Today, information is the most valuable thing in the world. Of course, after a person’s life. Distortion of information or its limitation can lead to serious negative consequences. Immediately after the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russia on the territory of Ukraine, the enemy first of all began to destroy the infrastructure of providers and mobile operators. All in order to deprive us of the opportunity to be in touch and have access to information. It put many people’s lives at risk. After all, first of all, without communication, people cannot learn about the threat, the possibilities, and ways of salvation. And secondly, when people are deprived of access to open information, their opinions are easier to manipulate, and they are more easily influenced by propaganda.
On February 26, Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov addressed Elon Musk on Twitter with a request to provide our country with Starlink client equipment. The American entrepreneur was quick to respond and within a few days the first batch of Starlink terminals arrived in Ukraine.
What is Starlink?
A bit of theory. Starlink is a development of the company SpaceX, which was founded by Elon Musk. This is a huge system of satellites that revolve around our planet. With their help, every earthling can access the Internet at high speed, of course, if they have the appropriate equipment and paid the tariff.
Work on the Starlink project began back in 2015. And three years later, the company was able to launch several prototypes into orbit. And in May 2019, SpaceX already sent the first 60 working satellites there.
Currently, there are about 2,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, which is more than 520 tons of electronics. They are located approximately 550 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. This is one of the advantages of Starlink, because it helps to solve two problems at once. First, significantly reduce signal delay time, which makes space mobile Internet quite real. Second, being in a low orbit allows you to avoid collisions with other spacecraft in the event of satellite failure.
Let’s say that each satellite is a work of engineering art, it is equipped with a plasma rocket engine that works using krypton. Thanks to the engine, the satellite can adjust its orbit, bypass space debris, and leave orbit when it’s time to retire, honorably burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
However, Starlink believes that 2 thousand is not enough. And the company plans to create a mega-constellation of 42,000 satellites. This will allow even camels in deserts and penguins on icebergs to have access to the Internet. To appreciate the scale, imagine: in May 2022, there were a total of slightly more than 13,000 satellites in space that were launched throughout history! And only every second of them still works. And here there are 42 thousand, which is 7 times more!
The appearance of so many satellites in orbit worries some scientists a little. After all, Starlink satellites are currently the brightest objects in the sky, which can interfere with observations. But SpaceX promised to solve this problem.
By the way, satellites can be seen in the night sky with the naked eye. The main thing for this is to know the exact time of their passage over your city. Many applications, which are already full in the Apple and Google markets, can help with this. Try it – it’s interesting and romantic.
Starlink working principle
The Starlink system works as follows. The gateway ground station sends the signal to the satellite, which relays it to the user terminal or vice versa. The terminal can look like a traditional dish antenna, or it can have a more futuristic rectangular design. The device is connected to a Wi-Fi router, which provides you with the Internet.
Currently, Starlink operates in 32 countries around the world where there are gateway ground stations. And the more such stations are built, the sooner the company’s satellite Internet will cover the entire Earth. In the case of Ukraine, the launch of Starlink on the territory of our country became possible due to the presence of a gateway station in Poland. Because of this, by the way, the quality of the Internet from Starlink in the east of Ukraine is worse than in the west. However, after the victory, the Ministry of Digital Transformation plans to build a Starlink ground station here to improve the quality of the satellite connection for Ukrainians.
Setting up Starlink is very easy, based on the plug-n-play principle. It is necessary to install the terminal and connect it to power and a Wi-Fi router (which is included). Then connect from your smartphone to the newly created Wi-Fi network, launch the proprietary application and wait for about 15 minutes. During this time, Starlink will analyze the location of the terminal, adjust its position, connect to the satellite and complete the setup. Everything happens automatically, there are no buttons or controls on the equipment at all.
Starlink internet speed is highly dependent on where you place your antenna. The company recommends installing it in an area with clear skies. For this, for example, the roof of the house is well suited. In general, this is a convenient solution for those who live in remote settlements, go on an expedition, or travel, as well as for military personnel who need communication in different locations. By the way, Starlink recently received an update that allows you to connect it to the car cigarette lighter. In addition, the update allows you to use the equipment even while driving.
In practice, the Internet speed from Starlink in Ukraine is on average 130-150 Mbit/s, but 200 Mbit/s was recorded for download. The upload speed is about 20-30 Mbit/s. These figures are significantly higher than competitors such as Viasat and HughesNet. In addition, the delay time is about 20-70 milliseconds, which is ten times less compared to other satellite Internet services. In general, SpaceX aims to achieve a data transfer speed of up to 1 Gbps for each user.
How did Starlink start working in Ukraine?
