Amazon has acquired Facebook’s team of more than a dozen satellite internet experts, The Information reported Tuesday and spokespeople for the two companies confirmed.
The deal bolsters Amazon’s $10 billion effort to develop low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites capable of delivering high-speed broadband internet around the globe, while marking the end of Facebook’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to do the same.
Facebook’s team, which joined Amazon’s existing 500-person operation in April, included physicists as well as hardware and software engineers who have experience working on aeronautical and wireless systems, according to The Information.
The talent acquisition deal included some intellectual property developed by the team, as well as equipment and facilities, Facebook told Insider. Other terms were not disclosed.
Amazon received approval in July 2020 from the Federal Communications Commission to launch 3,236 LEO satellites in an effort called Project Kuiper, with the company saying it plans to bring its satellite-based internet service online after 578 satellites are in orbit.
Facebook’s efforts to develop its own satellite-based internet service, which began as early as 2015, have encountered multiple hurdles. The company told The Information it no longer plans to launch its own network, and told Insider it instead plans to continue working with partner companies like Eutelsat and pursuing its other efforts to expand internet access.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company’s Starlink internet service is working to build new internet terminals that will cost less money to build.
During a virtual interview at the Mobile World Conference on Tuesday, Musk said the SpaceX subsidiary is losing money on the current terminals, which cost $1,000 to make but are sold to customers around the world for $500, plus a $99 monthly subscription.
Musk said new versions of the units will cost less than $1,000 for the company to build.
“We are working on next-generation terminals that provide the same level of capability but costs a lot less,” Musk said in the conference. “So that’s one area of development for us.”
He said during the event that he’d like to eventually reduce the cost for customers from $500 to $300 or $250. Musk also noted that customers don’t need professional installers for the units. All you have to do is “point it at the sky and plug it in,” and not necessarily in that order.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Starlink sends broadband internet service down to customers from satellites and first launched in October 2020. It now has 69,420 active users, a “strategically important threshold,” Musk said last week.
Starlink has customers in at least six countries and plans to establish 42,000 satellites in orbit for use by 2027. Musk’s goal has been to create an ultra-fast system that can provide internet to everyone, especially those living in rural areas or higher latitudes that have poor connections.
From old faithful satellite internet, to boosting cell phone signal, to jimmying together some wild antenna rigs, I’ve seen or tried just about everything.
Here’s how to establish a work-from-homeable internet connection from any address in the union.
Satellite internet, a gift and a curse
Satellite internet will work from just about anywhere. Providers like Hughes Net and Viasat provide speeds of up to 25 mbps on downloads and 3 mbps for uploads. This is about 80% lower than the average speed across the US, which sits at around 120 mbps. Big downloads can take a while, but for web browsing and sending and receiving moderate amounts of data, it’ll do. Also, Hughes Net or Viasat can probably get a technician out to install the dish on your house within five business days. Satellite internet is almost a one-punch knockout as far as rural connections go … almost.
Because your data is flying to a satellite dish and back, there’s a noticeable .7 to .9 of a second of latency with satellite internet. Prepare to be even more annoying on Zoom calls than you ever thought possible. Also, satellite internet providers usually have a soft data cap, after which you’ll have to pay about $3 a GB extra. Finally, satellite internet gets worse with the weather; snow, clouds, rain and storms will all hurt performance.
Satellite internet costs about $70 to $150 a month depending on the provider and how much data you use, plus an install or equipment rental cost that can get up to $400. But, because satellite internet makes you sound awful on calls and can drop out at any time due to weather, you’ll need to augment your connection.
There’s a small chance that Elon Musk has already saved you, or is about to
In my case, my internet woes just about ended when I was selected for the Starlink beta test. Starlink, which is internet service from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is satellite internet that relies on tons of tiny satellites orbiting closer to earth, so there’s no noticeable lag or data caps.
Starlink is a slam dunk, but it’s only beta testing in the very northern part of the US. For now, there’s not much you can do besides sign up for the beta and hope.
Without latency-free internet, you’ll need to find a way to augment your satellite internet connection with landlines or cell signal.
How to measure a home’s cell signal
If the home has strong data service filling the bars on your cell phone, then congrats: Major cell phone providers have hotspot devices and data plans that will hook you up for good.
But say you want to work from a house where your phone gets zero bars and doesn’t say “LTE” or “3G” or “4G” in the corner. Then what?
Luckily, there are still products for you, but they’re a little more off the beaten path. You’re going to need a cell phone signal booster, and the best way to determine which is to do a field test.
A great cell phone signal measures in at about -50 decibels. Awful or nonexistent cell phone signal comes in at about -120, and it starts getting pretty unusable around -90.
