How does Starlink, which monopolizes low-orbit satellites, make money?

Starlink

Company Profile

The parent company of Starlink is SpaceX. In January 2015, with the opening of SpaceX’s satellite development facility in Redmond, Washington, the Starlink project was made public for the first time.

SpaceX confirmed this connection when it applied to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a Starlink license in 2016. SpaceX has registered the Starlink trademark in the United States for its satellite broadband network.

SpaceX began launching Starlink satellites in 2019.

My book and blog about Starlink

Blog related content

Please see my previous post: “Low-orbit satellites (LOS) progress, relevant companies“.

Related content in my book

In my recent book “The Rules of 10 Baggers“, I discussed the two companies Starlink and SpaceX. In order to avoid duplication of content, the content mentioned in the book will not be repeated here:

  • Sections 5-8, pages 252-268

The secret to Starlink’s success

Using low-Earth orbit satellites

Why is only Starlink successful?

Use low-earth orbit satellites

Because it abandoned geosynchronous orbit and adopted low-earth orbit satellites from the beginning──this was a very critical decision.

High-orbit satellites are too heavy and expensive

Until the early 2010s, almost all communications satellites were in geosynchronous orbit 36,000 kilometers above the ground. Due to technical limitations, the satellites will be bulkier to support flights in higher orbits. With such a large load, the number of satellites that make up the constellation and the number of rocket launches must be saved. Therefore, it is best to place it in a geosynchronous orbit. The signal of one satellite can cover a fixed area of ​​​​small half of the earth. Otherwise, The cost of satellite construction, launch, and operation will be so high that government agencies will not be willing to foot the bill.

The cost of one high-orbit satellite in geosynchronous orbit can produce more than 2,000 Starlink satellites. The same Space X Falcon Heavy rocket launch can put three or four high-orbit satellites or 45-60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The pros and cons of efficiency are very clear. ​

High-orbit satellite signals are weak and slow

The satellite is located in this kind of orbit. Although the coverage area is sufficient, the signal strength and hysteresis will be so low that it is impossible to access the Internet. There is even a limit on the number of people who can make calls at the same time in the area. A single satellite of the Iridium generation can support 1,100 simultaneous calls, and the average data transmission speed is 2.4KB per second. ​

Of course, current technological progress is far from comparable to the first-generation Iridium satellites thirty or forty years ago. Viasat (ticker: VSAT)’s current geosynchronous orbit satellite network data transmission speed is around 20M per second, and the delay time is within 62-594 milliseconds. ​

However, in terms of similar indicators, Starlink’s data transmission speed is about 67M-97M per second, which is three to four times higher than ViaSat; the delay time is about 20-45 milliseconds, which is two to thirty times faster than ViaSat.

Lightweight satellite is flexible

The signal advantage of lightweight satellites is not only close to the ground, but also the flexibility of signal adjustment. A single lightweight satellite is more convenient to maneuver within the orbit. The satellite constellation can adjust the position of the satellite in areas with complex terrain, so that the incident angle of the signal on the ground can adapt to the changes of the user. This is difficult to achieve with ground-stationary satellites.

Why Starlink monopoly?

Technology

Musk has also not forgotten to let Starlink work hard on technology. In the past year alone, the Starlink v2.0 satellite has been successfully upgraded. It is five times heavier than Starlink 1.0. Not only can it carry more transmitters, but also The communication capability is 10 times higher than that of 1.0; at the same time, the coverage area of ​​the third-generation Starlink terminal router has been expanded from 186 square meters to 297 square meters, and it has dustproof function and the ability to transmit data in windy weather.

Stay far ahead of all competitors

Musk said in September 2023 that the number of Starlink satellites in orbit is expected to be twice that of all other satellites in 2024. In fact, in 2023, China completed a total of 67 rocket launches, while the United States completed a total of 116 rocket launches. The quality of payloads launched by SpaceX accounts for 90% of the world’s

Transmission capability

On average, the Starlink network latency is less than 20 milliseconds, and the download speed can usually reach about 100MB per second. The military, telecommunications and aviation companies are all rushing to order Starlink networks. Individual subscribers need to pay about $600 to obtain a terminal, plus a monthly service fee of $75. Enterprise or government subscription fees are higher.

Further research indicates that stationary users are told to expect typical transfer speeds of 50 Mbps to 150 Mbps and latencies of 20 milliseconds to 40 milliseconds. One study found that the average download speed for users in 2022 will be 87 Mbit/s. A higher-performance version of the service (Starlink Business) advertises speeds of 150 to 500 Mbit/s, but requires a more expensive $2,500 user terminal and a $500 monthly service fee. Another service called Starlink Maritime, launching in July 2022, provides high-seas Internet access at 350 Mbit/s and requires the purchase of a maritime-grade user terminal worth $10,000 and a monthly service fee of $5,000.

Starlink has introduced a 1TB monthly data cap for all non-commercial users, starting in 2023.

Starlink is the only satellite network company on the market whose service speed is expected to catch up with physical fiber optic networks.

