below 20 milliseconds — low enough to support competitive online gaming. “Despite that, the SpaceX CEO argued that Starlink won’t be a major threat to telcos because the satellite service won’t be good enough for high-population areas and will mostly be used by rural customers without access to fast broadband,” reports Ars Technica. From the report: Latency of less than 20ms would make Starlink comparable to wired broadband service. When SpaceX first began talking about its satellite plans in late 2016, it said latency would be 25ms to 35ms. But Musk has been predicting sub-20ms latency since at least May 2019, with the potential for sub-10ms latency sometime in the future. The amount of bandwidth available will be enough to support typical Internet usage, at least in rural areas, Musk said. “The bandwidth is a very complex question. But let’s just say somebody will be able to watch high-def movies, play video games, and do all the things they want to do without noticing speed,” he said.
So will Starlink be a good option for anyone in the United States? Not necessarily. Musk said there will be plenty of bandwidth in areas with low population densities and that there will be some customers in big cities. But he cautioned against expecting that everyone in a big city would be able to use Starlink. “The challenge for anything that is space-based is that the size of the cell is gigantic… it’s not good for high-density situations,” Musk said. “We’ll have some small number of customers in LA. But we can’t do a lot of customers in LA because the bandwidth per cell is simply not high enough.” […] On the ground, Starlink’s future customers will rely on user terminals that “look like a UFO on a stick,” Musk said. The devices will have actuators that let them point themselves in the right direction as long as they’re pointed at the sky. “It’s very important that you don’t need a specialist to install it,” Musk said. “The goal is that… there’s just two instructions and they can be done in either order: point at sky, plug in.” As for the cost, the company previously pointed out that many U.S. residents pay $80 per month for “crappy service,” perhaps indicating that Starlink will cost less than that.
Musk also addressed concerns from astronomers who say Starlink’s satellites will interfere with astronomical observations. “I am confident that we will not cause any impact whatsoever in astronomical discoveries. Zero. That’s my prediction. We’ll take corrective action if it’s above zero,” Musk said, adding that SpaceX has worked with astronomers “to minimize the potential for reflection of the satellites.”
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