SpaceX has launched 1,500 satellites for the Starlink Internet service so far and has operations in a dozen countries. The satellite Internet service has promised to outperform the previous (and spotty) attempts at implementing satellite Internet by other companies. This journey has been a very costly one. However, Starlink’s improved approach gives it a greater chance of succeeding in the long run. The service is expected to be available globally (except in the polar regions) in a matter of weeks.
Elon Musk said during the Mobile World Congress conference that SpaceX’s investment in the Starlink network will be between $5 billion and $10 billion before it becomes cash positive. Over the long term, $20 billion to $30 billion may need to be invested to keep Starlink competitive. Starlink currently has 69,000 users and Elon Musk thinks that may grow to half a million over the next year. A large increase in the number of customers is needed to provide the necessary revenue for further expansion and to cover the high cost of deploying the existing infrastructure as well.
The company is also expected to launch a new version of the satellites next year with laser links that will help to facilitate polar region coverage. If Starlink succeeds, it is likely to trigger a satellite Internet race in which countries around the world try to build their own. Whoever owns the most widely-used satellite Internet network is going to have a great deal of power and surveillance capabilities unmatched by conventional Internet infrastructure. This is due to the fact that it is global and millions of people in many countries will be connected to and passing their data through it.
Considering how valuable data and control of the Internet is (not that i’m condoning the sale of personal data or abuse of power), Starlink could be spectacularly valuable if the following phenomenon occurred:
- Starlink grows to hundreds of millions of customers, or even more than a billion.
- That would be the single largest ISP in the world if #1 occurs, possibly making them one of the most valuable companies.
- If they go the route of selling customer data (hopefully they don’t) provided that 1 and 2 come true, they could make a spectacular amount of money off that + subscription revenue. The growth of VPN usage will limit that to some extent.
- ISPs around the world are likely to start piggybacking on Starlink for Internet access and resell it to their own customers. This would make them even bigger and more powerful.
While it’s very much a possibility that other companies may launch their own satellite Internet networks, Starlink could be dominant for a long time due to the sheer difficulty and enormous multi-billion dollar, high risk investment required to launch these networks. Starlink is bold, has cutting edge technology, and is willing to take these huge risks. That is likely why they have been succeeding.