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Old 18-09-2020, 18:56   #61
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

Rumor has it that the user terminal uses a phased-array antenna that tracks electronically rather than with moving parts. No news yet on how quickly (can it account for the motion of a small boat? Or only a large ship?). Perhaps a simple gimbal to keep it pointed up? Elon himself has said the goal for the user terminal instruction manual is “plug in and point at sky (in either order)”. The biggest fear is that user terminal problems can kill the service more quickly than anything else.

Only time will tell what it will take to work on a boat. Starlink has licenses for 1 million fixed location user terminals and so far for only 10 mobile ones, so clearly their first focus is on the simpler fixed location solution.
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Old 18-09-2020, 19:34   #62
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

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Rumor has it that the user terminal uses a phased-array antenna that tracks electronically rather than with moving parts. No news yet on how quickly (can it account for the motion of a small boat? Or only a large ship?). Perhaps a simple gimbal to keep it pointed up? Elon himself has said the goal for the user terminal instruction manual is “plug in and point at sky (in either order)”. The biggest fear is that user terminal problems can kill the service more quickly than anything else.

Only time will tell what it will take to work on a boat. Starlink has licenses for 1 million fixed location user terminals and so far for only 10 mobile ones, so clearly their first focus is on the simpler fixed location solution.
It's not rumor. The user terminal (UT) antennas are phased arrays with electronically steerable beams. These can actually change the direction of their beam(s) incredibly quickly, but they're being restricted by the military to about 5ms. Still, they can easily track a satellite from a bobbing sailboat, if they have sufficient instrumentation in the UT to know how the boat is moving. That instrumentation is not currently in the UTs, but they're still early generation units.

The satellites themselves also use phased array antennas, each capable of supporting multiple electronically steered beams. Apparently, each end using a beam is the only way to get the sort of speeds they want (which are, admittedly, very impressive!)

Unfortunately, once again, cruising boats are small potatoes. There's currently no way to tell a satellite "I'm at this location & I need service." StarLink has divided the world up into "cells" & when you subscribe to the service, you'll have a satellite beam on your cell 24x7. But you can't currently move out of your cell.

UT's, of course, will also need to know where the birds are, & which bird is currently servicing them, so they know where to aim their beams. Apparently, this info will be downloaded to the UTs at intervals.

I'm sure ships & aircraft are high-priority candidates for this service, so presumably they'll eventually work out how to track a UT. They've already kept a beam on a plane in testing. But it may mean that the UT has to be constantly left on, & current UTs draw about 150W, or 300Ah/day at 12v. No doubt current consumption will come down with future UTs, but StarLink seems to NOT be designing a mobile satellite phone, but instead, a fixed (but remote) data terminal.
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Old 19-09-2020, 00:55   #63
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

They have an application into the FCC to install user terminals on 10 ships/boats for testing so they are already on it. Some of these ships could be moving at 20+ knots so not a bad test of moving from sat to sat. Also remember the sats themselves are moving fast and you switch from one to the other as the next one comes above the horizon.

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...
I'm sure ships & aircraft are high-priority candidates for this service, so presumably they'll eventually work out how to track a UT. They've already kept a beam on a plane in testing. But it may mean that the UT has to be constantly left on, & current UTs draw about 150W, or 300Ah/day at 12v. No doubt current consumption will come down with future UTs, but StarLink seems to NOT be designing a mobile satellite phone, but instead, a fixed (but remote) data terminal.
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Old 19-09-2020, 06:51   #64
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

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Unfortunately, once again, cruising boats are small potatoes.

...but StarLink seems to NOT be designing a mobile satellite phone, but instead, a fixed (but remote) data terminal.
That's disappointing. Of course, it's still early in the process. I would think replacing existing sat phones would be a pretty important goal, at least long-term. Boaters aren't the only ones who use them, and obviously the market would expand a lot if the cost came down.
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Old 19-09-2020, 07:35   #65
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

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That's disappointing. Of course, it's still early in the process. I would think replacing existing sat phones would be a pretty important goal, at least long-term. Boaters aren't the only ones who use them, and obviously the market would expand a lot if the cost came down.
Tom, I agree. The US govt obviously had so much invested in sat-phones that they picked up the pieces of Iridium & gave it to Boeing. So I would have thought someone would want to provide a better Iridium.

