SpaceX wins UK regulator Ofcom's approval for its Starlink mobile broadband base stations

New, expensive option for nation's notspots


Ofcom has given the thumbs-up to SpaceX's Starlink broadband user terminals, opening the door to a UK launch of Elon Musk's satellite-based broadband service.

The approval – which was issued in November but only recently became public knowledge – pertains to the receiver equipment nicknamed internally by the company as "Dishy McDishface".

This kit debuted in the US late last year and has since been subject to several teardowns, which unearthed a positioning motor, a phased-array antenna powered by its own discrete ARM-based computer, and a Power over Ethernet (PoE) connection responsible for power and data.

Separately, SpaceX has established a UK subsidiary to handle the rollout of its broadband product, called Starlink Internet Services UK Limited.

According to data from Companies House, this entity was created on August 5 last year. Elon Musk is listed as a "person with significant control," with ownership of more than 75 per cent of voting rights, a similar amount of shares, and the right to appoint and remove directors.

News of Ofcom's sign-off isn't much of a surprise. Late last year, Starlink began sending invites to selected UK-based customers who had previously expressed interest in the service, with the first few units arriving to deep-pocketed punters earlier this month. The hardware is priced at £439, with a further £89 per-month cost for the service. This is roughly on par with what it's charging Stateside.

This is vastly more expensive than conventional fixed-line or cellular-based broadband connections, and slightly more expensive than competing satellite-based services. Eutselat's Konnect Max package retails at £69.99 per month, and offers up to 120GB of usage with speeds topping out at 100Mbps.

Still, Starlink has a few advantages over the competition. As it uses low-Earth orbit satellites, rather than those affixed in a geostationary orbit, it can offer latencies as low as 20ms, which is easily low enough for VoIP calling. Speeds, meanwhile, are pigeonholed between 50Mbps and 150Mbps.

The beta service (currently in US only) presently lacks any data caps, either, although SpaceX has been somewhat coy about whether that'll remain the case as it rolls out to more users.

To date, SpaceX has launched 955 Starlink satellites out of a planned 12,000. It has ambitions to launch a further 30,000, and has requested additional spectrum from the International Telecommunication Union to make this a reality.

Starlink is not without its critics, however, who argue the satellites will impact terrestrial-based space science through additional light pollution, and by interfering with the frequencies used by radio telescopes. Other fears centre around the potential for the creation of an unmanageable level of "space junk" which could make future launches more dangerous.

We've asked SpaceX and Ofcom for comment. ®


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