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Economy

Starlink opens for pre-orders, expects to start serving NWT next year


SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service is now accepting pre-orders and expects to become operational for Northwest Territories customers in 2022.

Starlink is intended to become a constellation of thousands of small, low Earth orbit satellites together providing unbroken high-speed internet access across the globe.

The service and similar rivals are considered to be potentially revolutionary for sparsely populated areas – like northern Canada – as they offer the prospect of high-speed, reliable internet without having to spend tens of millions of dollars on ground-based infrastructure for small communities.

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That said, Starlink remains largely untested in practice and only last year began a public beta with around 10,000 customers in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Questions remain over the quality of service Starlink will offer and whether the service will be financially viable – both in terms of whether it’ll be cost-effective for northerners and whether Starlink can balance its books.

Visitors to Starlink’s website were this week invited to enter their email address and physical address for the chance to join the public beta on a first-come, first-served basis.

People entering addresses in the Northwest Territories were given the option to place a deposit that signs them up for Starlink once the service becomes available in the region, which the website states is expected to be 2022.

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A one-time payment of $129 is taken when users choose to pre-order the service, which currently has no data cap and offers speeds broadly comparable with those available under top-end existing NWT internet plans.

However, once Starlink is ready to roll out in the NWT, subscribers must pay an additional $649 – plus $65 in shipping fees – to receive the required hardware, then pay $129 per month for the service (a low to mid-range monthly fee by the territory’s standards).

A frequently asked questions page on Starlink’s website warns that the hardware requires specific conditions to work properly.

For example, the receiver requires a clear “field of view” to track satellites and ensure internet connections remain stable. Accumulation of snow over time could be one factor that interferes with that field of view in the North.

Starlink is not the only low Earth orbit solution expected to arrive in the near future.

Rivals include OneWeb, which says it intends to launch commercially over Canada this year, and Telesat, which has reached the “live demonstration” stage.

Dominant northern internet provider Northwestel has previously said it will use Telesat’s new constellation of satellites to help deliver unlimited internet to 32 northern communities.

In a 2019 news release, Northwestel said it expected that service to begin in 2023.

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