SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service will emerge from beta in October, CEO Elon Musk said last night. Musk provided the answer of “next month” in response to a Twitter user who asked when Starlink will come out of beta.
SpaceX began sending email invitations to Starlink’s public beta in October 2020. The service is far from perfect, as trees can disrupt the line-of-sight connections to satellites and the satellite dishes go into “thermal shutdown” in hot areas. But for people in areas where wired ISPs have never deployed cable or fiber, Starlink is still a promising alternative, and service should improve as SpaceX launches more satellites and refines its software.
SpaceX has said it is serving over 100,000 Starlink users in a dozen countries from more than 1,700 satellites. The company has been taking preorders for post-beta service and said in May that “over half a million people have placed an order or put down a deposit for Starlink.”
It is still possible to place preorders and submit $99 deposits at the Starlink website, but the site notes that “[d]epending on location, some orders may take 6 months or more to fulfill.” The deposits are fully refundable.
First 500,000 to order will “likely” get service
There are capacity limits imposed by the laws of physics, and SpaceX hasn’t guaranteed that every person who preordered will actually get Starlink. Musk said in May that the first 500,000 people will “most likely” get service but that SpaceX will face “[m]ore of a challenge when we get into the several million user range.”
We asked Musk today how many orders will be fulfilled by the end of 2021 and will update this article if we get a response. Musk has said the capacity limits will primarily be a problem in densely populated urban areas, so rural people should have a good chance at getting service.
SpaceX has US permission to deploy 1 million user terminals across the country and is seeking a license to deploy up to 5 million terminals. The number of Starlink preorders is up to 600,000 and SpaceX is reportedly speeding up its production of dishes to meet demand, as PCMag wrote last week.
No changes to pricing yet
In beta, SpaceX has been charging a one-time fee of $499 for the user terminal, mounting tripod, and router, plus $99 per month for service. SpaceX hasn’t announced any changes to the pricing, but that could change when it moves from beta to commercial availability.
In April, SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said that Starlink will likely avoid “tiered pricing” and “try to keep [pricing] as simple as possible and transparent as possible.” Shotwell said that SpaceX would keep Starlink in beta “until the network is reliable and great and something we’d be proud of.” SpaceX is also working on ruggedized user terminals for aircraft, ships, large trucks, and RVs.
SpaceX has a Federal Communications Commission license to launch nearly 12,000 low-Earth orbit satellites and is seeking permission to launch an additional 30,000. Amazon, which plans its own satellite constellation, has been urging the FCC to reject the current version of SpaceX’s next-generation Starlink plan. Satellite operator Viasat supported Amazon’s protest and separately urged a federal appeals court to halt SpaceX launches, but judges rejected Viasat’s request for a stay.