In October, we ran an article speculating that Elon Musk was planning on building a new Internet Service Provider (ISP). While there’s still no official news that the speculation is true, all signs point to that being the case. New details are providing a better picture of the technology likely to be used, and of course it’s in keeping with Musk’s penchant for cutting-edge technologies. From the look of things, Musk’s new venture will almost certainly be bringing you high-speed Internet access from space.
They Have the Technology
If there’s anyone who can rebuild the Internet, making it better, stronger, and faster than it was before, it’s someone like Musk. In addition to Tesla, he’s founder and CEO of SpaceX, a manufacturer of rockets and spacecraft, with “the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” It’s the first private company to send a payload into space, deliver it to the International Space Station (ISS), and return the supply vehicle to Earth. It’s now a regular supplier of the ISS, and it will soon be capable of carrying astronauts to orbit.
SpaceX has proven its ability to deliver cargo into space. To build an ISP, Musk needed a partner in the satellite business, which he’s found in WorldVu Satellites. A tweet from Musk confirms the scope of the project. Together, they plan to launch a fleet of up to 700 commercial satellites, a number that would be ten times the size of the largest current commercial fleet. Of course, it’s possible these satellites will have a purpose other than Internet delivery, but that seems to be everyone’s guess.
It’s Been Done Before, But
Internet by satellite is not itself a new idea. HughesNet offers satellite Internet service, but their fastest plans currently reach only 15 Mbps. That’s not bad, but it’s hard to imagine SpaceX and WorldVu would invest in such an expensive project if that’s all their technology can do. So far, Tesla and SpaceX have been more revolutionary than evolutionary, so it’s a safe bet Musk will demand his company do significantly better than existing technologies.
Obviously, speed won’t be the only thing he’s after. One potential advantage to Internet by satellite is it can be beamed pretty much anywhere. Ironically, delivering data a thousand miles from space could be easier than the last mile, which has been one problem rural high-speed connections have always had to contend with. Whether these satellites will be the answer rural Internet subscribers have been waiting for could depend on whether the last mile of a customer’s connection would come via a satellite receiver, cable, or other technology. Even so, we doubt it’s a detail Musk will overlook in his planning.
Expect it to Be Cool, Too
Musk already showed he’s as much a fan of style as function. Whether you’re looking at a Tesla Roadster or just the SpaceX website, it’s easy to see just how much value he places in design. It won’t surprise us at all if his system’s hardware and interface rivals Apple for elegance and functionality.
More News Next Year
Musk says an official announcement on the SpaceX/WorldVu venture is 2-3 months away, meaning we should know more in early 2015. And even when that announcement comes, building and launching this many satellites will take years. If you can’t wait that long to improve your enjoyment of the web, see high-speed plans available in your area right now by entering your zip code below.
Image from Chris Devers/Flickr