From our Swindon Correspondent:
I’ve become rather obsessed with Starlink. To anyone not in the know, it’s a system of satellites in geostationary orbit, being run by SpaceX, which is one of Elon Musk’s things. There’s currently 1200 satellites up there, If you have a special dish and a subscription, you can get the internet in most of the world. It seems to not be covering north of Inverness yet, and I guess some points at the southern end of the world, but a lot of the world is done.
It currently does this by the satellite receiving and sending data back to a ground station, which then connects to fibre internet, but the eventual plan is to have satellites with lasers, and these satellites will create a chain for messages, so you send a message, it goes to a satellite and gets relayed across space to a satellite near the place you need to get it to, and they receive it.
Why would you do that? Well, because people want faster message speeds. Fibre optic cable is pretty fast, at around 124,000 miles per second. But if you send a message via laser in a vacuum, you’re closer to the speed of light. And the suggestion is that for various sorts of automatic trading, that might give an edge. I don’t know enough about this myself to say.
The other side of this is that while those satellites aren’t floating above New York, London and Frankfurt, they’re going around the rest of the world. They’re crossing Sudan, Afghanistan, Mongolia. Apart from lasers in space being cool, that brings economic advantages. Getting the internet to people connects them to the world, improves trade. The effect of the undersea cable on the west coast of Africa is that Microsoft are now doing software development work in Kenya and Nigeria. If you can get it to people in Chad, it’s going to have a similar effect.
I’m sure at first, the cost is going to be prohibitive for most people in these places, but you only need a few people making money from technology to start creating more of it. Maybe we get call centres in Laos and Burkina Faso, spinning up more development locally in other ways?
Maybe I’m dreaming, but it feels like technology that could really change a lot of people’s lives in a very positive way.