Elon Musk's satellite broadband service, Starlink, will be available worldwide except the North and South Poles starting in August, the billionaire entrepreneur said Tuesday during a talk at the virtual Mobile World Congress 2021.
Starlink is "operational now in about 12 countries, and more are being added every month," Musk said.
The high-speed broadband service has over 1,800 low-orbit satellites that've been launched into space by Musk's SpaceX venture. Musk said Starlink already has more than 69,000 active customers and that the service is growing rapidly.
"We are on our way to having a few hundred thousand users, possibly over 500,000 users within 12 months," Musk said. Starlink had about 10,000 users as of February, but this month it neared the 70,000 mark, Musk said.
Musk estimates it could cost SpaceX $5 billion to $10 billion to deploy the high speed internet service. Compared with other broadband offerings, the service isn't cheap. It costs $99 a month, and subscribers must buy the necessary satellite dish equipment for $499.
But Musk said the service isn't meant for everyone. He said it's intended for the 3% to 5% of people in the world without access to the internet.
"It's really about getting to parts of the world that are the hardest to reach, the most difficult to reach," he said. "It's really a nice complement to fiber and 5G."
The low altitude satellites have an advantage over other satellite internet systems because of shorter latency (the time it takes signals to travel between satellites and Earth). Latency and download speeds are important for delivering internet service, and Musk said the latency and speed of the Starlink setup makes it a good substitute for 5G and fiber when they're unavailable.
"The latency for the Starlink system is similar to latency for ground-based fiber and 5G, so we're expecting to get latency down under 20 milliseconds," Musk said.
Because of this advancement in technology, SpaceX is already beginning to partner with wireless carriers around the world to provide "backhaul," or the connection cellular providers need to aggregate traffic from their base stations to the internet.
"We have two quite significant partnerships with major country [carriers] that I'd like to be able to announce now, but obviously we defer to our partners to make any announcement," Musk said. "And we are in discussions with a number of other [carriers] to provide Starlink access."
Musk also noted that SpaceX is losing money on the hardware it sells to access the service. The hardware costs nearly $1,300 a pop, but SpaceX charges users $499. Musk said the company is working on that, and on technology that would bring the customer device down to $250 or $300.
"Now we are working on next generation terminals that will provide the same level of capability, but it costs a lot less," he said. "Because obviously, selling terminals for half price is not super compelling at scale."