We are in the midst of another space race, with participants competing not to reach the moon or Mars but to connect the world’s unconnected and underconnected populations. The latest space trends report details how a number of companies are working to build and deploy “mega constellations” of hundreds or thousands of satellites to bring affordable high-speed internet services to businesses, governments, schools, and individuals around the world.
These companies are looking to provide a multitude of potential applications such as:
- Better connectivity for the transportation industry (ships, trains, planes)
- Communication backbones for IoT devices for processes such as fleet management and remote maintenance
- Infrastructure or mobile backhaul for other communications companies
- Services for the direct-to-consumer market, including rural and other areas with poor or no service
- Government services, such as education and emergency response
Hundreds of satellites are already in orbit as part of these growing networks. The industry is moving at a breakneck pace, with a number of new developments occurring. Now with faster speeds and lower latencies than ever before, the satellite internet industry is set to experience more revolutions in technology in the coming years. Additional global connectivity and constantly improving technology will bring high-speed Internet to even the most remote locations.
Improving Technology in Geostationary Orbit – Over the past several years, satellite Internet providers like Hughes have been making improvements to the satellite technology that provides high-speed broadband to residential and small business customers. The satellites used by Hughes and other satellite Internet providers are in geostationary orbit, which means satellites are high enough that they follow the same orbit as the earth.
Expanding Range and Service Locations – Satellite Internet, unlike other high-speed broadband ISPs, doesn’t require a landline connection. This means that more remote parts of the globe can be connected to high-speed satellite Internet where other forms of Internet connection are impossible.
The future of high-speed satellite Internet includes connecting the globe – so that people can live where they love not only in North America, but everywhere throughout the world. Satellite Internet is already in wide use on planes, trains and boats, along with other forms of transportation. The continuing improvement of satellite Internet capacity will have positive effects for the transportation industry and connectivity while travelling and shipping.
LEO Satellite Constellations – Many believe that Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are the way of the future. Unlike geostationary orbiting satellites, these satellites would be closer to earth and constantly orbiting (not in one place over one part of the earth). Establishing an Internet connection with LEO satellites would require many more satellites to be launched, creating constellations of satellites in the sky.
SpaceX and Starlink
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the company’s Starlink satellite internet service is intended for customers in “low to medium population density areas.” As Starlink comes online and makes it possible for nearly 4 billion people with no internet access, we can expect the fundamental makeup of the internet to change. That includes the language and cultural norms of digital communities with this new audience. Here’s how it might happen.
Language Composition of the Internet Will Change
According to stats on the top 10 languages used on the internet, the English language narrowly beats out Chinese for the number one spot.
China’s domestic internet penetration rate is only around 60% compared to the US rate of 75% as of 2020. While these may not seem too different, consider that China’s population is nearly 1.5 billion people to 330 million in the US. The point being, as more Chinese come online, we can expect the top language used on the internet may shift towards Chinese.
Not sold? Consider the Chinese Government’s aggressive approach to building infrastructure in Africa which is disproportionately under-represented in internet access. As China continues to integrate with Africa, will these new internet users ultimately opt for English or Chinese as their preferred language of the internet? These factors create an interesting paradigm for a shift in the dominant language of the web.
Digital Culture Will Change
Regardless of the predominant language of the internet, it’s clear that a cultural shift will also take place as the global population comes online. New people joining global communities from developing locations will bring considerably different worldviews.
It’s unclear how their mobile-first use of the internet will impact web traffic and technology preferences in the future.
According to the widely used SEO tool Ahrefs, these are the top 5 most popular websites by traffic around the world. (Visits per month)
These are unlikely to change positions because they are mobile-friendly and offer utility and convenience to just about everyone. But we can expect a fundamental shift in where web traffic flows based on the unique preferences of new user demographics. As web traffic changes, we can expect the advertising dollars to shift towards these new areas. Creating new opportunities and harming incumbent businesses.
New Business Opportunities Will Arise
As the internet becomes available to the second half of the world there is no doubt that massive business opportunities will proliferate. Entrepreneurs will ask questions such as what services will these new users need and seek out?
In low access regions, there is a clear deficit in IT skills. We can expect to see growth in easy to access programs for upskilling individuals as they gain internet access. Globalized versions of Khan Academy. These programs will be mobile friendly and focus on core business skills such as communications, file transfers, and other basic competencies.
There will also be an opportunity to provide training in mobile-oriented financial security and privacy tools. Proper online banking habits, understanding the threat of phishing schemes, and lessons on the importance of strong passwords.
The connection of global populations will also present interesting labor arbitrage opportunities. As more low-income regions gain access and become skilled in information technology, they alter the global labor wage dynamic. Businesses in developed countries will gain access to more affordable digital labor while simultaneously, developed world workers may experience wage disruption. Possibly even employment displacement. This is a boon for business expenditures and a potential pitfall for the labor economy as a global wage equilibrium is found.
The bottom line is that whether you already have access to the internet or not, the Starlink program will fundamentally change the makeup of the internet and the world once it comes online. It’s important to keep track of this development as it will assuredly impact everyone on the planet in some way.
- The Future of Satellite Internet – Connecting the Planet via Space – https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/technology/future-of-satellite-internet.html
- The satellite internet industry is set to experience more revolutions in technology in the coming years – https://www.hughesnet.com/media/future-high-speed-satellite-internet
- SpaceX and Starlink – https://medium.com/predict/why-elon-musks-starlink-will-change-your-life-31a2f9a84f3b