How to boost a cell phone signal
If your signal is just a bit weak, products like Unlimitedville promise a hassle-free experience for users. Unlimitedville sells users a small MoFi box that amplifies incoming cell signals and turns it into a usable WiFi network like any other. I tried Unlimitedville and found the MoFi box severely underpowered, and the $249 monthly bill to be astronomical.
Frankly, you’re better off buying your own cell signal booster and working out the data costs with your carrier.
My signal was really weak, so I bought the WeBoost Installed Home Complete, the only commercial cell signal booster that comes with a professional install included, for about $1,200. The system can jack up cell signal by up to 72 decibels and provide an area of up to 7,500 sq feet with boosted cell service by using an outdoor directional antenna pointed at the nearest cell tower and an indoor amplifier.
Ultimately, even the big dog booster didn’t completely solve my problems. I get 2-3 bars and some choppy data and voice calls. I plan to raise the antenna up on a 10 foot pole to increase the range and make my house look even more ridiculous.
About 99% of the country has access to at least 3 mbps of data service via a nearby cell tower, so while boosting cell signal isn’t a perfect option, it’s a ubiquitous one. Almost anyone can do this.
You might not be able to solely work off your phone’s data, but you can use the data to answer some work emails, let your colleagues know you might be late to a meeting later, or look up the Zoom dial-in number before your big interview.
How to work off cell signal
If you successfully boost your cell phone signal to a workable level, you may not be out of the woods yet.
Even an “unlimited data” plan from a major provider may have some restrictions on “tethering,” or using a cell phone’s data connection to connect another device to the internet. Many carriers won’t let you use more than 5 or 10 GB of data a month over a tethered device.
Luckily, major carriers now offer devices and plans to accommodate large data asks from devices besides the handset you have under contract. Verizon’s plan costs $40-$60.
Or, if you want to avoid changing your data plan, get smart about data usage. 10 GB of data can go a long way if you use it wisely. Instead of tethering a device like a smart TV to a cell phone to watch Netflix for a few hours, simply play the Netflix app on your phone and cast your phone’s screen onto the TV. This will use the phone’s own data and not cut into your tethered data. The more you look for tricks like this, the more you will find.
Landlines and DSL
A solid phone line can make up for satellite internet’s bad lag time, and it’s relatively easy to get. Telephone wires are more common than broadband cable on many power lines in rural America. At our address, we’re also eligible for a 3 mbps DSL connection from our phone provider for $30 a month.
The 3 mbps number seems a bit sad, but our neighbor uses it to check his email and even do some low-resolution Zoom calls for work. Because DSL uses a wired connection, it has no lag, making it a solid compliment to satellite internet connections.
But with a landline, you may not even need DSL.
We keep a notebook with important numbers written down on the landline phone. Even if the power goes out, I can look up my boss’ number and keep him in the loop.
Beg, borrow, appeal
If your neighbors have good internet service and you don’t, you can always proposition them to set up an antenna that beams connectivity to your house. Obviously you’d ask nicely and offer to pay, because this method works.
If all else fails, find out what major internet service providers cover nearby areas and reach out to them. I called Xfinity to inquire about getting broadband to my house. To my surprise, they had trucks driving down my dirt road within a week. It turned out that despite my remote setting, houses just a few miles down the road had broadband and Xfinity was considering running the lines out my way.
Xfinity said I could pay about $30,000 to get connected or I could simply wait on state or federal funds to come through. There’s actually $10 billion in the recently passed American Rescue Plan to extend broadband to rural America, and many rural states have money set aside for this too.
Waiting for Xfinity could take years, but I was glad to have put in a request.
When I left NYC to live in the country, I never thought I’d be begging to deal with Xfinity again, but life is funny in that way.
Take it from me: Don’t let a bad internet connection stop you from living in a place that feels like home. Where there is a will, there’s a way – and the arc of history bends towards more WiFi.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-internet service has raked in more than 500,000 orders and deposits from customers, the company said Tuesday.
“To date, over half a million people have placed an order or put down a deposit for Starlink,” said Siva Bharadvaj, a SpaceX space operations engineer, during a broadcast of SpaceX’s latest launch of Starlink satellites. “With every launch, we get closer to connecting more people across the world.”
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the exact figure.
Starlink aims to use its fleet of more than 40,000 satellites to beam high-speed internet down to rural and remote areas where traditional service is poor or not available. SpaceX also plans to deliver internet to ships, planes, cars, and RVs.
The company on Tuesday launched 60 more Starlink satellites into orbit using one of its Falcon 9 rockets, completing its 10th Starlink mission of 2021 and its 26th mission overall. The latest launch brings the total number of Starlink satellites sent into orbit to somewhere around 1,500, though some of those have been deorbited.