But apparently StarLink is going after data users rather than phones. And to be honest, we're more interested in data than voice ourselves, & when we use voice to call home, we're using a VOIP scheme like Skype or WhatsApp. So data makes a lot of sense.

But it's going to take some time to wrap my head around their very different paradigm. Hard to believe that they won't be providing a low-bandwidth way to call for service, but I don't understand everything about the system. Hopefully their system provides more pros than cons.
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Old 19-09-2020, 08:34   #66
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

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But apparently StarLink is going after data users rather than phones.
Good point. I agree that mobile data is probably a better way to describe the market than to say "phone." Voice is almost an afterthought at this point.

Still, as we all become more dependent on ubiquitous networking, I'd think there would be more demand for access everywhere, not just near cell towers and WiFi hot spots.

It seems sort of pointless to develop something intended primarily for heavily populated areas, which already have lots of options for connectivity. Even ships and airplanes seem like a very limited market in comparison to all the mobile devices we carry everywhere.
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Old 19-09-2020, 18:19   #67
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

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...It seems sort of pointless to develop something intended primarily for heavily populated areas, which already have lots of options for connectivity. Even ships and airplanes seem like a very limited market in comparison to all the mobile devices we carry everywhere.
It's usually financially more lucrative to build a service where minimal infrastructure will get you more clients (cell). And StarLink has apparently been told that they have to cover Alaska, which effectively means the whole world, so later launches will have to be in very high inclination (almost polar) orbits. But those are only planned for after the base system has proven itself.

The numbers I've heard (which I don't trust, but they're all I have) is that StarLink is planning to put a few billion dollars into their system, but they think they'll be getting $30B/year in revenue, which SpaceX says they'll need to finance their Mars program. Which is probably one reason SpaceX doesn't want to spin StarLink off just yet.

Yes, it's a shame that they're not going after the (very portable) small hand-phone market. I like high-bandwidth connections as much as the next guy, but I don't really need a 1Gb (100MB) connection, & I certainly don't need it continuously. Well, not now, anyway.

But a non-directional system would mean I'd be broadcasting & many (hundreds?) of satellites would hear me, so everyone would have to be on a different frequency, which means severely limited bandwidth unless they go up into the millimeter bands above 40GHz (which future birds will be using). Going with a beam system certainly has it's own restrictions, as the birds have only a limited number of beams. It's an interesting design decision, with its own set of pros & cons.

One of those is that it will be difficult for StarLink to service high-population areas! The US, in their infinite wisdom, has said they don't want more than one beam on a cell at a time, lest the beams fry our brains. IMHO, this is redonculous. We hold cellphones right up to our ears. The radiation density from that has to be several orders of magnitude higher than a beam from space.

So everyone in a given cell will have to be served by only a single beam, & sharing that beam's bandwidth. Not sure if StarLink will simply limit the number of subscribers in a given cell (to maintain performance) or if they'll let performance degrade in high-population area.

Of course, as you say, those folks will usually have several different (& probably cheaper) options, so StarLink could just price their service to be uncompetitive with terrestrial service to high-density areas.
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Old 20-09-2020, 08:04   #68
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

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It seems sort of pointless to develop something intended primarily for heavily populated areas, which already have lots of options for connectivity. Even ships and airplanes seem like a very limited market in comparison to all the mobile devices we carry everywhere.
Except no one ever said it was intended primarily for heavily populated areas. Not only has the company and Elon repeatedly said they are targeting the rural, underserved market but they're on record saying they specifically do not want to target urban markets or even have too many urban users because the entire architecture of their system isn't designed for a large number of users in a small area.
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Old 20-09-2020, 08:43   #69
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Re: Starlink and the future of communication at sea

Yes. SpaceX are specifically going after the "not so well server" rural areas. Cities and towns are already well taken care of so their focus on other markets might be good for us cruisers.

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Except no one ever said it was intended primarily for heavily populated areas. Not only has the company and Elon repeatedly said they are targeting the rural, underserved market but they're on record saying they specifically do not want to target urban markets or even have too many urban users because the entire architecture of their system isn't designed for a large number of users in a small area.
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