SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell says the company expects to achieve global coverage with its Starlink internet service by around September this year.
But she added that although it may have the capability to provide a worldwide service at that time, SpaceX will still need to gain approvals from national regulators to launch Starlink in each country.
Shotwell announced the timeframe during an appearance at the online Macquarie Technology Summit this week, Reuters reported.
SpaceX is building out its Starlink service using thousands of small satellites that it’s been sending into low-Earth orbit in batches of 60 in regular rocket launches since May 2019. The main focus of the multi-billion-dollar initiative is to provide broadband services to unserved or underserved communities around the world, but the company is also seeking to offer its services to businesses such as airlines for in-flight Wi-Fi.
“We’ve successfully deployed 1,800 or so satellites, and once all those satellites reach their operational orbit we will have continuous global coverage, so that should be like September,” Shotwell said at the conference, adding, “But then we have regulatory work to go into every country and get approved to provide telecoms services.”
With nearly 2,000 Starlink satellites already in orbit, SpaceX was able to launch a beta service in 2020 that’s gradually expanded to 11 countries. In the U.S., Starlink users are required to pay a one-time fee of $499 for the Starlink kit and then $99 per month for the broadband service.
Shotwell said Starlink currently has “almost 100,000” customers, adding that “half a million people” want to sign up for the service.
A CNBC survey in April questioned current U.S.-based Starlink customers about their experience with the service. Most seemed pleased with elements such as pricing, equipment, and speed, but some spoke of challenges installing the dish and other equipment, while others were worried that SpaceX might bring in data caps later on.
Starlink is also dealing with some broader issues, namely concerns that sunlight reflecting off the satellites could disrupt the work of astronomers. In a bid to solve the issue, Space has been experimenting with different satellite designs, including attaching visors to reduce glare. And with Amazon and the U.K.’s OneWeb, among others, also aiming to launch similar internet services using small satellites, there are fears that low-Earth orbit could become overcrowded, risking an increase in hazardous space junk.