Number of subscribers

Starlink stated that as of the end of 2023, there were more than 2.3 million service users, an increase of 1.3 million compared with the same period last year. According to Starlink estimates, there will be more than 40 million satellite network service users by 2025.

Subscription fees

In the United States, Starlink charges a one-time hardware fee of US$599 for user terminals at launch, and a monthly fixed service address network service fee of US$120. For an additional $25 per month, user terminals are allowed to move outside of a fixed location (Starlink for RV), but service speeds are prioritized lower than fixed users in that area.

Regions covered

America

According to the latest report from network infrastructure company Cloudflare, US traffic from Starlink will increase by more than 150% in 2023 compared with 2022. In addition, in less than a year after entering Brazil, Starlink’s local traffic increased by more than 1,600% in 2023.

In 2022, more than 80% of Starlink’s customers will come from North America, with another 18% of users located in Oceania and Europe, and only 2% of users in other regions.

Europe

Starlink has obtained licenses to provide satellite broadband network services from the British, German and Portuguese governments as early as three years ago. In 2023, Starlink’s traffic in Europe will also increase by more than 60% compared with the same period last year.

Asia

In 2022, it will first enter Japan. Currently, more than 60% of Japan’s territory has been included in Starlink’s service scope. In 2023, Starlink will begin to provide services to the Philippines, Myanmar, Mongolia, Malaysia, and Kazakhstan.

Africa

At the beginning of 2023, it was the first to obtain a license in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and then five countries including Rwanda, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya, Malawi and Benin also joined. In terms of quantity, Africa has become the second largest region in Starlink’s global layout after the Americas. In 2024, Starlink will provide services to more than half of the countries in Africa.

Global statistics numbers

The network services provided by Starlink have been officially launched in 2021, and the services cover the United States, Japan, most of Europe and parts of Latin America. In Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique and Rwanda can receive Starlink services, and more than ten other countries are expected to follow suit before the end of 2024. By the end of 2023, Starlink has been implemented in 70 countries.

According to Cloudflare statistics, the world’s Internet traffic will increase by 25% in 2023, but the traffic of Starlink was twice this figure.

Scale

Satellite launch frequency

A record of launching a batch of Internet satellites in an average of 10.7 days in 2022. Musk’s Space Exploration Technology Company (SpaceX) compressed the launch cycle to an average of 3.92 days/time in 2023. In 2023, it will use the Falcon 9 rocket to launch a total of 1,870 Internet satellites were launched.

How many satellites are there currently?

As of May 2024, Starlink has nearly 6,000 satellites and more than 5,200 satellites in operation in 99 countries and regions, accounting for more than 55% of the total number of low-orbit satellites in the world. Plus nearly 3 million network terminals.

Final plan

  • The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has allowed Starlink to launch 7,500 second-generation satellites.
  • Musk recently stated publicly that Starlink will launch Internet satellites every two days in 2024, until a total of 42,000 satellites are launched in 2027. By that time, Starlink will occupy more than 70% of the space of the low-orbit satellite network.

Capital market performance

How big is the market?

The global market for satellite networks is estimated to reach US$412 billion in 2040.

Huge expenditure

In May 2018, SpaceX estimated that the total cost of designing, building and deploying the Starlink project would be at least $10 billion.

Previously huge losses

The Starlink project started nine years ago, and parent company SpaceX has been suffering from huge losses.

Turning point

In 2022, Starlink business finally achieved revenue of US$1.4 billion, a surge of more than 6 times year-on-year!

Quilty’s latest report in May 2024 shows that Starlink will achieve positive free cash flow for the first time in 2024. But at the end of 2023, Musk said that Starlink had reached cash flow breakeven.

Is making profit

In February 2023, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell publicly stated that Starlink is expected to start making profits in 2023. After two years of losses, it finally achieved a small profit in the first quarter of 2023. SpaceX, the parent company of Starlink, has released its first quarterly profit report in the first quarter of 2023.

  • Revenue is US$1.5 billion.
  • The net profit was 55 million, which was SpaceX’s first profitable quarter since its establishment.

According to preliminary calculations, together with the rocket launch project, the Starlink business is expected to bring revenue of US$9 billion to SpaceX in 2023, and the net revenue after excluding costs will exceed US$3 billion. This figure is equivalent to 40% of SpaceX’s total revenue.

The company’s stated revenue target for 2024 is US$15 billion. However, the latest report in May 2024 from Quilty Space, an aerospace industry data agency, shows that Starlink is expected to generate revenue of more than US$6.6 billion in 2024. This means that Starlink’s revenue in 2024 may rank first in the world, surpassing the US$4.1 billion in annual revenue of the company after the merger of the world’s two largest satellite operator giants, SES and Intelsat.

Medium term outlook

Preliminary estimates indicate that SpaceX’s sales will increase to approximately US$15 billion in 2024, and SpaceX’s full-year revenue can reach US$30 billion.

Company valuation

Currently, the only unicorn with a higher valuation than SpaceX is China’s ByteDance.