SpaceX began offering Starlink as a beta service in October and has since amassed more than 10,000 beta testers, according to a February filing with the Federal Communications Commission. Starlink is currently available to a limited number of users in a given area, and customers can place refundable, $99 deposits to join a waitlist.
Out of all the companies, Starlink is the one that has launched the most satellites into orbit.
Elon Musk’s space venture currently has more than 1,350 satellites in orbit, with plans to launch up to 42,000 by mid-2027. Eventually, Starlink — a subdivision of SpaceX — wants to wrap thousands of satellites around the Earth to build a global network.
Starlink’s “Better Than Nothing Beta” test went live in October and has since gained over 10,000 users across six different countries.
Starlink’s business model directly connects customers to the satellites — there are no telecommunications companies involved in between.
Users sign up to Starlink via its website. When the service is up and running in the area, subscribers receive an email to buy the kit. Starlink may even offer users $99 preorders, like it did in Australia, Mexico and parts of the US, where the network isn’t live yet.
Not everyone is fully on board with Starlink’s dominance. Local internet service providers in the US say Starlink is using “unproven” technology with its satellite constellation. They have asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to look into its application for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, for which Starlink was awarded $885 million.
Amazon’s Project Kuiper
Project Kuiper, a subsidiary of Amazon, came to light in 2018 when government filings revealed the tech giant was going ahead with building a global space-based internet service.
The project aims to blast 3,236 satellites to 630 kilometers in orbit, very close to Starlink’s satellites at 550 kilometres.
50% of its satellites should be operational by July 30, 2026.
It’s not yet clear what Project Kuiper’s satellites will look like or which rocket they will be launched on, but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin could send them into orbit via its New Glenn rocket.
Sources told Insider in 2019 that Project Kuiper’s headquarters are a few miles from Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.
The UK’s OneWeb
OneWeb is a British-owned satellite broadband provider that currently has 146 satellites at 1,200 km in orbit and plans to have 648 satellites in total to offer a global network.
The firm was rescued from bankruptcy by the UK government and India’s Bharti Group in November and now pledges to invest $1 billion in the company.
OneWeb wants to provide internet to the whole of the UK by June. Its most recent launch on March 25 will deliver internet coverage to the top of the globe down to the 50th degree latitude, covering countries such as Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Russia, the Nordic countries, and northern Europe.
The UK firm offers a business-to-business model, whereby it provides satellite internet to telecommunications companies, which then distribute the service to customers.
Chris McLaughlin, chief of government, regulation and engagement at OneWeb told Insider the company has had discussions with the government about becoming part of the UK’s $6.9 billion Project Gigabit — just like Starlink.
OneWeb and Starlink satellites almost collided into each other in orbit on April 3 that could have sent thousands of debris pieces flying around space, adding to the space junk crisis.
McLaughlin told Insider on Monday it was “no one’s fault but a big challenge” to avoid this from happening.
Hughes Net, the biggest satellite internet provider in the US, relies on satellites positioned 22,500 miles away in geostationary orbit to beam internet back down to Earth.
The main difference between the low-Earth orbit satellites and the bigger geostationary (GEO) satellites is that the latter are much further away in orbit and as a result can cause second-long delays in video calls and other technology.
But GEO satellites are in a fixed position, so unlike LEO satellites, they don’t move around in orbit and target their internet service in one specific area.
Hughes, with more than 1.5 million subscribers, has six satellites in orbit, which cover various parts of North and South America and Canada, including Mexico, Brazil, and Chile.
Hughes Net spokesperson Sharyn Nerenberg told Insider the company is purely focused on providing internet to the Americas.
The last satellite Hughes launched was in June 2018 and it’s aiming to send another one into orbit, named Jupiter 3, in the second half of 2022. Nerenberg said Jupiter 3 is going to be the largest commercial satellite ever launched.
Those who sign up for Hughes Net receive a kit through the post and get it installed by an outsourced company.
Costs for Hughes satellite service range from $59.99 to $149.99 per month for 25 Mbps download speeds. The kit is priced at $249.99 with a $199 installation charge, taking the total purchase price to $449.98 — $50 cheaper than SpaceX’s Starlink.
Nerenberg also said Hughes offers community WiFi hotspots via its satellite network to small rural areas in Latin America for those who can’t afford a subscription.
Telesat, headed by Dan Goldberg, already has 15 GEO satellites more than 35,000 km (22,200 miles) above Earth.
The Canadian company is also planning a LEO constellation called “Lightspeed” — the first batch of 298 satellites, built by Thales Alenia Space, are expected to be launched by early 2023. The goal is to provide full global service by 2024.
Goldberg confirmed during the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum on April 6, per Space News, that Lightspeed would cost $5 billion. This much cheaper than SpaceX’s and Amazon’s projects which exceed the $10 billion mark.
He told Reuters on Sunday that Telesat is “in the sweet spot” with pricing.
In 2019, Telesat signed a launch deal with Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to use its rockets, such as the proposed New Glenn, to blast its LEO satellites into orbit.
David Wendling, Telesat’s chief technical officer, told Reuters the company has three other launch deals in the pipeline.
Californian-based ViaSat operates five GEO satellites around 22,000 miles above the surface of the Earth.
It’s adding to this constellation at the start of 2022 by putting three “ultra-high capacity GEO satellites” into orbit, which will give global coverage by 2023, a ViaSat spokesperson told Insider.
ViaSat is also planning on putting 288 satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) by 2026.
Mark Dankberg, ViaSat’s executive chairman and co-founder, told Insider on Thursday that having both GEO and LEO satellites complement each other.
He said ViaSat are trying to create a “multiorbital constellation where you use GEO satellites and LEO satellites in a way that look seamless to users.”
Dankberg gave an example of the benefits of using different orbital satellites for videos online: The LEO satellites can offer the latency — the delay between a user’s actions and the internet’s response — and the lower cost bandwidth from GEO satellites.
In December, Viasat asked the FCC to study the potential environmental impacts of Starlink. In response, Musk tweeted: “Starlink ‘poses a hazard’ to Viasat’s profits, more like it.”
Dankberg said it’s common for companies to become “frenemies” in the space industry. Despite having a launch contract with SpaceX, ViaSat is concerned about the thousands of satellites SpaceX is putting into orbit.
Launching more satellites leads to a higher chance of collision, resulting in more space debris which could be a “doomsday scenario for space,” according to Dankberg.
Eutelsat is a European satellite operator that has 39 GEO satellites positioned at 46,000 kilometres away in orbit.
The company currently provides internet to parts of Europe, Africa, and parts of the Middle East and plans to launch another satellite called Konnect VHTS, which will cover the rest of Europe.
Michel Azibert, Eutelsat’s deputy CEO, told Insider on Friday: “Konnect VHTS will be a game-changer, enabling Eutelsat to provide powerful connectivity seamlessly to the end user at a price comparable to those of terrestrial operators.”
Prices for Eutelsat’s satellite company range between €30 and €70 per month for speeds between 30 and 100 Mbps, with an upfront fee between €49 to €149 depending on the market, Azibert said.
He said the pricing was “well below Starlink’s and very well adapted to the rural markets that we are targeting in EMEA.”
Eutelsat’s satellites “are a reliable solution to cost-effectively address areas and regions where fiber will remain too costly to deploy,” he added.
Eutelsat, founded in 1977, sends its satellites into space from Vienna. The first satellite it launched was in 1983.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell on Tuesday said the aerospace company has reduced the cost of each Starlink terminal from $3,000 to $1,500 each.
Starlink customers have to pay $499 for the kit, which includes the user terminal -also known as “dishy” – indicating that SpaceX is covering the remaining cost of $1,000 for each one it produces.
SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment but industry experts told Insider in December it’s not possible for the company to make each terminal for under $500. They said it could actually cost SpaceX nearly $2,000 on each one.
Shotwell confirmed on Tuesday during a virtual panel discussion for the Satellite 2021 LEO Digital Forum that the company had to pay $3,000 for each terminal, before reducing the price to $1,500.
“We’re not charging our customers what it costs us to build those terminals,” she said, adding that SpaceX has “made great progress on reducing the cost” of each Starlink terminal by half the original amount.
At, present Starlink costs users $600 upfront for the “Better Than Nothing Beta” test – that includes a $99 monthly subscription and $499 for the kit, which customers set up at home. It comes with a tripod, WiFi router, and terminal which connects to the Starlink satellites.
While it’s not confirmed how many terminals have been sent out to the beta test subscribers, SpaceX noted in February that Starlink had more than 10,000 users in the US and abroad.
The company also “just rolled out a new version two that saved about $200 off the cost” and is expecting the price of each terminal to reduce to “the few hundred dollar range within the next year or two,” according to Shotwell.
He added that Starlink is “a staggeringly difficult technical & economic endeavor” but if it succeeds, the cost for users would improve each year.
Starlink’s 10th mission this year blasted off on Wednesday, sending a batch of 60 satellites into orbit to expand SpaceX’s ever-growing constellation. The aerospace company has more than 1,350 satellites in orbit and plans to launch 42,000 by mid-2027.
