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Will Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite network deliver ‘low cost’ broadband for everyone?

Elon Musk has hinted at plans to launch an ‘unfettered’ and ‘very low cost’ satellite broadband service on Twitter. 

The currently unnamed service will be delivered by a network of ‘micro-satellites operating in large formations’. Details such as download speeds, latency and perhaps most important of all, price have yet to be revealed. 

We should have answers to all of these questions and more soon; The South African-born investor said that all will be revealed in 2-3 months

Will Elon Musk’s SpaceX satellite network deliver ‘low cost’ broadband for everyone?
Will the UK benefit from Elon Musk’s satellite broadband vision?

Musk was responding to questions on Twitter about a Wall Street Journal article that said he was working on delivering low-cost internet access around the world with Greg Wyler, the former Google executive who founded O3b Networks

O3b, short for ‘other 3 billion’ is a venture designed to provide connectivity for people in developing economies. 

If Musk and Wyler are working together, it’s likely that the SpaceX broadband project will have a similar aim. The network will supposedly feature over 700 small satellites that would make up a network that’s ten times the size of that of Iridium Communication’s globe-spanning network. 

Musk said that the WSJ piece got a few details wrong, but declined to point out what they were. 

Even with that in mind, it’s hard to see how the UK could benefit from SpaceX broadband, unless it triggers a price war that dramatically reduces the cost of current services. 

Satellite broadband in the UK is expensive. It can cost as much as £300 to have a dish installed at your home, although the cost of this can often be spread over several months if you take out a long-term contract. 

Top download speeds currently possible weigh in at around 20Mbps, but when such services are often priced at £29.50/month for a 10GB plan (Bentley Walker), £34.95/month for a 20GB plan (Satellite Internet) and £44.95/month for a 25GB plan (Avonline) – perhaps affordable for some but hardly what you’d call ‘very low cost’. 

Services with bigger caps or unlimited data are also typically pricey. Satellite Internet’s unlimited 20MXL service costs £69.95/month while Avonline’s Extra 100GB package is £74.95/month. 

As for ‘unfettered’ services, satellite broadband typically suffers from high levels of latency, meaning things like Skype simply aren’t possible. 

The biggest plus in favour of satellite broadband is that it’s available virtually everywhere. If you can get a dish set up at your house and point it the sky, chances are you’ll be able to get broadband – even if you’re not connected to a BT exchange or a rural fibre network. 

For these reasons, not to mention the increasing availability of superfast and ultrafast fixed-line services means that unless Musk unleashes something truly radical, ‘SpaceX broadband’ is unlikely to affect the majority of us British surfers. 


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