March 6, 2021

Elon Musk’s SpaceX starts testing Starlink broadband in the UK


Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — SpaceX’s satellite broadband service Starlink is now being tested in the U.K. after it was given a license by U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Starlink was issued with an “Earth station network licence” in November, an Ofcom spokesperson told CNBC on Tuesday. SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The £200 ($272) a year license allows Starlink to sell satellite dishes and other communications equipment in the U.K. so that people can pick up signals emitted by Starlink’s network of satellites.

Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, SpaceX is an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company. It announced that it was creating the Starlink subdivision in 2015.

Musk, who is now the world’s richest person, has said he wants to improve internet access in parts of the world that aren’t currently served by broadband providers. He plans to do this by putting thousands of small telecoms satellites into low-Earth orbit that can beam high-speed, low-latency internet to the ground.

In an interview last March, Musk said SpaceX could make up to $30 billion a year by providing broadband. He said that Starlink will be “helpful to telcos because Starlink will serve the hardest to serve customers” adding that 5G isn’t great for the countryside because “you need range.”

Starlink, which will compete with the U.K.’s OneWeb, is aiming to have 1,440 of its 260 kg (570 lb) satellites in orbit by late 2021.

The company, which is primarily focused on connecting rural areas where internet is unreliable or not available, has been inviting people in the U.S. and Canada to try its service since October.

It is now inviting people in the U.K. via email, according to reports and social media users. Starlink is charging U.K. customers £439 for the satellite dish and other communications equipment, as well as an £89 monthly fee and a £54 shipping fee.

Those that test the service can expect data speeds of between 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and 150 Mbps, according to reports. The average broadband speed in the U.K. is 64 Mbps but those in rural areas often struggle to get anywhere near that. It’s unclear how many homes and offices are currently using Starlink’s service. 

SpaceX set up a U.K. entity in London called Starlink Internet Services last August, according to a document filed on U.K. companies registry Companies House.

A photo of what appears to be one of the first Starlink deliveries in the U.K. was shared on Reddit by Philip Hall, who lives in rural Devon, southwest England.

“As an enthusiast with no prospect of fibre (broadband) in the near term, I enrolled on the beta quite early,” Hall told CNBC via Reddit on Thursday.

Hall, who once deployed air defense networks for the U.K. military, said: “The tech capability in this, at consumer level, is astonishing.”

In terms of performance, Hall said he can consistently get 80 Mbps download speeds at home.

He suspects he got a Starlink dish because the company wants data ahead of a commercial rollout and he’s on the right latitude.

Describing the setup, Hall said it’s just like many other appliances. He installed an app on his Android phone, checked to ensure the dish had a clear view of the sky (something that was easy in rural Devon) and plugged it in. “The app asks you to register a name and password and you’re cooking,” he said.

Greece, Germany and Australia have also reportedly approved Starlink’s offering.



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