The Internet is a part of everyday life now.   It’s only when you lose access, that you realise just how dependent we are on it!

What was decent a few years ago is now considered slow.  We now want to stream high definition movies, have video calls with distant relatives, and download high resolution photos faster than ever.

The problem is, current technologies have reached their limits. Phone lines can only transmit so much data.   Instead, high speed glass fibre is being rolled out, but its high cost of deployment means it is only appearing in high population areas.   Eventually it might reach rural areas, but there might be other technologies that beat it.

I’m thinking about two technologies specifically – 5G and StarLink.

Let’s start with 5G.   You’ve probably heard of 3G and 4G (LTE) cell phone technology?  Well you guessed it – 5G is the next iteration!

The new 5G standard relies on a mix of frequencies designed to cater for different markets.   High frequency networks would be used in cities, as the distance the signal travels is only short.   It works here because cities tend to have a lot of transmitters, so can cover a small densely populated area.   In this configuration, 5G networks are expected to reach gigabit speeds and compete with Fibre, with the advantage you’re not tied to the end of a cable.

As you move to more rural areas, the frequency has to decrease to reach a greater distance.  This results in a lower speed connection, but still in the 100s of megabits.   This is in contrast to current wireless speeds of 10s megabits.   Now you might be thinking that 4G LTE connections are similar speeds, but these new 5G networks are being designed to replace home internet connections.   The wireless providers see a new market where they can now compete with the likes of Bell for home internet connections.  This new competition can only be good and should help drive down prices and increase speeds.


Next is StarLink – and this really is like something from science fiction!

Heard of Elon Musk?   He’s the guy behind Tesla, SpaceX, Boring Company and a long time ago PayPal.   Well one of his latest projects is to bring Internet to the world.   And by this he means the whole world – Internet access wherever you are – even if you’re in the middle of the desert.

Starlink is a project of SpaceX.  Its intention is to put a network of 12 thousand satellites into space to blanket the Earth in Internet.   And he’s just had Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approval to launch the first 7000!

It’s expected to take 6 years to launch all of the satellites needed for full coverage.   They already launched the first test satellites in February, however they’re now full steam ahead to launch the rest.

Now I’ve talked about different Internet technologies before, and you might remember I’ve mentioned latency as a problem with satellite-based Internet.  This is the round-trip time it takes to send a message into space and get a reply.  The difference with this system is that the satellites are launched into low Earth orbit.   Because there are so many of them, and they’re closer to the planet, the latency is comparable with existing technologies.

SpaceX haven’t discussed pricing, speed, or much at all at this point so we’re a little in the dark as to how it’s going to work.   But given Elon’s track record of disrupting markets, I’m really excited to see what a change this brings to the world.

It could also bring an end to state censorship.   For example, the Internet in China is highly restricted.  The Government dictates which websites citizens can and can’t reach.   The whole country is separated from the rest of the Internet by “The Great Firewall of China”!

With StarLink covering the whole world, this could mean Chinese citizens will finally get access to the same Internet as the rest of the world.  This has such an opportunity to disrupt and improve the way the Internet is viewed globally.

At the same time, we have to be careful that this doesn’t become a second Internet, wholly controlled by a single corporation.

Until next time, look up at the night sky and watch out for one of those 12 thousand satellites bringing you the next Netflix movie!