After SpaceX announced the sale of internal shares in December 2023, its valuation has reached close to US$180 billion:

  • This company valuation figure is comparable to the valuation of publicly traded companies Intel or Disney.
  • SpaceX has continuously appeared on the world’s most valuable rankings in recent years, and is always in the top three no matter which ranking it is.
  • As the capital market experiences a bear market that will begin in 2022, the valuations of almost all unlisted new unicorns have been significantly lowered. SpaceX is one of the very few new unicorns whose valuations have not been significantly lowered.

Initial public offering

Musk has had mixed opinions on the plan to list SpaceX or Starlink. In an interview with Kathy Wood in December 2023, he said that not every company is suitable for listing, and SpaceX or Starlink may never go public.

In 2023, billionaire investor Ron Baron revealed in a media interview that SpaceX planned to IPO for Starlink in 2027. Ron Barron said: “We believe that when SpaceX and Starlink are listed together, around 2027, that is, within four years, the company’s valuation will reach US$250 billion to US$300 billion.”

Services provided

Military satellite communications

Musk has always been very close to the U.S. military. For example, in addition to SpaceX’s long-term free use of the U.S. military’s launch base, the U.S. military is also a user of SpaceX rocket launches. SpaceX has received a lot of additional subsidies and streams from the military. Continuous procurement and supply; in addition, two years ago, the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace Defense Command spent US$80 million to purchase “Starlink” space-based communication systems that can be used in polar regions.

Mobile Communications

The Starlink system has the ability to directly connect to existing mobile phones. In other words, without going through third-party equipment such as ground signal base stations, Starlink can provide text, voice and data transmission services for existing smartphones, and Japanese telecommunications company KDDI (ticker: KDDIY) has taken the lead in signing a huge order for this new product.

In April 2023, One NZ (formerly Vodafone New Zealand) announced that it would cooperate with Starlink to provide 100% mobile network coverage in New Zealand. Text messaging services are expected to begin in 2024, with voice and data capabilities launching in 2025. In July 2023, Optus Australia announced a similar partnership.

Starlink In December 2023, Starlink received approval from the US FCC and will cooperate with T-Mobile (ticker: TMUS) to conduct direct call (DTC) testing through Starlink satellites and ordinary mobile phones.

Starlink will launch the Direct to Cell service starting in 2024, using satellites to continuously provide calls, text messages, and data services to users in remote areas. However, it will only be able to transmit text messages at the beginning of the launch, and will only expand to voice calls, data transmission, and other services in 2025. Internet services.

Corporate communications services

Air freight

In terms of in-flight services, Starlink will provide services for the aircraft, and the hardware cost is only US$150,000. In the United States, where it is based, Starlink has provided in-flight Internet services for JSX Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines (ticker: HA), and all JSX airliners are equipped with Starlink onboard connection systems.

At the same time, Europe’s AirBaltic and ZIPAIR have also signed Internet cooperation agreements with Starlink.

Rail transport

In terms of railway services, Starlink has also entered the carriages of the American passenger railway company Brightline. Passengers taking Brightline trains can therefore enjoy services such as streaming media, online games, and video calls.

Ship transportation

In terms of shipping services, Australia’s Speedcast, Luxembourg’s SES, Denmark’s Maersk Group (ticker: AMKBY) and Japan’s Mitsui Merchant Marine Co., Ltd. (ticker: MSOLY) have successively introduced Starlink satellite communication services.

Personal mobility services

Global roaming

Starlink launched a global roaming service called “Starlink Global Roaming” in 2023, aiming to provide users with global network connections without having to worry about roaming fees or geographical location restrictions. In addition to the basic $599 Starlink package, this service also requires a monthly service fee of $200.

Starlink for RVs

Starlink will launch a network portable service in 2022. For an additional $25 per month, you can carry Starlink’s satellite receiver at any time and use network services in any area where Starlink provides signal coverage. Now it is even more The “Starlink for RVs” service is launched for camping enthusiasts, priced at US$687.94, but the signal quality is not guaranteed.

Competitors

SES

A global satellite operator giant SES, listed on Euronext with the stock code SESG, , which owns o3b mPower, announced its merger with Intelsat in April 2024. The combined company’s annual revenue will be approximately US$4.1 billion.

Viasat

Considered the number one competitor of Starlink, Viasat (ticker: VSAT) has a geosynchronous orbit satellite network data transmission speed of about 20M per second, and a delay time of 62-594 milliseconds.

OneWeb

In mid-2023, the European Union launched its own plan to build a European space interconnection constellation. At the same time, French satellite company Eutelsat and its British counterpart OneWeb announced a merger (not yet listed) to form Europe’s largest satellite company.

Amazon

Amazon (ticker: AMZN)’s “Project Kuiper” plan to deploy 4,538 low-altitude satellites is accelerating.

Boeing

Boeing (ticker: BA) plans to launch 5,789 satellites into low-Earth orbit within nine years.

Astra Space

Rocket manufacturer Astra Space (ticker: ASTR) is also actively deploying 13,600 satellites under its name to form a powerful space network.

AST SpaceMobile

AT&T said it has reached an agreement with satellite network company AST SpaceMobile (US: ASTS) to provide satellite Internet connections for mobile phones, providing a potential alternative to Starlink.

Starlink
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