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Starlink's beta arrives at $99/month for speeds up to 150 Mbit/s – report

Starlink appears to have begun accepting some beta customers onto its low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite Internet service, offering speeds of between 50 Mbit/s to 150 Mbit/s for $99 per month.

The company is outlining the basics of its service in emails to prospective customers under the "Better Than Nothing Beta program" heading, according to a CNBC report that dovetails with user posts to the Reddit website. However, Starlink – the LEO broadband operation of space-faring company SpaceX – did not return requests for comment, according to CNBC.

"We're trying to lower your initial expectations," reads the reported email. "As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically."

In the email, the company said users should expect latency between 20 milliseconds to 40 milliseconds, figures that could decrease to 16 ms to 19 ms by the summer of 2021.

Customers will need to purchase and install an antenna to connect with Starlink satellites, as well as a Wi-Fi router, for $499.

"There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all," Starlink warns. However, the beta service does not appear to contain monthly data limits.

Sky-high expectations

Starlink's LEO service has generated plenty of attention, partly due to the unproven nature of the technology; partly due to the possibility of speedy, satellite-based Internet connections available in every corner of the world; partly due to the fact that Starlink is the first of a number of major LEO contenders, ranging from Amazon to OneWeb to Telesat, to launch commercial services; and partly due to the celebrity surrounding the company's billionaire backer, Elon Musk.

According to Advanced Television, the financial analysts at Morgan Stanley recently raised their Starlink valuation from $42 billion to $81 billion. And Forbes reported that SpaceX investor Chad Anderson said he expects eventual revenues from Starlink in the range of $30 billion to $50 billion per year.

Already there are indications that Starlink is moving forward with its planned commercial service, having launched hundreds of its satellites over the past few months.

For example, Ars Technica reported that Starlink has agreed to supply Internet connections to a few dozen Texas families in a rural school district starting early next year.

The publication also cited Starlink filings with the FCC stating that the company is already "providing service to previously unserved students in rural areas" and that it expects to deploy up to 5 million user terminals in the US – a potential indication of Starlink's ambitions.

Again, Starlink didn't respond to queries on the topic from Ars Technica.

Finally, in yet another indication of Starlink's emergence onto the commercial scene, the company appears to have launched iOS and Android mobile apps designed to help users set up their service.

Known unknowns

But there remain plenty of questions surrounding Starlink. For example, the financial analysts at Cowen recently estimated that Starlink will only be able to support around half a million simultaneous users at 100 Mbit/s across the entire US over the next five years, due to the network capacity constraints of its LEO satellite constellation.

Moreover, Starlink's $99 per month price tag doesn't appear to align with the expectations set by some executives as recently as last year. "Is anybody paying less than 80 bucks a month for crappy service? Nope. That's why we're gonna be successful," said SpaceX's Gwynne Shotwell in 2019.

Thus, it remains to be seen whether Starlink will adjust its pricing and promised performance metrics ahead of a wider commercial launch. But it's clear the service isn't designed to directly compete with established wired Internet providers in urban areas – some of which offer 1Gbit/s services at just $70 per month – but instead is intended as an option for customers in rural areas without many wired options.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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