Satellite-based Internet is a new phenomenon in the Philippines, with consumers using fixed line broadband and fiber optic technology from leading providers such as PLDT, Globe and Converge. In 2021, however, the skies above us may open up to a fresh competitor in the satellite Internet space with the possibility of Elon Musk’s Starlink service becoming available to Filipinos, if a collaboration with Converge pushes through.
What is Starlink?
- It’s Elon Musk’s new satellite Internet service, launched by private aerospace company SpaceX
- Broadband is provided from low-earth-orbit satellite “chains” or constellations
- By having a lot of satellites closer to the Earth than usual, almost anywhere could access high-speed Internet
Starlink is SpaceX’s low-earth-orbit satellite constellation, first prototyped in 2018 and made available to North American consumers in late 2020. SpaceX’s plan is to have thousands of low-earth satellites forming a global cluster capable of delivering Internet services to just about any spot on the planet.
The advantage of low-earth orbits is that there’s less transmission space – quite literally – between the Starlink cluster and other competing satellite services, which should lead to theoretically faster services.
Time lapse taken of a Starlink satellite constellation (Getty)
If they’re low-earth satellites, does that mean I can see them?
With the right equipment, (and sometimes with the naked eye), you can – although they’re rapidly moving satellites. They circle the globe every 90 minutes, so you can’t really afford to blink much. There’s already a service tracking the likely visibility of Starlink’s satellites, so grab that telescope and get spotting!
Example of satellite chain locations across Brazil. Images taken from findstarlink.com, with graphics and legend overlaid for emphasis.
When can I get a Starlink service in Philippines?
Starlink’s local website went live recently, with service availability promised in “mid to late 2021” for most addresses we’ve tested with.
Starlink is offering its services on a “first come, first served” basis, but there’s no real indication as to what that really means in terms of available service numbers or expected customer loads.
How much will Starlink cost in Philippines?
Starlink’s indicative pricing at launch is for a single USD$139 a month plan with no stated data caps.
However, that’s not all you’ll pay as the receiver equipment also carries a USD$709 fee plus USD$100 for shipping. It’s worth noting that Starlink is taking pre-orders now for that mid-to-late-2021 availability window, but you do have to pay the hardware and shipping fee upfront if you are selected as a Starlink customer.
How fast will Starlink be in Philippines?
Starlink is advertising that its services will be capable of speeds from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, with latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations. However, it also notes that there “will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all”. Hopefully, that’s a minimizing problem as Starlink increases its satellite load over time.
However, bear in mind that like any wireless technology, there’s a variety of factors that can affect your achievable speeds on the network, both environmental and in terms of network load. That will be part of why Starlink isn’t offering universal service. Like a busy road, if it has too many customers trying to access its services at once, everyone’s service could slow to a crawl.
How does Starlink compare to fixed line internet providers such as PLDT, Globe and Converge?
This is a complex question because it depends on which technology you’re looking at. The vast majority of Filipinos are on fixed-line internet service, and for those consumers, there are a few advantages to Starlink – as well as some solid disadvantages.
The obvious advantage point – taking Starlink at its word in terms of speed claims – is that for some fixed line customers, especially those on lower-quality connections, that 150Mb/s rate may be faster than their ISP can provide on their current connection.
However, that’s at a considerably higher price point than most internet plans are currently priced at. While latency is always a variable, you’re almost always going to see lower and therefore better latency numbers on a fixed line connection, too, which is important for services such as video conferencing, or more trivially, video gaming.
As a satellite-based service, you’d also need some kind of clear air space for reception equipment, which could put a lot of city dwellers, especially those in apartment blocks or densely packed urban areas out of contention.
Starlink is a clearer competitor here for the smaller proportion of Filipinos on fixed wireless. Fixed Wireless customers can currently access plans that top out at 75/10Mbps (down/up), so Starlink on paper has a speed edge here, although that’s very much based on current 4G-based fixed wireless technologies. It’s also worth considering that fixed line customers can get plans at sub-USD$100 (roughly ₱4,800) price points with typical evening speeds in the lower range of Starlink’s offerings.
For fixed line customers, there are some solid potential benefits here if you’re a heavier Internet user (or would like to be) because the Starlink speeds simply dwarf those of standard broadband or fiber optic plans in speed terms. Right now, there are also no data caps on Starlink plans, whereas most services use data caps to ensure equal service availability for all users.
Starlink states that it’s operating on a “first come, first served” basis, but that could mean that city dwellers looking to hook up will get the same priority as those whose only other broadband option would otherwise be satellite services.
Local internet provider services are also considerably cheaper than Starlink, and there’s no USD$709 hardware fee to consider either.
How does Starlink compare to 5g networks?
They’re both wireless, and they are both new concepts for most Filipino consumers.
As of 18 February 2021, only the nation’s leading mobile networks, Smart and Globe offer 5G-certified devices in the form of high-end phone models such as the iPhone 12 series, Samsung Galaxy S21, Huawei Mate40 Pro, or Oppo Reno 4. These mobile devices will set you back anywhere from ₱19,000-50,000 per unit, which makes Starlink a better option. Most plans do have data caps, but also “endless data”, albeit speed shaped if you do go over quota.
The catch here is coverage areas. While we’ve seen a rapid expansion in 5G availability in the Philippines since last year, it’s still heavily concentrated on high population areas across all three 5G networks.
Starlink can – in theory – deliver a service to any open-air spot across the Philippines. You won’t get much of a 5G signal in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert but (presuming you could provide power) you could get a Starlink signal and service.