Later last year, ZME Science revealed that one of Elon Musk’s top priorities in the future is deploying a massive fleet of micro-satellites into Earth’s low orbit to provide internet and mobile data. The plan is to serve internet to billions in the developing world, but to do so the service needs to be very, very cheap. At the same time, while launching thousands of satellites into space doesn’t sound particularly cheap, but if there’s any company good at launching cargo into space affordably that’s SpaceX. This isn’t exactly a pipe dream, and Musk seems very serious about it considering he just filled an official request to the FCC to gain permission for a test of the satellite internet, according to the Washington Post.
If you live in a well connected city, you won’t need satellite internet. After all, right now it’s at least 10 times slower than fiber optic since there are quite a few lengthy connections that need to be made. When you’re on satellite internet and want to access a website, the request first goes out of the computer to the modem, out to the dish which transmits the data to the satellite. The signal is then bounced back from about 22,000 miles up (where the geosynchronous satellites orbit) to ground-based stations called gateways. The gateways have large antennas which they use to pick up the signal from the consumer’s home, what website they want to go to, and using the terrestrial system connect with the Internet, grab the data, take it back to the gateway, shoot it back up to the sky and back down to the consumer’s home. Sounds very complicated (it’s a lot more in practice), but the whole process still only lasts 500ms or half a second. This is still quite a lot if you play video games or need lag-free voice data, but still better than nothing if you live in the middle of nowhere or there’s no fiber optic infrastructure, like in most developing countries.