SPRING SPECIAL

SpaceX Starlink beta expands in Canada, slowly

SpaceX Starlink in Canada. Credit: SpaceQ/SpaceX.

SpaceX has expanded its Starlink Better Than Nothing Beta to more service areas in Canada and within existing service areas. This is great news for those frustrated with their existing limited and expensive options. A note of caution is warranted though.

Before signing up for the Starlink service, prospective users need to understand what they’re getting into. The Starlink service is in beta. This means users can expect downtime and less than ideal service during the beta. If you’re watching a live event, like a hockey game, you could lose the signal for a time. If you’re presenting at an online event you could lose access. We’ve read of outages as high as 30 minutes. This is expected to improve over the coming months as more satellites are launched.

Starlink also comes with a high startup cost. The Starlink internet kit costs $649 plus tax and shipping. As an example, the total to ship a kit to Southwest Ontario is $806.82. You then need to add on the monthly internet charge of $129 plus taxes.

It’s now much easier to get a Starlink kit. The Starlink website is now accepting orders if you live in an area that is already being serviced.

I received an invitation, thanks Elon, to get a system in late January. I had previously signed up for an invite. But now you don’t need to sign up for an invitation if you’re in an area already being served. You just have to enter your address and you can order the kit if the areas quota hasn’t been filled. Its first come, first served. If your areas current quota has been filled, you can still put a deposit down and you’ll be notified when you can order.

Québec, PEI, Newfoundland, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories are still out of luck

The Starlink beta service has limited availability in Canada. We’ve yet to hear of people in Québec, PEI, Newfoundland, Nunavut, Yukon and the Northwest Territories getting an invitation. For some areas, that’s to be expected as there’s little to no coverage yet. While patience is required, it seems many are losing their patience as evidenced on the various Starlink Reddit forums.

The issue of why Québec had yet to receive any invitations was raised at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology Accessibility and Affordability of Telecommunications Services meeting less than a week after the first invitations went out in mid-November last year. Testifying at the parliamentary meeting were representatives of Telesat and SpaceX.

During the Q&A, Mr. Sébastien Lemire, the Bloc Québécois member of parliament from Abitibi—Témiscamingue asked Patricia Cooper, Vice-President, Satellite Government Affairs why Québec was not part of the initial beta stating, “You said you intended to provide coverage to British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Atlantic region, but you didn’t mention Québec. Is that an intentional oversight, or does your plan not cover Quebec right now? When will residents of Abitibi—Témiscamingue and Quebec be able to benefit from your technology?”

Aside from the less than well thought out comment of “intentional oversight,” Mr. Lemire’s question is valid. Ms. Copper responded by saying “The provinces I listed are where the beta has been offered to date. The satellites will cover all of Quebec at some point. The stage at which we offer the public beta in Quebec is now determined more by whether the tests, all the supporting documentation and install kits are stable enough that we want to translate them into French.”

“Right now we are providing services that are in flux with getting the feedback from our customers to try to make sure that the service is as good as it can be, and we’re refining information that would be available to the consumer. Certainly we plan to offer services in Quebec. We expect the service to be able to technically cover all the territory. We have not started our public beta in Quebec at this point, which I would remind you, started on Friday.”

That was then. Now, nearly three months later Québec still has no invitations that we’re aware of. Of course, SpaceX only launched one more batch of 60 Starlink satellites in late 2020 (Nov. 20) and only recently launched two batches of 60 Starlink satellites (Jan. 20/Feb. 4). As well, SpaceX only launched its first 10 polar inclined satellites on January 24.

Currently, invitations in Canada have been received between these latitudes, 42.5°N to 54.7°N.

The Starlink kit as shipped in Canada now includes one piece of documentation, a regulatory notice which is written in english and french.

Canadian ground stations still to come

SpaceX has one ground station licensed in Canada, its St. John’s Developmental Gateway in Newfoundland. The station has three Gateway Antenna’s, 1, 2 and 3. Gateway Antenna 1 has an initial operational date of Nov. 12, 2020, while Gateway Antenna 2 and 3 have initial operational dates of Dec. 16, 2020. The ground station is for “demonstrations use only” at this point as stated on the underside of its dome. The image was provided by the reddit user andrew867.

St. John’s, NL Canada Starlink Gateway.
St. John’s, NL Canada Starlink Gateway. Credit: Reddit user andrew867.

While we don’t know when SpaceX will get approval for ground stations in Canada, we can speculate that by the summer we should see the first batch getting approved if SpaceX had applied in January. In theory, Global Affairs Canada should have the ground stations approved within six months of receiving the applications.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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