Elon Musk’s Starlink toils to reach users outside North America and Europe despite global initiatives. In June 2021, Elon Musk declared that Starlink would span the Earth within months.
But almost a year later, the service has, with a few exceptions, been just made available in North America, Europe, and Australia. The case of refunds to the waiting list in India is the latest in a string of stumbling blocks that have controlled Starlink from fetching the internet to the hardest-to-reach locations on Earth.
SpaceX has moved back rollouts in massive demands like South Africa. At the end of last year, the anticipated date for Starlink service to become available was deferred from 2022 to 2023, with no explanation. Last month, Starlink exceeded 250,000 subscribers across 25 nations.
Almost 80% of users to date are found in North America, with another 18% in New Zealand, Australia, and Europe. Just 2% of Starlink users reside in the Rest of the World. Although many of the delays reach down to regulatory challenges, it’s also unclear whether the service prioritizes existing markets or grows new ones.
Although Starlink maintained a notably successful deployment in Ukraine in late February, the service was already being set up in the country during the Russian invasion. The effort was taken off with millions of dollars in support from the U.S. Govt.
In Ukraine, SpaceX published an update to enable mobile roaming, allowing users to access the internet from the route, even from a moving vehicle. While this update will allow users to live in a war zone, it embeds Starlink’s appeal among its main user grounds in the West: digital nomads who want to employ the service to operate remotely and stream Netflix from campers’ RVs and boats.
The March mobility update was a favorable indicator that Starlink service might soon expand services. Even portability is functional now. You can traverse across the whole U.S. while cruising. This gave you hope that access could be implemented in rural areas. But the update did not make the service available in India. SpaceX did not respond to the Rest of the World’s request for comment.
“Military-style” boot camps are changing how engineers are made in India. Mathew says he doesn’t comprehend why the government hasn’t granted Starlink a license to serve in India. “You have satellite mobiles in India; you have geo satellite communication,” said Mathew, referring to traditional satellites. “It doesn’t make sense not to broaden it to lower earth orbit satellites like Starlink.”
Encamp originator Ratan Kumar said his startup had intended to use its Starlink equipment to connect adjoining communities and schoolchildren. “We were very enthusiastic when we heard Starlink is coming into India,” Kumar informed the Rest of the World. “We were like, and we’re proceeding to have one dish in each location. But, unfortunately, that didn’t work out.”
Mike Puchol runs the website Starlink.sx, which maps the global availability of Starlink services based on open-source data. It had a similar vision for how Starlink could be used to distribute connectivity in Kenya and also drives an internet service startup called Poa! internet. If Starlink were open in Kenya, said Puchol, it could function as a backhaul for its minimal fiber infrastructure. Given current costs and internet, speeds are known in much of Kenya. As considerable as 100 people could use a terminal at once, at a price as low as a dollar a month per person.
When the island country Tonga was cut off from the internet following the explosion of a massive underwater volcano at the start of this year, Starlink sent 50 terminals to the country. By the time they arrived, the primary internet cable had been reconnected. Therefore, Starlink equipment was sent to help outer islands, where international aid groups had already corresponded to send Broadband Global Area Network terminals and satellite phones. However, the head of state-backed Tonga Cable Ltd., Samisi Panuve, told the Rest of the World that a few terminals had been sent to “outer island government departments and communities and some public areas.” However, his company hadn’t found a use for its Starlink equipment.
Part of why Starlink has fallen to expand outside the West has been regulatory challenges. While regulators have welcomed Starlink in places like Chile, regulators face pushback from powerful domestic telecommunications lobbies in other countries.
A private yacht captain founded in the Caribbean told the Rest of the World that he began using Starlink the previous year because the expense was so much lower than the $6,000 per month he had spent for commercial internet on the open sea. “If Musk begins selling it to commercial airlines, boats, trucks, and buses, he will make a lot of money,” the captain told the Rest of the World. “His plans are likely much larger than helping Ukraine and individuals in remote areas.”
Meanwhile, Starlink service has persisted in expanding in some markets. Starlink reported 145,000 users in January, and subscriptions nearly doubled that digit just two months later. And while SpaceX has established dozens of satellites to construct its constellation, it has also inked a contract to present in-flight Wi-Fi on American air transport Hawaii Airlines.
For his part, Kumar is still optimistic that Starlink will become available in India soon. He credits Musk with an entrepreneurial motivation “to keep the same grit and perseverance in whatever small thing we are trying to succeed in our career.” But if one of Starlink’s opponents, like Amazon’s Project Kuiper or Softbank-backed OneWeb, succeeds in obtaining satellite service to his area first, he won’t carry out for Musk. “We expect Starlink to come over, but if that doesn’t transpire, we’ll do it with an Indian network, whatever is possible,” Kumar said. “The Indian business is a tough nut to crack for an organization coming from outside. There are hurdles, but the market size cannot be ignored.”