LIVE FROM MWC21 BARCELONA: SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (pictured) portrayed his Starlink satellite broadband service as more cooperative than competitive with mobile operators, a fact highlighted by it having at least two deals in the works with big players in the sector.
During a fireside chat with Mobile World Live’s Justin Springham at MWC21 Barcelona, Musk explained Starlink had a pair of “quite significant partnerships with major” operators and was “in discussions with a number” of others.
Musk noted there are two primary ways Starlink assists mobile operators. One is satellite backhaul, the other helping to meet rural connectivity requirements contained in 5G licences.
A key element in government approval of T-Mobile US’ acquisition of rival Sprint, for example, was a requirement for the merged business to extend 5G service to 90 per cent of rural areas.
Musk explained rural customers are usually the most difficult segment for an operator to serve, comprising 3 per cent to 5 per cent of the user base.
Throughout his conversation, Musk depicted Starlink as complementary to 5G networks. “You can think of Starlink as filling in the gaps between 5G and fibre and really getting to the parts of the world that are the hardest to reach”.
Musk explained Starlink had launched everywhere except the North and South poles, and he hopes to be serving 500,000 users within 12 months.
Starlink is currently in beta in 12 countries. Because the satellites are much closer to Earth than traditional GEO birds, users are experiencing fast, low-latency service, Musk said.
He said latency and jitter will be further minimised as Starlink delivers new gateways to its customers.
The primary goal for Starlink is “not to go bankrupt”, Musk joked, a reference to the fate of previous satellite broadband providers. He estimated his total investment could total $10 billion before the operation was cash flow positive, and could approach $30 billion as SpaceX continues to invest so as “not to be irrelevant”.
Musk also said Starlink spends roughly $1,000 on each user terminal, but sells them to consumers for $500, an imbalance his team is working to adjust with less expensive equipment.
Starlink is just one small part of SpaceX, which is now launching rockets with regularity and developing Starship, the most powerful rocket in history.
Musk told the audience Starship will be able to “deliver over 100 tonnes to the surface of the moon or Mars”, and humans will be able to build “a city on Mars”.
Click here to view a full replay of the keynote.