Starlink To Connect 20 Million Rural U.S. Households Over Five Years Outlines SpaceX Executive

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SpaceX president and chief operation officer (COO) Ms. Gwynne Shotwell believes that her company's Starlink satellite-based internet service will be able to target all rural households inside the United States within five years. The estimate came at the LEO Digital Forum held on Tuesday, where she also shared other key details for the network.

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Her talk shared crucial details for Starlink's future, especially the costs that users will incur for setting up their equipment. It also covered SpaceX's plans for global coverage, even as the company is currently maintaining an aggressive launch cadence to rapidly build out its constellation to allow Starlink to move forward from the testing stage it currently is in, into full rollout.

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The company's main marketing line for Starlink, especially in front of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with whom it must work closely to secure spectrum allocation and other approvals, is the service's ability to bring internet coverage to remote U.S. regions.

SpaceX has already won some funding from the FCC for this purpose. The company has also launched upgraded satellites capable of communicating with each other while in orbit to provide Internet coverage to rural regions such as Alaska.

According to the executive, SpaceX will have the potential to connect 20 million rural American households through Starlink in five years, a figure which, according to her data, represents all unserved users.

Shotwell also explained the reasons behind SpaceX targeting only U.S. and Canadian users through the Starlink beta program. Logistical and language barriers have driven the company to keep its services limited to North American users, as complaints are easy to address and replacement equipment such as dish terminals are easy to ship, highlighted the executive.

A Starlink user terminal in the snow. Image: Steve Golson/YouTube

Additionally, the SpaceX COO also believes that her company will bring down the cost of its Starlink user terminals within the next couple of years. She confirmed that SpaceX incurs a cost above $1,000 for each user terminal, resulting in the company having to a portion of the dish by itself to lower the price and ensure adequate market penetration.

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She also confirmed that SpaceX currently has 1,320 satellites in orbit, a figure that is higher than any of the company's competitors.

Shotwell's statements came as other satellite operators expressed their skepticism for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite networks' ability to become a mass market.

Steve Collar, chief executive officer of SES, stated during the event that:

“We carry more video content to more people on the planet than any other company. If SES didn’t exist, 360 million households wouldn’t get video on a daily basis. There’s not a single telco on the planet who can say the same thing, let alone if we compare that to satellite internet. Even in our wildest and most successful versions of what a future LEO constellation might look like … it certainly doesn’t run to the billions.”

Eutelsat CEO Rudolphe Belmer stressed the importance of geostationary satellites for meeting users' television needs and shared his doubts on LEO-based satellites' ability to meet this demand.

In response, the SpaceX executive shared her belief that it is impossible to state with accuracy the direction in which technology might evolve in the future and that any such concrete conclusions such as the ones reached by Belmer fail to account for this fact.