If 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic has taught us anything at all, it’s the importance of having access to fast and reliable internet. Unfortunately for many, this has remained elusive over the last several years despite the expanded availability of fiber-based broadband and rollout of next-generation technologies like 5G in key cities and locations across the Philippines.
(Update, February 28: Read this FAQ for everything that you need to know about Starlink’s satellite-internet rollout in the Philippines!)
(Update, February 14: SpaceX and Converge ICT Solutions in the Philippines? Read this report!)
So, any talk about a potential alternative internet-service provider, particularly one that uses thousands of internet-beaming satellites floating in Earth’s low orbit, is not only extremely exciting but also timely. Enter SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service, which Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, in a recent video conference with SpaceX vice president for satellite government affairs Patricia Cooper, described as something the Philippines would “immensely benefit” from.
SpaceX is headed by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, who is also the CEO of electric car company Tesla. According to Pimentel, Starlink has plans to enter the Philippine market as early as the third quarter of this year. A quick glance at its company website shows this is in line with Starlink’s goal of expanding to cover most of the populated world by 2021.
Senator Koko Pimentel underscored the urgency of improving broadband connectivity in the Philippines during an online meeting with the representative of @elonmusk’s Space Exploration Technologies, Corp. (@SpaceX) held on December 28, 2020.— Senator Koko Pimentel (@senkokopimentel) January 2, 2021
Read more: https://t.co/0KF2LqZ449… pic.twitter.com/AxetExmoCy
Sen. Koko Pimentel’s tweet. The full post, published on Facebook, can be found here
Currently, Starlink is being pilot-tested in select rural and remote communities in the Northern U.S. and Canada. U.S. customers pay $499 (around P23,999 converted) for the antenna and router kit and $99 (P4,761) monthly for the internet subscription. The service promises download speeds between 50Mbps and 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms. There are no data caps for early adopters at this time.
However, make no mistake: Those are steep prices, especially considering you can get 500Mbps of fixed fiber broadband in the Philippines for around the same money as a Starlink subscription now.
The biggest difference, of course, is reach. Most high-speed internet services in the Philippines are limited to densely popular urban areas; most islands in the archipelago may not be worth the investment of a telecommunications company. Then there’s the paperwork and local bureaucracy to deal with.
But space-based satellite internet is different. It doesn’t need international submarine cables, fiber-optic and copper cables, transmitter towers, roadside cabinets, and other traditional infrastructure associated with terrestrial internet to work. It beams internet signals directly to receivers over the air from small satellites orbiting the Earth.
So, why the Philippines? Our guess is that Starlink recognizes there are still many unserved and underserved communities in the Philippines, hence the early talks about the possibility of satellite internet filling in the gap for users who can afford to pay a premium. Starlink could play a key role in modernizing the country’s education and health-care systems, as emphasized in Pimentel’s post.
It’s probably too early to tell what will become of all of this. But, as with most things, the first step is usually the hardest. It’s good to know that the ball is rolling at least.
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