Elon Musk’s brainchild, Starlink, recently hit a monumental milestone by announcing 2 million active subscribers. This comes after the company made its satellite internet service available on all seven continents and in over 60 countries. Notably, Starlink’s growth trajectory has been nothing short of extraordinary, with numbers increasing geometrically over the years.
Starlink is available on all 7 continents, in over 60 countries and many more markets, connecting 2M+ active customers and counting with high-speed internet!
— Starlink (@Starlink) September 23, 2023
A Journey from 10,000 to 2 Million
Starlink has come a long way since its beta launch in late 2020, when it had a modest 10,000 users globally. The subscriber count began to tick upwards, reaching 145,000 in January 2022 and an impressive 1.5 million by May 2023. Now, as of September 2023, the company boasts 2 million subscribers, which include both consumer and enterprise customers.
Financial Performance: A Mixed Bag
While subscriber numbers are impressive, Starlink has yet to meet its projected target of 20 million subscribers and $12 billion in revenue, initially set for 2022. The company’s actual revenue for that year was $1.4 billion, up from $222 million in 2021. However, Starlink did achieve positive cash flow in 2022 and is on track to turn a profit.
Changing Hardware Costs
Initially, the Starlink dish cost $499 for residential users and $2,500 for business users. However, thanks to improvements in manufacturing and design, SpaceX cut the dish’s cost in half in August 2021. September 2022 saw the introduction of a high-performance dish for residential users, priced at $2,500, which offers better performance and durability in extreme conditions. There have been recent reports that SpaceX is no longer losing money on the sale of each dish, and the FCC has recently approved a new, smaller and more mobile dish, possibly for portable use.
The Impact on Speeds
As Starlink’s user base has swelled, download speeds have seen a decline, according to an analysis by network intelligence company Ookla. U.S. download speeds fell from around 85 Mbps in the first quarter of this year to roughly 50 Mbps in the third quarter. Despite this, the company remains a popular choice, with extremely high Net Promoter Scores, especially among those in rural areas without fixed-line connections.
Global Reach: Ukraine and Iran
Starlink has not only been expanding its network but has also played a role in geopolitical situations. When Russia invaded Ukraine, Starlink provided thousands of dishes to Ukrainians and assisted Ukrainian troops. Similarly, the service was activated in Iran during a period of network outages amid protests.
Air and Sea Connectivity
Starlink has made inroads into providing internet service on the move. The Federal Communications Commission granted SpaceX authorization to use Starlink on vehicles, and the company has since signed deals with Royal Caribbean, Hawaiian Airlines, and jet service JSX for onboard Wi-Fi. Recent adoptees include Hapag-Lloyd’s container shipping fleet and Flexjet’s aviation.
The Road Ahead: More Satellites, More Subscribers
With Starlink’s growth rate seemingly exponential and its global reach expanding, the future looks promising. The company plans to envelop the Earth with up to 42,000 satellites by mid-2027, offering even more comprehensive broadband connectivity. While there are challenges, like declining download speeds and missed revenue targets, the 2-million-subscriber milestone is a testament to Starlink’s potential in reshaping global internet accessibility. While SpaceX may have missed its 20 million 2022 goal, its accelerating growth means the company may hit the target sooner than we expect.