UPDATE: A promotional email from SpaceX seen by Reuters puts the price of Starlink at US$99 a month, or NZ$148. The customer terminal is priced at US$499 or 745.50 plus shipping costs. Starlink is asking rural users in US states like Washington, Wisconsin and Idaho to join its "Better Than Nothing" beta trial, which offers a broadband service with speeds between 50 to 150 Mbps and a latency from 20 to 40 milliseconds.
Astronomers and skygazers might be disappointed to hear this, but it looks like Elon Musk's Starlink really is coming to New Zealand.
SpaceX which set up a local company last year now has New Zealand licences to use 22 frequency bands for satellite control communications and data transmission.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's radio spectrum management site shows that two satellite earth stations are planned for Starlink.
One is in Wellsford, conveniently located near an electricity substation and the Hawaiki cable and another is in Cromwell. SpaceX already has a ground control facility in Awarua being set up, as Business Desk reported.
As an interesting aside that might or might not be relevant to New Zealand, Microsoft signed up SpaceX and Starlink to be a communications provider for its Azure Space and Azure Orbital offerings.
They're part of Microsoft's Azure cloud, and Microsoft is as we know setting up a region in New Zealand, with three data centres.
The idea behind Azure Space is to hook up the company's modular data centres via satellite. These container-like data centre facilities put processing power near customers and it's part of a Musk-Microsoft plan to stymie Jeff Bezos whose Amazon Web Services is already providing connectivity via satellite.
Bezos has the Blue Origin SpaceX competitor too and is working on Kuiper, a Starlink equivalent. Doesn't mean we'll get to see any of that, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Back to Starlink, let's look at what appears to be on the table.
The first Starlink phase is scheduled to be operational next year providing broadband from the skies to the shore, but also airplanes and boats, from 1584 satellites at fairly low 550km altitude and spaced 670km apart.
They'll be flying over us in orbital planes or strings, 24 of them with 66 satellites each. In fact, just 12 orbital planes with a total of 792 satellites might be enough to provide coverage for New Zealand.
Over the weekend, SpaceX's Falcon9 deployed another 60 Starlink satellites into orbit, bringing the total so far to 900.
Teleco2 principal consultant Jonathan Brewer looked at StarLink's NZ radio licences, and found each earth station is licenced for five 480MHz-wide uplink channels.
Aggregated, those channels allow up to 14.4 gigabits per second of capacity per satellite.
Brewer believes that if and when Starlink launches commercial service in New Zealand, it should have capacity in the order of 30Gbps.
That figure will rise to 90Gbps by the end of Starlink's first year in operation, which means the satellites can support around 10000 users in New Zealand, Brewer estimates.
For customers that means broadband that's at least as fast the best VDSL copper offerings, and even lower-end UFB fibre service. It'll be faster than first-gen Rural Broadband Initiative service and quicker than what many wireless internet providers can offer.
This especially so if Starlink can deliver the low terrestrial broadband like 20 millisecond latency which makes for responsive data connections, thanks to its low altitude orbit reducing the distance data traffic has to go.
Also, with the substantial capacity above, Starlink probably won't worry about data caps.
Wireless providers with enough spectrum holdings and capital might be able to move forward their upgrade plans and think about how to offer 100Mbps or faster service with no data caps to customers sometime next year.
Others who can't might get bowled over by Starlink however.
Existing satellite providers facing the SpaceX competitor which will launch with 10 times the capacity they have available, and which is increasing to 30 times by the end of 2021 potentially, could really feel the squeeze.
We don't know how well Starlink will perform yet and how much the customer terminals will cost or the monthly charges.
However, in a promotional email from SpaceX seen by Reuters puts the price of Starlink at US$99 a month, or NZ$148. The customer terminal is priced at US$499 or $745.50 plus shipping costs. Starlink is asking rural users in US states like Washington, Wisconsin and Idaho to join its "Better Than Nothing" beta trial, which offers a broadband service with speeds between 50 to 150 Mbps and a latency from 20 to 40 milliseconds.
Indications so far are that Starlink service could be priced somewhere around half of what remote area dwellers pay for satellite broadband currently, but this remains to be seen.
To understand why existing satellite broadband customers have a real incentive to check out Starlink, you only need to look at how much they pay currently: $300 a month for a 30Mbps service that has a 400 gigabyte data cap, with a $1900 installation charge is one example Duckduckgo found for me.
That by the way is for the provider's top end offering with the highest speed and data cap options. Once you hit 400Gb, the service is slowed down to 3Mbps.
As the particular provider I looked at uses satellites in high, 39,000km orbits, latency will be somewhere in the 500-600 millisecond range which means web apps that make lots of small data connections won't be much fun to use.
If you're a broadband customer in remote areas, watch this space - or the skies rather - as things might change for the better sooner rather than later.