SpaceX unveils global roaming plan for Starlink internet access

SpaceX has introduced a “global roaming plan” that allows customers to access the internet from anywhere in the country via Starlink. The plan requires a $200 per month subscription and a $599 upfront payment for the Starlink kit. The kit includes a dish connected to the Starlink satellite constellation and a WiFi router.

SpaceX’s Starlink division has invited some potential users to try a $200-a-month “global roaming” service, saying the new plan “allows your Starlink to connect from almost anywhere in the world.”

— Ars Technica (@arstechnica) February 21, 2023

In June 2022, the FCC approved SpaceX’s request to provide internet access to large vehicles such as airplanes, RVs, and buses. The application revealed that SpaceX planned to serve customers who traveled frequently. The “Global Roaming Plan” extends this to accommodate people whose lifestyles require them to travel extensively.

Starlink will use the lasers on its upgraded Version 2 satellites to provide connectivity. Some of the version 1.5 satellites already have laser communications. According to SpaceX, laser communications can help reduce latency to 10 to 20 milliseconds. It has also previously been said that the Version 2 satellites will be able to transmit data at speeds of up to 80 Gbps per satellite.

The Version 2 satellites will also use lasers to communicate with other satellites when ground stations are unavailable. Some countries and remote regions such as the polar regions have very few, if any, ground stations.

However, SpaceX warns that some locations may still have poor connectivity despite the global roaming plan. An email sent to potential customers indicated that an improvement in connectivity is expected as Starlink version 2 satellites begin to be launched. Longtime SpaceX devotees may recall that Starlink’s beta program was dubbed “Better than Nothing Beta,” a nod to the lack of good internet access options in some remote or low-income regions.

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SpaceX says the service is still dependent on regulatory approval from international governments — an occasional headache. SpaceX has previously had to refund deposits from some prospective Indian customers after India said Starlink was not authorized to operate in the country. It is also working to gain regulatory approval in Thailand, Pakistan, Ecuador, Costa Rica and South Korea.

SpaceX could be working on new ways to monetize Starlink after some back and forth over funding Starlink operations in Ukraine. Elon Musk previously said SpaceX is burning $20 million a month to deploy the Starlink service in Ukraine, most of which will likely be used to thwart Russian cyberattacks and jamming attempts, and can’t afford to keep it up forever . (Actually, good cybersecurity is EXPENSIVE, especially when you’re fighting off attacks by an enemy nation’s military.) It was negotiating with the Pentagon for further funding, after previously partially shutting down the service due to lack of funds.

Aside from funding to keep Starlink running in Ukraine, SpaceX is exploring a version of Starlink called Starshield that could be used for military defense. It has also worked out contracts with airlines to provide in-flight internet access and activated a plan to provide internet access for water resources such as boats and oil rigs. Royal Caribbean was the first cruise line to add SpaceX to its ship internet service.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk had mentioned that avoiding bankruptcy can be difficult for a satellite internet provider. However, SpaceX President Gwynn Shotwell previously expressed confidence that the market is big enough to potentially fund other SpaceX projects like the development of Starship once Starlink becomes viable.

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Also, Starlink is still losing money! It is insanely difficult for a LEO communications constellation to avoid bankruptcy – such has been the fate of all companies that have attempted this before.

When asked what Starlink’s goal was at a space conference, I said “not go bankrupt”.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 14, 2022

The $200-a-month “global roaming plan” could help by offering internet access to people who travel frequently — even in places where they might otherwise struggle to get a Wi-Fi signal receive. There may still be some gaps in coverage. However, it promises that those gaps are starting to close.