SpaceX Starlink: 3 innovative uses for the super-fast internet service

SpaceX Starlink could have the ability to transform a number of industries and use cases, as explained at CES 2023.
Mike Brown

Starlink, SpaceX's internet connectivity constellation, could be about more than just super-fast internet for rural communities.

The nascent internet service promises high speeds and low latencies, especially when compared to traditional satellite providers, thanks to its larger constellation and lower orbit. At the 2023 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) on Friday, SpaceX Starlink's vice president of commercial sales John Hofeller outlined several unexpected situations where the service could provide support.

"One thing that our leadership definitely drives home consistently is impact," Hofeller said. "Where can we have the greatest amount of positive impact for a better future?"

SpaceX's founder, Elon Musk, is known for making such utilitarian statements. In a 2020 Tesla earnings call, he declared that the company's mission was to "maximize the area under the curve of customer happiness."

The company launched the first batch of Starlink satellites in 2019. In December 2022, the company announced that it had over one million active subscribers.

Starlink has already provided benefits to students in rural communities looking to work remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as assisting with efforts around the war in Ukraine. As it looks to further expansion, here are the areas where it may have that large-scale impact.

SpaceX Starlink: 3 innovative uses for the super-fast internet service
A SpaceX Starlink satellite dish.

1: Wifi on planes

Internet on airplanes is not seen as particularly amazing, but Hofeller hinted at a future where getting online in the skies could be far more seamless. On Starlink's website, the company explains that deliveries will start in 2023 with prices around $12,500 to $25,000 per month for clients, with a hardware price of $150,000.

"You're gonna have free wifi," he said. "You walk on the plane, the internet just works."

Hofeller noted that the company has "several deals underway" on this initiative.

2: Precision farming

Hofeller noted that Starlink could help farmers make better decisions around their output to improve their processes.

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"How do they get that information in real time and make smart decisions for better yields?" he said.

He's not the first to outline this use for satellites at the event. Rick Somerton, President & CEO of eSAT Global, said at CES 2023 that tags on the ear of a cow, costing $10 per year, could help track cow supply chains. But while Hofeller's satellites operate in low-Earth orbit, Somerton's firm specializes in geostationary orbit satellites positioned much further away. Starlink touts its low latency as a benefit, but the fewer required number of satellites in geostationary orbit could offer a benefit.

3: Cellular backhauls

Starlink can help cellular companies improve their coverage in farther-out areas.

At the moment, companies run fiber cable to cellular towers to provide network service. Hofeller explained that Starlink could replace the fiber connection so the cellular company only has to connect to SpaceX's network to get online.

"It's expensive to dig fiber trenches out in the middle of nowhere," Hofeller said.

This means that areas could receive cellular coverage that traditionally would have been overlooked.