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While the world is preparing for 5G mobile technology (which involves new devices for smartphones and stations), SpaceX is going to roll out its Starlink "constellation".

What I did not know is that they are going to provide a WiFi connection (I thought initially maybe they were planning 5G).

Source - screenshot of WiFi via satellite?

Now if SpaceX succeeds, is this a competitive offer to 5G as such?

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  • $\begingroup$ This question is based upon a fake image. Basic questions like "maximum range of WiFi antennas" should be addressed elsewhere, e.g. ElectricalEngineering.SE $\endgroup$ – Everyday Astronaut Apr 3 '18 at 15:39
  • $\begingroup$ Starlink isn't a WiFi network. It can't be received on your phone or laptop. Starlink will require a large receiver which contains a set of phased array antennas. It's most similar current technology is dish based TV and internet; you'll need to mount the starlink receiver outside with a clear view of the sky. Once that's done it'll probably have an Ethernet jack that lets you hook it up to a router. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek Apr 4 '18 at 13:05
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This partial answer is not about the technical possibilities, but about Starlink's hypothetical relationship to 5G.

SpaceX's plans with Starlink are unclear at the moment. On the one hand, one should not expect it to be available in urban areas because it will serve [the] least served. This is obviously reasonable because big cities have the most advanced (and cheapest) infrastructure already. It could mean that Starlink will compete against terrestrial networks in areas where Internet access is more involved (i.e. slow and expensive). So, Starlink will most likely not be an alternative to 5G in places where 5G is set up first.

On the other hand, as was said here, it should help funding SpaceX's development of BFR. That seems somewhat contrary to serving the least served, because usually wealth correlates to some extend with population density (I guess). Elon Musk probably thinks of some compromise by mentioning "sparsely to moderately populated areas". So, Starlink will probably compete with both wireless and wired ISPs in rural to suburban areas.

Rumors say that Starlink might also be one further step to full vertical integration of Tesla.

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WiFi from a satellite is actually impossible, due to a number of issues. Regulation wise WiFi only works because of the ability to have low power unlicensed devices, for it to work in space it would require a much more powerful system. The limit is 4 W EIRP. Furthermore, the movement of the satellite will create Doppler shift of the frequency, which will make the bandwidth too high to be supported.

What will actually be done I believe is that each device that wants to use Starlink will use some kind of a dedicated antenna. It might be like an ISP, using an antenna to send internet to a single house, or it might be something broader to send it to something like a Cruise ship, or even ISP to ISP links via satellite.

The frequency of Starlink will be above 10 GHz, well outside of the band of Wifi. At that high frequency, it is possible to have a hand-held device that could receive the satellite signals, as the antenna will be small.

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  • $\begingroup$ Can you give any sources? $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton Apr 3 '18 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ There's conflicting information about frequencies (initial application is Ku & Ka, nothing above 10Ghz, but there's discussion of activity above 25Ghz also). One firmly stated thing is that they will not talk to handhelds, instead requiring a pizzabox shaped user terminal to contain the phased array. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… $\endgroup$ – Saiboogu Apr 3 '18 at 16:26

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