The British Government has reportedly been in talks with Elon Musk’s satellite network Starlink amid ambitious plans to push forward with accelerated rural broadband deployment, writes The Telegraph.
Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, is believed to have met with representatives of Starlink recently as part of a £5bln “Project Gigabit” plan, seeking to utilise the emerging technology to provide far-flung areas of the UK with high speed internet access.
‘Extreme’ solutions have been urged to ensure access to remote locations in Scotland and Wales, as well as English National Parks, which cannot be reached by conventional means.
Today we’re launching the first phase of 𝙋𝙍𝙊𝙅𝙀𝘾𝙏 𝙂𝙄𝙂𝘼𝘽𝙄𝙏 - our new £5bn programme to ensure hard to reach areas don’t miss out on lightning-fast gigabit broadband.— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) March 19, 2021
We promised to end the spinning wheel of doom and we’re doing just that.https://t.co/Z1sJpjk57S pic.twitter.com/omOjd4d2rg
Accordingly, options such as satellite broadband, high-altitude balloons and autonomous drones are being considered by ministers to enable the country’s future broadband setup.
As many as 510,000 homes that have been suffering from poor broadband in areas such as Cambridgeshire, Cumbria, Dorset, Essex, Northumberland, South Tyneside, Hartlepool in Durham, as well as Stockton, Redcar and Penzance in Cornwall are all designated as ‘first-wave’ target locations.
Once the tender process is complete, work is expected to take off in the first half of 2022.
Besides fibre optics, the Government will explore innovative sources for the deployment of wireless broadband.
“We are launching a call for evidence to explore the most experimental and innovative solutions to this problem – whether it’s using low earth orbit satellites to connect a cottage in the highlands, or streaming broadband from high-altitude balloons hovering over the hardest-to-reach locations, we are ruling nothing out. Our consultation will help determine which of these ideas are feasible, and which aren’t,” Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, wrote in The Telegraph.
Musk’s Attack on UK Broadband Market
Starlink, a satellite constellation being constructed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and launched in 2015, will ultimately consist of thousands of mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO), working in combination with ground transceivers designed to deliver high-speed internet to consumers anywhere on the planet. Two prototype test-flight satellites were launched in February 2018.
As of 12 March 2021, SpaceX has launched 1,265 Starlink satellites, while the Federal Communications Commission in November 2018 approved SpaceX to launch 11,943 satellites. The company aims to deploy 4,425 satellites in orbit by 2024.
Starlink has already launched more than 1,300 small, low orbit satellites, that have started providing broadband to parts of the UK, among other areas.
Elon Musk secured an Ofcom licence to install potentially thousands of satellite dishes across rural Britain late in 2020, an Ofcom spokesman confirmed.
The US company has also set up a UK entity, Starlink Internet Services, to launch a limited trial of its rural broadband service.
Several people in the UK said in early January they had received the first email invites to apply for early access to the Starlink kit, hailing it as a “game changer” for those without near-term prospects of a fibre rollout.
The venture sets Musk’s company in a competition against the Government-backed satellite venture, OneWeb.
Get ready for lift-off! 🚀 Our fifth #OneWebLaunch from Vostochny is scheduled for 25th March 2:47AM (UTC) / 24th March 10:47PM (ET). We’ll be live-streaming the launch on the day, so be sure to set your reminders and keep your eyes peeled for updates along the way. pic.twitter.com/qIk98msdUE— OneWeb (@OneWeb) March 18, 2021
Last year, the UK Government acquired a £400m stake in the satellite broadband company, which reportedly negotiated with British Telecommunications (BT) on offering internet service through the telecoms company.
OneWeb, formerly known as WorldVu Satellites Ltd and headquartered in London, with offices in California, Florida, Virginia, Dubai and Singapore, has launched 110 satellites, while planning an initial 650-satellite constellation, to be completed in 2019–2022.
This comes as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a "rocket boost" for slow broadband-challenged areas of the country as part of his "levelling up" agenda.
"Project Gigabit is the rocket boost that we need to get lightning-fast broadband to all areas of the country," the prime minister was quoted as saying.
This June the government is hoping to announce procurements to connect up to 640,000 locations in Norfolk, Shropshire, Suffolk, Worcestershire, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
"Project Gigabit is our national mission to plug in and power up every corner of the UK and get us gigafit for the future," said Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden.