Elon Musk claimed on Tuesday that SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet network “just” passed 70,000 active users and that the company expects rapid growth in the coming year.
“Within 12 months, we will have a few hundred thousand customers, probably over 500,000,” Musk stated while speaking virtually at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain.
Starlink is the company’s high-cost initiative to establish a linked internet network using thousands of satellites, known as a constellation in the space industry, that will bring high-speed internet to users everywhere on the earth.
SpaceX first offered the service as a $99-per-month beta program to a restricted group of customers, and has since sought regulatory authority to test the network in flight and expand it to huge moving vehicles such as ships and trucks.
With over 1,500 Starlink satellites sent into orbit so far, it is now the world’s largest satellite network.
Last month, SpaceX said that Starlink had received over 500,000 orders and deposits, albeit some of those may not have materialized into users.
Starlink’s user base has expanded from around 10,000 members in February to “the strategically significant level of 69,420 active users” this month, according to Musk.
Musk stressed that the low altitude of SpaceX’s satellites reduces delay in its service when compared to regular satellite systems. Latency is the length of time it takes for a signal to travel back and forth from a destination through an internet network. Latency and download speeds are important indicators of an internet service provider’s performance.
“The latency for the Starlink system is comparable to ground-based fiber and 5G latency, so we estimate latency to be under 20 milliseconds,” Musk added.
According to Musk, the firm is “losing money” on the satellite antennas it sells to consumers because the hardware costs around $1,300 each and SpaceX charges $499.
“We’re working on a next-generation terminal that gives roughly the same level of capabilities at a lower cost,” Musk further added.
As previously indicated by SpaceX leadership, Musk estimates that Starlink will cost between $5 billion and $10 billion to fully operationalize, with a long-term investment of $20 billion to $30 billion.
Starlink is currently active in around 12 nations, with more being added every month, according to Musk.
“I’d like to be able to announce two fairly important agreements with major countries [telecommunications firms] right now, but obviously we defer to our partners to make any announcements,” Musk said. “We’re also in talks with a few other [telecommunications firms] about providing Starlink access.”
SpaceX is also coming closer to launching next-generation Starlink satellites, according to Musk.