If you live in area in Canada that lacks high-speed Internet, the news that the SpaceX Starlink internet service might be coming to you soon will be welcome news.
However, customers will have to wait, how much longer is uncertain, but it seems unlikely the Starlink service will be available this year.
On May 20, 2020 a comment section was opened on the CRTC website for the Basic International Telecommunications Services (BITS) Licences applied for by SpaceX for its Starlink service.
The BITS licenses would cover a variety of services SpaceX might want to provide through its service such as voice applications etc. The BITS license isn’t the critical license SpaceX needs to offer services in Canada.
The SpaceX BITS application process has prompted over 1800 people to comment on the SpaceX application. That’s an unusually high response, and points to the interest in the service and in particular because it has the SpaceX brand associated with it. It’s that interest, and the SpaceX brand that prompted the Globe and Mail’s original story and the follow-on CBC story. Both stories however failed to mention the critical license SpaceX needs before it can offer its service in Canada.
Before SpaceX can offer service in Canada, it must first receive its satellite spectrum licence, a story we had previously reported in February.
The website that lists applications for satellite licences was last updated on May 13, 2020. SpaceQ contacted ISED (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) by email and a representative told us the website is current, including the “list of foreign-licensed satellites approved to provide fixed-satellite services.” SpaceX is not listed on the applications page, nor the approved page.
What readers and potential customers need to keep in mind is offering NGSO (Non-geostationary satellites) satellite is new. The process to get a licensing framework in place began in 2017 with the ISED Consultation on the Licensing Framework for Non-Geostationary Satellite Orbit (NGSO) Systems. That process included input from SpaceX.
That input included public confirmation for the first time that they wanted to offer services in Canada. In their letter to ISED, SpaceX stated, “under its current business plan, SpaceX intends to operate as a foreign licensed satellite system in Canada. As such, we have considered the items raised in this Consultation from this perspective.” The letter then gets into the technical detail raised by the consultation. The point however, is that SpaceX has been planning on providing Internet service in Canada for several years.
Of note, SpaceX isn’t alone in its ambition to provide NGSO satellite internet from Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to Canadians. OneWeb and Telesat both intend to offer services, and unlike SpaceX, both have received their satellite spectrum licenses.
OneWeb filed Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy court in late March but is expected to emerge at some this year and resume operations. What those operations will look like is to be determined. OneWeb had hoped to start service late this year. They currently have 74 satellites on-orbit.
Telesat which has strong Canadian government support is expected to decide this summer who will build its constellation. They currently have one demonstration satellite on-orbit. They are still hoping to offer service starting in 2022.
The power of the SpaceX brand
As the SpaceX CRTC BITS license application and subsequent mainstream articles on the company demonstrate, is that the SpaceX brand is strong. It’s something OneWeb and Telesat need to consider with their marketing messages going forward.
An example of how SpaceX is using its brand to prepare for future Starlink customers is the Starlink mailing list sign-up on its website.
Prospective customers can “get updates on Starlink news and service availability in your area.” It’s a cheap and smart marketing technique.
After you sign up SpaceX sends you a confirmation email, shown below, which includes the note that the potential customer could become a public beta tester. I’m sure many who sign-up will jump at that chance.
Providing high-speed Internet service by LEO satellite constellation operators is coming. Even before the pandemic, many believed that this offering would change where people decide to live and work from. The pandemic may have just encouraged more people, and some businesses, to migrate out of larger cities.