SpaceX’s broadband satellite internet, Starlink, is still in beta, but already has over 10,000 customers. The fledgling service is expected to be a cash cow for SpaceX, bringing in as much as $30 billion a year — more than 10 times the annual revenue of its existing rocket business. This revenue will be used to fuel Elon Musk’s ultimate goal of building a colony on Mars. Eventually, Starlink may even keep us connected on the Red Planet.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX rolled out its Starlink early access program to the public six months ago, with the satellite internet service growing to more than 10,000 users in the first few months.
To get real-life first impressions of the service, CNBC spoke to more than 50 people who have been using Starlink. Those surveyed included households in Canada and 13 U.S. states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The majority of these Starlink users are in rural or remote areas, such as farmland or wilderness, with limited access to terrestrial broadband options – and a few with no access altogether.
“I expect to keep the service long term,” a user in Montana told CNBC. “The price of the beta for the service is more reasonable than any other option we have, and those are worse in performance. I will keep Starlink as long as its the only broadband option available to me.”
Starlink is the company’s capital-intensive project to build an interconnected internet network with thousands of satellites, known in the space industry as a constellation, designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers anywhere on the planet.
SpaceX launched the “Better than Nothing Beta” program for the public in October, and the majority of users CNBC surveyed received invitations to join between November and February. The service is priced at $99 a month in the U.S. under the beta, with a $499 upfront cost for the equipment customers need to connect to the satellites – plus taxes, shipping, and any accessories needed to mount the antenna.
CNBC’s surveyed users on total cost, the installation process, what they thought of SpaceX’s equipment, internet speed, reliability of the service, what their service alternatives were, their experience with customer service, any concerns they had, and their overall impressions.