Simply put, broadband is any high-speed internet service. Broadband is the most common kind of internet service available, and that’s been true in most populated regions of the US for a couple of decades.
If you’re reading this, there’s an extremely good chance that you’re using broadband internet.
Broadband internet, explained
Prior to the widespread availability of broadband, most internet was delivered to residential homes via dial-up service – the same technology used for telephone calls. This meant that picking up the phone would turn off your internet access, and internet speeds were pathetically slow – about 0.056 megabits per second (Mbps).
These days, nearly every home in the US uses broadband. And in contrast to dial-up, the average broadband speed in the US is about 124Mbps, according to DecisionData.org – that’s about 2,200 times faster.
While the average broadband speed is 124Mbps, actual broadband speeds vary dramatically depending upon where you live, your service provider, and your actual broadband service plan. Since 2015, the Federal Communications Commission has defined broadband as any service that delivers at least 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed, though broadband can also reach “gigabit” speeds – 1,000Mbps.
Broadband isn’t the same thing as Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is the wireless network that broadcasts internet signals around your home or office. “Broadband” describes the type and speed of those signals, which are delivered to your home and then passed through a router. The router can then send the internet to your computer and other devices via Ethernet cable or wirelessly via Wi-Fi.
The four major types of broadband internet
There are four major kinds of broadband service. Not only do they use fundamentally different technologies to get the data to your door, but they vary by speed and price. Here is a brief overview of each:
Broadband cable internet uses the same coaxial cable that brings cable TV into your home; it’s become a popular form of broadband because it lets consumers use the same company for their television and internet access.
Cable is fairly fast, usually able to reach speeds as high as 500Mbps (depending upon the service plan you choose). Cable’s bandwidth is shared among everyone in a service area, though, so you might find it slows down in the evening when everyone is at home and streaming video.
Digital subscriber line (DSL) uses phone lines to send and receive data and is championed by traditional phone service providers to leverage their infrastructure.
It’s relatively slow, especially compared to cable, generally limited to about 5Mbps to 35Mbps. But in rural areas, it’s often the most available option.
As the name suggests, fiber uses fiber optic cables to transmit data using light rather than electricity.
It’s generally the fastest residential internet you can buy, topping out at 1,000 Mbps (which is referred to as a “gigabit” service). Like cable, fiber shares bandwidth across groups of customers but carries so much data that customers should never notice a slowdown.
Fiber isn’t available in many areas but is slowly spreading to new cities.
Satellite internet isn’t common because it’s typically the most expensive service per megabit, offering the lowest overall value. It’s most often used in rural regions that are poorly serviced by DSL, cable, and fiber.
The economics of broadband satellites might be changing, though, as SpaceX deploys its Starlink constellation of broadband internet satellites. While still being deployed and operating in a limited beta capacity, Starlink costs $99 per month and is expected to eventually offer download speeds of 300Mbps.
Related Article Module: SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellites could make astronomy on Earth ‘impossible’ and create a space-junk nightmare, some scientists warn
However Starlink has also proved controversial, as its satellites are clearly visible from Earth, attracting complaints from scientists and environmentalists about light pollution and space junk.
Rayce Townsend, who is based in Montana, contacted the Starlink team twice via email. He wanted to know whether he could take the kit to Texas and install it there. Starlink told Townsend the service wasn’t yet mobile but he could reapply in Texas for the future.
Townsend said the response was “quick, friendly and thorough.” So far, he’s found Starlink “trouble-free.”
Dan Ventrudo from Northern Ontario, Canada, said he contacted customer service twice about the connection and they were also quick to respond. “My only wish is that [Starlink] was a bit cheaper,” he said.
But Jim Glassford from Michigan wasn’t impressed.
He told Insider: “One thing we were not aware of is the distance restriction for the satellite dish and the power supply. The nearest unobstructed location from the house was about 300 feet and you cannot extend the 100 foot long cable included.”
Glassford got in touch with customer support but it took a week for them to respond. After a bad experience, “we had to cancel,” he said. It’ll cost him $130 to send the kit back to Starlink.
When Gary Konkol from Wisconsin came across technical problems with the power box, Starlink customer support assisted him over several days of emailing. He said it was helpful but there were long delays between messages.
SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about long delays from its customer service team.
Tom Gooch from Montana said: “I have not needed to contact Starlink customer service. Everything has run flawlessly since I started it up.”
“Elon Musk has a reputation for doing things well and it appears that holds true with Starlink,” Gooch added.
Have you got any Starlink tips? Get in touch with this reporter via email: email@example.com