UK to test Starlink satellite broadband for those hard to reach areas
But why Elon Musk's satellite broadband biz and not govt-funded OneWeb?
The UK government is the latest to test out the Starlink satellite broadband service amid efforts to connect homes and businesses in poorly served areas of the country.
A trial was officially launched this week by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to examine how satellite broadband could be used to deliver high-speed connections to more than a dozen "hard to reach" locations around the country. These include mountainous areas or small islands, which would be difficult or costly to cable up, it said.
Sites to be involved in the trial include Wasdale Head mountain rescue base in the Lake District, the 12th century Rievaulx Abbey in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, plus Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue and an outdoor activity center in Snowdonia in Wales. These will be kitted out with the receiver equipment to connect to Starlink's satellite service, typically comprising a satellite dish and Wi-Fi router.
Following these trials, the government will assess the viability of using satellite technology to connect other hard to reach homes and businesses across the country, DCMS said.
It is of note that the government chose to use Elon Musk's Starlink service for these trials rather than OneWeb, a rival satellite company which it has partly owns since the administration splashed out $500 million to save it from bankruptcy in 2020. Eutelsat is now buying OneWeb although the government retains a stake.
The initial wave of sites are being supported by Starlink because of "the readiness and availability of its technology," according to DCMS. It said it continues to look into other solutions and services, including the use of other providers such as OneWeb.
Ironically, Starlink yesterday suffered a global service outage shortly before 9pm UTC. This was short-lived, however, with the number of user outage reports on Downdetector dropping back to zero within half an hour or so.
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In a statement, Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan claimed that ensuring everyone can get access to a quality internet connection is crucial to the government's much-vaunted leveling-up plans.
"High-speed broadband beamed to Earth from space could be the answer to the connectivity issues suffered by people in premises stuck in the digital slow lane," she said.
The government also said it has now signed a £108 million ($131 million) contract with Northern Ireland-based provider Fibrus to connect up to 60,000 rural homes and businesses in Cumbria in northwest England that might otherwise have missed out on upgrades to install high-speed broadband services.
As part of Project Gigabit, the new rollout will see fiber infrastructure deployed capable of delivering gigabit speeds to subscribers.
Fibrus said it will create at least 90 apprenticeships over the next three years as part of this development, covering a range of roles from underground and overhead cabling to surveying and is investing £50,000 ($60,822) to establish an apprentice training academy near Penrith.
DCMS said that areas in Cornwall, Hampshire, Shropshire & Telford, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk are in line for contract awards "by summer 2023."
Meanwhile, the government also claimed it is to triple the value of the vouchers available to homes and businesses under the Broadband Voucher Scheme.
From early next year, eligible subscribers will be able to apply for up to £4,500 ($5,472) to cover the costs of having a gigabit-capable connection installed. This will enable broadband providers to reach further into rural areas where the build costs are higher, it stated. ®