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Five alternatives to Starlink: What speeds do Elon Musk’s competitors offer?

You are currently viewing Five alternatives to Starlink: What speeds do Elon Musk’s competitors offer?
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And whether other satellite operators have the kremlin’s ‘ears’

Since the beginning of the full-scale war, SpaceX has sold Ukraine around 40,000 Starlink terminals. However, Elon Musk, who is attempting to maintain business relations with both the American and Chinese governments, is difficult to consider a reliable and predictable partner. In 2022, the owner of SpaceX refused to activate satellite internet in Crimea upon the request of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In response, the Pentagon approved an agreement to purchase up to 500 new Starlink terminals only in June 2023, which Musk will not be able to deactivate at his own discretion.

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So, Ukraine has long been seeking alternatives. Recently, one of them became known: the provision of about 100 terminals from the Swedish company Satcube to our country, which operate on the satellite network of the international operator Intelsat. Is this the only alternative? Theoretically – no. In the world, besides SpaceX and Intelsat, there are around ten other major companies (Iridium, Globalstar, OneWeb, SES, ORBCOMM, Eutelsat, Telesat, Inmarsat, Thuraya, etc.) that provide internet from their own satellites. Mind looked into which of them Ukrainians can use in practice and whether they have a russian ‘trace’.

What are the starting positions? Currently, SpaceX is leading among competitors in terms of the number of satellites (over 2,400 units). Moreover, all of Musk’s company’s satellites are in low Earth orbit (about 550 km above the Earth’s surface). In contrast, most colleagues in the market have satellites in geostationary orbit (36,000 km). The higher the orbit, the longer the signal delay, the slower the data transmission speed, and the higher the cost of the internet.

What is known about Musk’s ‘accessible’ competitors? Mind has monitored all operators. Currently, in Ukraine, you can find equipment and use the internet from five international players (most companies provide services through local dealers and mobile satellite communication service providers: Sattrans, Satphone, Vega, etc.):

Iridium. The company was founded in 1991. Initially, it was owned by Motorola. Later, the majority of shares were acquired by investors from Japan, Germany, and… russia. However, after declaring bankruptcy in 1999, the Pentagon bought out the company. The US Department of Defence decided to use the satellites not only for their own needs; in order to save on costs, the military continued commercial usage as well.

Currently, the Iridium system consists of 77 low Earth orbit satellites (66 active, 9 backup). By the way, the company’s name was not chosen randomly: iridium is the 77th element of the Periodic Table. The operator provides 100% coverage of the Earth’s surface.

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Intelsat. The oldest international consortium for satellite communication, founded in 1964 with the involvement of former US President John F. Kennedy. Over time, more than 140 countries around the world became members of Intelsat. In 1965, the organisation launched the world’s first commercial communication satellite, the Early Bird. In 1969, it transmitted television images of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. “We walked on the Moon with Neil Armstrong,” they don’t joke around at Intelsat.