The 4 Biggest Hurdles for SpaceX Satellite Internet Plan

Making Worldwide Broadband a Reality

Elon Musk is up to it again. He’s announced a plan to launch around 700 satellites that will provide high-speed Internet service to the entire world, and now Google is reportedly backing the project with a cool $1B investment.

We happen to know more than a few things about satellite Internet. Not long after we launched our first product, the Connectify Hotspot virtual router, our team was asked to develop some white-labelled software for a major satellite Internet company. In fact, our frustration in working with slow satellite connections was an impetus for developing Speedify.

The Hurdles

Musk’s successes with Tesla, SolarCity, and SpaceX already prove that he’s capable of executing on big ideas. While details are still pretty thin on this satellite Internet project, there are a few high-level points I feel comfortable making, if only for the sake of discussion:

1. Limited Spectrum

SpaceX claims that they’re going to deliver fiber-like speeds via satellite. The truth is, there isn’t enough available space on the wireless frequency spectrum for that to be possible. Pretty much all of the “good” bands have already been bought by big telecom companies or government interests. So, there’s simply no giant set of frequencies available, fast enough to deliver 100 megabit Internet all over the world. In the end, I’d be impressed if they find a way to deliver 20 Mbps in the real world.

2. Latency will be bad

Even if they do manage to offer decent throughput, latency will be bad. Signals need to be sent into space and back. Depending on the implementation, the signal might even need to bounce between satellites before coming back down to Earth. If Musk manages to deliver 100 ms pings, I’d be amazed. But, 250 ms (quarter-second) averages are more likely. That kind of latency can make even a fast Internet connection feel slow.

3. Bandwidth (and latency) will be variable

The satellites are moving over your head, and signal strengths will get better and worse as they zip by. On top of that, there will be finite bandwidth. As the number of users on the satellite network goes up, your connection speed will inevitably go down.

4. Need to see the sky to get a working link

Tiny satellites simply don’t have the power to transmit through buildings. From the sounds of it, the SpaceX satellite Internet won’t work when you’re inside a coffee shop. Antennas should be fixed to roofs where they can see a lot of sky, and are more likely to have line-of-sight to a satellite.

Enter Speedify

By now, you may realize why I’m excited: all of this makes every SpaceX Internet user into a potential Speedify user, too. Speedify’s ability to adjust for changes in latency and lost packets, will simply make SpaceX Internet links faster.

It gets even better for many of our users in parts of the world where less-than-desirable DSL and 3G speeds are the norm. With Speedify, The SpaceX link can be bonded with other available Internet connections to create a single, faster and more reliable Internet connection. Speedify’s smarts means it always knows exactly how well the satellite link is working: when it’s good, the satellite network gets more traffic, but as latency increases or bandwidth shrinks, Speedify knows to rely more heavily on the DSL connection. So, while SpaceX engineers work on some of the hard problems I outlined above, I’m excited to see this simple equation come to life…

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