Few people know, but negotiations on the launch of Starlink in Ukraine were conducted a month and a half before the invasion of Russian troops. The president of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell, said that the company had been working for about six weeks to obtain permission for Starlink to operate in Ukraine. And on February 26, after a tweet from Mykhailo Fedorov, SpaceX de facto received it.
More than 3,000 terminals were directly transferred to Ukraine by SpaceX. The USAID organization also helped a lot with the Starlink kits, which received donations from the private sector, in particular from the representatives of the USA, France, and Poland. In general, about 10,000 such terminals are currently operating in Ukraine.
Where does Starlink already work?
The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine distributed Starlink terminals among the military, the National Defense, hospitals, volunteers, critical infrastructure bodies, as well as individual businesses.
Using Starlink, Vodafone managed to restore communication in many populated areas points that suffered from the occupiers. In particular, in April, the company launched a base station near the settlements of Irpin and Romanivka. The Starlink equipment set is used as a transport network at this station.
Such a precedent is the first in the history of Ukraine and one of the first in the world. Previously, the Japanese operator KDDI managed to launch a similar solution. However, in such extreme conditions, this is definitely the first case. Later, Starlink helped restore communication in other settlements of the Kyiv region, such as Plakhtianka, Borodianka, Musiyki, Zelena Poliana, and Krasiatichi. Such a scheme is often used even now as a temporary solution.
In addition, Starlink terminals are actively used by our military. For example, they created a wide distributed artillery network, which allows you to hit the target as quickly and accurately as possible, while remaining unnoticed by the enemy. Starlink, meanwhile, repels all enemy hacking attacks and jamming attempts, thus creating an advantage for our defenders.
What does the future hold for Starlink?
Approximately 150,000 people already use satellite Internet from Starlink in Ukraine every day. There are settlements where kilometers of internet cables have been damaged by shelling, so ISPs are using Starlink to restore online access. It is obvious that Ukraine will feel the need for Starlink for some time, given the benefits this platform already brings to our country. And even in times of peace, this technology will definitely find application.
That Starlink will be even more successful is confirmed by the frenzied hype it has in other countries. Currently, the queue to receive a terminal can be six months, or even more. And this is provided that the equipment costs almost $600, and the monthly subscription fee is about $110. In the coming years, SpaceX plans to increase the number of ground stations, as well as launch an insane number of satellites. This will make it possible to cover almost the entire Earth with high-speed satellite Internet.
The launch of Starlink in Ukraine has become one of the most significant events in recent months. This is the very moment when technology comes to the rescue in a very timely manner and immediately begins to bring benefits. Starlink helps reconnect, organize workplaces, share critical information with the world, and ultimately save lives. At the same time, SpaceX is currently conducting a forced but very powerful test of the endurance of its equipment in the most extreme conditions imaginable, which should make it even more perfect.
The most common questions related to Starlink.
- First, what worries many – is it possible to connect to Starlink? – Yes, you can. The State Service of Special Communications of Ukraine reported that civilians and businesses can use Starlink terminals. I would like to note that the company Starlink Ukraine, which is the official representative office of SpaceX, is already registered in Ukraine. And at the beginning of June, it received an operator’s license;
- Can Starlink be hacked? – You can physically damage Starlink, of course. At the same time, experts believe that satellite communication is practically impossible to hack, disable, block or intercept;
- How does the government use Starlink? – The state distributes Starlink terminals between areas that work in conditions where there is no communication or there are additional needs for it. The military, doctors, volunteers, critical infrastructure bodies, and large IT companies received the equipment;
- Can Russian forces intercept a Starlink signal? – Specialists claim that there are no such technologies that would allow the enemy to intercept the channel and capture information.
Starlink, like any product, has its pros and cons. A lot has been said about the advantages of the service, so now a few words about its disadvantages. As mentioned earlier, Starlink has a sufficiently high Internet speed, but everything is not so good with ping. It is about 20-70 milliseconds, which is much less than that of competitors, although it is ten times more than that of cable Internet operators. So it is unlikely that you will be able to comfortably play online games.
As with any satellite Internet service, the stability of Starlink’s operation depends on weather conditions. And while users note a fairly strong Starlink signal even during heavy rain, the weather always has its influence.
Another nuance to pay attention to is the slower operation of Starlink in large cities. The more users around, the slower the Internet speed will be. In addition, there may be problems with finding a location – cities have a lot of infrastructure and tall buildings that can get in the way.
And of course, to use Starlink, you will definitely need expensive equipment. And even, given the update that allows you to use Starlink while driving, you can call such a solution portable only conditionally.