SpaceX’s Starlink has been offering satellite internet in its beta phase for some time now. At the moment Starlink has 1,500 satellites in its constellation, and there are plans to increase this number significantly in the future. Right now, the only plan available has been one that includes a $499 one-time equipment fee (for satellite dish, tripod, and router) and a $99 per month subscription fee. This has left many wondering what other types of plans SpaceX might offer when the service becomes more widely available. But this might not actually change, it turns out.
Most internet companies, including satellite internet companies like Viasat and HughesNet, offer tiered pricing. With tiered pricing, internet providers offer different plans that fit different people’s needs and come with varied price tags that reflect the speed, data, and features that are included. Gwynne Shotwell, the president of SpaceX, says Starklink is going to stay as is: one plan, one price.
At the Satellite 2021: LEO Digital Forum, Shotwell remarked, "I don't think we're going to do tiered pricing to consumers. We're going to try to keep it as simple as possible and transparent as possible, so right now there are no plans to tier for consumers." This is certainly a marked departure from the norm, but will it be a strategy that works?
Shotwell made it clear that SpaceX is thinking on its own. They are not trying to do the same thing as other internet providers; they’re not even trying to replace them. Rather they want to be, in Shotwell’s words, "very complimentary to the services that they provide."
The larger internet providers have a strong grasp on the urban internet market. Setting up infrastructure in these highly populated areas is very profitable for them. But they have less of a presence in rural areas. This is where Starlink is setting it’s gaze. "The Starlink system is best suited to highly distributed rural or semi-rural populations," said Shotwell. However, cities are not being excluded from Starlink’s service.
There is still some work to do before Starlink is more widely available and out of its beta phase. Shotwell said that SpaceX doesn’t have a specific timeline for this progression, but that there is still "a lot of work to do to make the network reliable."
But even without the full force of its service ready yet, Starlink still has over 10,000 users taking part in its beta phase. These users come from six different countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.
The reason SpaceX has initially offered most of its service to customers in the US is primarily logistical. Shotwell said it’s easier to start in the US “"because [customers] speak English and they're close and, if they have a problem with their dish, we can get one shipped out quickly."
Reviews about Starlink customer service have been mixed so far. Some have praised the service for its friendliness and helpfulness, while others have complained that they didn’t get the help they needed, leading some to even cancel the service.
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