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Will Starlink Fix Australia’s Internet Issues?

In March 2021, the global speed test list listed Australia’s average internet speed to be 56th in the world ranking. With an average download speed of 74.79 megabytes per second or Mbps, it falls 23.88 Mbps below the global average of 98.67 Mbps and 159.61 below Singapore which is ranked 1st with a download speed of 234.40 Mbps. So what’s the cause of Australia’s slow internet?

Besides the common and typical reasons such as network congestion, distance to the router, interference with other devices etc., there is also one big reason for it- which involves politics. In the late 2000s, the Labour government announced a plan that would lead to every Australian household receiving fibre-optic internet connection. They promised that this project would be completed by 2017, allowing more than 90% of Australian household and businesses access to FTTP (Fibre to the Premise) technology which is far faster than the previous copper cable technology. However, because of delays and mismanagement, the project received negative views from the public. The Liberal party took advantage of this and promised the same network, but faster and cheaper, although the difference is that it would use copper cables and FTTN (Fibre to the Node) instead of FTTP.

The difference between FTTP and FTTN is that for FTTP, fibre connects straight to the household or office whereas for FTTN, the fibre connects to a node within the area.

After the 2013 election in which the Liberal party took over, their Multi- Technological Mix network project was set in place. The National Broadband Network or NBN began replacing the old traditional copper network to provide access to fast, reliable internet to all Australians. It uses broadband technologies including fibre-optic cable, copper lines, and satellites to provide better broadband speed and improved data delivery. But this also came with complications as time and cost became higher than anticipated.

In addition to this, depending on the location, some Australians have a worse internet connection than others- some might not even have the internet at all. As Australia is a large country, NBN may not be able to reach rural areas as the copper cable network may not be near the area. There are alternatives, including dialups, but the internet would be extremely slow. This makes it impossible to introduce jobs that involve the internet in the area such as SEO marketing, web development, software development and many others.

A possible solution to Australia’s internet problem lies in Elon Musk’s Starlink company, which is now accepting pre-orders from Australian homes, to be delivered in mid or late 2021. It’s already able to deliver to those living in Central Victoria and Southern New South Wales, however, supplies are limited, and so orders will be processed on a first-come, first-serve basis. In October 2020, Starlink began its “Better than Nothing” beta test in the US and Canada with testers recording to reach download speeds of 100 Mbps. Starlink uses satellite internet but unlike other satellites, Starlink satellites are deployed far lower in orbit and there will be more of them.

Starlink satellite uses geostationary satellite
Satellite internet

Satellite internet uses a geostationary satellite which is almost 36,000 kilometres above the surface of the Earth. A geostationary satellite is a satellite that’s placed in orbit in space which looks to be stationary from Earth’s ground but is actually orbiting the Earth at the same pace that Earth is rotating. This satellite transfers or receives data from a smaller satellite dish on the Earth’s ground (connected to people’s device). The orbiting satellite then receives or transfers the data to the Network Operations Centre or NOC, also on Earth’s ground, which is the one connected to the internet.

The difference between current satellite internet and Starlink internet is that Starlink satellites are only 550 kilometres above the surface of the Earth, and there will be as many as 12,000 of these satellites. This gives data less distance to travel. With other satellite internet, the distance travelled by information results in 500-600 ms (milliseconds) in latency- this is the time it takes for data to travel to the internet through the satellites and back. And as Starlink is lower in orbit, there’s less latency, with beta testers averaging a latency of 39 ms which is close to the 20 ms that Elon Musk is aiming for.

Although this project seems highly beneficial for Australians to improve the country’s internet issues, it also comes with some problems and unanswered questions. One of these questions includes whether or not these satellites will be able to keep up with Australia’s weather which can go as high as 50 degrees Celsius in summer. Starlink also has no phone number to contact if people need IT support services. There’s only an online portal that won’t be able to help if people are having problems connecting to the internet. And although the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) granted a 5-year licence to Starlink, one of the terms states that it can only be provided to those in low density and remote areas. This means that although it would solve the internet problems for those in rural and countryside areas, those in cities would not be able to access this internet service.

As for the cost of Starlink satellites, it would come to $139 per month, with hardware fees of $709 and $100 for postage and handling. It would be a great investment as the service it provides is far better than current options and it would be beneficial to those in rural areas who can’t access current internet options or are having trouble connecting to the internet.

This would also be beneficial to those who work in a field that is dependent on the internet or involves the internet and its content such as app development, SEO consultants, or those in digital marketing services. Although currently, it would only be beneficial to those working in these fields in rural or countryside areas. However, Starlink is only a fairly recent service and as more people try it, it will become clearer whether or not it will be a successful project in Australia and it may be a great addition in the future.

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