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SpaceX Starlink provides the Internet to emergency responders in forest fire areas

Pictures of SpaceX's broadband satellite dish and fire-ravaged areas of Washington state.
Zoom in / Starlink User Terminal and devastated areas observed in images shared by the Washington State Department of Emergency Management.

SpaceX Starlink provides Internet access to Washington State Emergency Services in areas devastated by wildfires. The group has deployed seven Starlink user terminals (ie satellite dishes) since it began using the service in early August, as CNBC reported yesterday:

“I have never created any tactical satellite equipment that has been so quickly installed and so reliable everywhere,”

; as Starlink, Richard Hall, head of emergency communications at the Washington Department of Defense’s IT division, said in an interview with CNBC on Monday.

The broadband service has helped both emergency services and families in fire-affected areas. Hall “has built terminals in areas that have been badly burned to provide evacuated families with wireless calls and Internet access to file insurance claims,” ​​CNBC reported. Hall said he also “set up to allow children to participate in their initial training.”

Hall said Starlink “doubles easily[d] “bandwidth” compared to traditional satellite broadband and consistently provides a latency of less than 30ms.

Traditional geostationary satellites, which move in orbit at altitudes above 35,000 km, provide a latency of household customers of about 600 ms, according to measurements by the Federal Communications Commission, making them a poor substitute for cable or fiber. Starlink, with its low Earth orbits of 540 to 570 km, can deliver something much closer to the experience provided by cable broadband services, despite the skepticism expressed by the FCC.

Compared to Starlink, Hall said the traditional satellite provides “much less speed and bandwidth and much higher latency in a much larger package.” On Monday, the Washington Emergency Management Department said on Twitter that it was happy to have Starlink, “as emergency services seek to help residents rebuild the city of Maldon, Washington, which was battered by wildfires earlier this month. . “

“I’m glad SpaceX can help! We give priority to emergency services and places that don’t have an internet connection at all,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

Hall said previous satellite services he used required a setup time of 30 minutes to an hour, while “it took him between five and 10 minutes to set up and connect a Starlink terminal,” CNBC reported.

“You don’t need a truck and a trailer and a whole bunch of extra equipment,” Hall said. In the worst cases, Hall said he “spent most of four or five hours with some satellite equipment trying to get a good [connection]. So for me, it’s amazing. “

Musk described the Starlink setup process as “point to the sky, turn on,” noting that the vessels have drives that allow them to point in the right direction. Hall said SpaceX had told him that the consumer terminal “required a clear shot facing north”, but that it had achieved good speeds even in places where the view was “slightly obscured”.

Starlink is currently provided free of charge

Washington’s emergency use of Starlink “grew organically from previous unrelated talks” as the state worked “to provide some coverage in the rural areas of some of our tribal areas that would not get broadband at all for a while,” Hall said. . Washington State Emergency Services is currently receiving Starlink for free, but Hall said “if we want them in the long run, we’ll have to go back to [the] table and talk about it. “

Hall wants to start talks on a long-term deal in the near future. “We want to get as many spins as possible in as many places as possible, so knowing what the price will be is better sooner than later,” Hall said.

Recent speed tests by Starlink beta users have found download speeds ranging from 11Mbps to 60Mbps and upload speeds ranging from 5Mbps to 18Mbps. SpaceX, which launches about 700 satellites and has FCC permission to launch nearly 12,000, plans up to 5 million users in the United States.

Cowen’s financial analysts question Starlink’s potential to serve so many customers in a research note that recently received some attention. According to Light Reading, “analysts conclude that Starlink can handle 485,000 simultaneous data streams in the United States at 100Mbps if all 12,000 Starlink satellites are running.” But this is not a realistic assumption, because there will never be a situation in which all customers in a broadband network use their entire specified bandwidth at the same time. Even if every Starlink customer streams Netflix in 4K every second of the day (another amazing scenario), it will only require 25Mbps per household.

However, there are practical limitations, as Musk said Starlink is targeted at rural areas because there will not be enough bandwidth to serve many customers in densely populated cities like Los Angeles. SpaceX does not disclose prices or exact date for launching a commercial service. The service is likely to attract a combination of residential, corporate and government customers. The U.S. military recently signed a three-year deal with SpaceX to test Starlink.

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