Some Thoughts on the Starlink User Terminal

Let’s start with what we know about the Starlink user terminal from news reports and then do some thinking about issues.

What we know from the news:

Described as being a similar shape to a family size pizza box, according to Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO

The terminal will be user-installed, arrived in a box with a power cord attached, Gwynne Shotwell, COO

The terminal will be placed in a window, on the roof or pole in the yard, Gwynne Shotwell

WiFi will most likely be the link from the terminal to user devices, computer, laptop, pad, or smartphone, Gwynne Shotwell.

Laser enabled satellites will not be available until the late 2020 launches, Gwynne Shotwell, COO

Bent pipe internet service to be available in mid-2020, Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO

Some assumptions:

A terminal will be a multi-user device with some limitations as to the number of users on the WiFi link

For maximum coverage, the terminal should have access to the open sky from horizon to horizon, as a single satellite is only visible for about 12 minutes before it needs to lock-on the next Starlink. In bend pipe mode, both user and ground station need to be tracking the same Starlink.

Bent pipe mode, with no laser handoff, will limit streaming connection time to about 10-12 minutes.

The service price will be about $80 per month, as Shotwell pointed out; this is what consumers are paying for crappy service now.

Some considerations:

Based on my experience as a non-profit ISP introducing the dial-up Internet to the community where none existed, shipping users terminal to end-users will work for some people, the techies. Early dialup users bought a modem, signed up for an account username and password, and then tried to get connected. The average consumer needed some help.

I think that the average Starlink consumer is going to need some help, especially in the early days when the network is not yet robust and has coverage limitations. Users will need to have some understanding of satellite dynamics and appreciate the horizon to the horizon line of site restrictions. They will need to understand the weakness of the system as well as the strengths. This information deficit opens the door for some entrepreneurs who might want to do some Starlink user terminal consulting.

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