Will Starlink fail like Iridium?

Hello Experts.

Will Starlink fail like Iridium?

What is the difference between Iridium and Starlink, that can make Starlink succed?

Admin note: this post was updated with image below.


Ok, lets mention a few reasons:

  • Iridium had much (really much) less satellites in orbit than Starlink. (*The name Iridium (the 77th element in the periodic table) was chosen because a full constellation would have (only) 77 satellites!

  • Iridium satellites orbit at 485 miles of altitude and have been up there for decades while Starlink satellites orbit at an altitude of 340 miles - much more closer to earth. And because of this, latency is significantly lower - round 25 ms vs 600+ ms

  • Each Iridium satellites could handle about 1000 phone calls at a time and the data rate is 2,400 bits per second, while Starlink can handle millions of bits per second.

  • Iridium charged a fortune per minute - so access to things like the Internet was almost impossible, while StarLink makes it possible (reasonable prices).

  • Iridium phones were huge (> $1,000) while StarLink phones are much cheaper.

  • And to conclude: Starlink has Elon Musk, Iridium not. :wink:

In August 1999 (not even a year after its launch) Iridium Satellite LLC filed for bankruptcy. SpaceX started launching Starlink satellites in 2019. As of May 2023, Starlink consists of over 4,000 mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO ), which communicate with designated ground transceivers. In total, nearly 12,000 satellites are planned to be deployed, with a possible later extension to 42,000.

If you want to see Iridium fail, check this blog:

Iridium Satellite Communication System Service
One Of The Worst Projects Ever Undertaken In The World With Disastrous Consequences

Old Iridium ad from above article:

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Iridium’s failure served as a valuable business lesson, demonstrating how rapidly changing markets can turn a profitable business plan into a loss-making one.

Iridium boasted efficient and cost-effective miniature satellites that effectively provided global telecommunications through the L-band frequency, even reaching remote locations like Isla Nublar, as suggested by Michael Crichton. This meant there was no need for cellular infrastructure in the countries one visited. However, the landscape changed when the proliferation of cell phone towers made satellite phones both expensive and inconvenient.

Satellite communication proved ineffective within high-rise office buildings, where the prime target market for Iridium was typically situated. If one had to step outside their office or hotel to make or receive calls due to poor satellite phone reception, it was understandably deemed inconvenient. Additionally, communication became impossible under heavy cloud cover, exacerbating the inconvenience.

Now, how does Starlink differ? SpaceX recognizes that relying on a mere 77 satellites offers limited coverage. A few scattered satellites cannot ensure reliable service. Starlink, on the other hand, plans to deploy thousands or even tens of thousands of satellites. Starlink operates within the relatively high frequency Ka and Ku bands. Unlike Iridium, Starlink satellites do not directly connect to devices like phones. Instead, they require a dedicated terrestrial receiver to function as a hotspot. Connecting to Starlink from Antarctica, for instance, necessitates obtaining and configuring a hotspot transceiver equipped with phased array antennas. Although the hotspot is compact, the downside is that it comes at a considerable cost.

But there’s more to consider. Next-generation Iridium satellites offer low data rates for handsets and, through the Ka-band, provide 8 Mbps data for fixed or transportable terminals. Sound familiar? Iridium even paid SpaceX to launch these satellites, indicating SpaceX’s familiarity with their technology. It’s worth noting that Iridium went bankrupt and was subsequently acquired by another company, though it retained the Iridium name, implying that the original investors likely faced significant losses.

To finance this ambitious endeavor, SpaceX aims to generate $30 billion in annual revenues starting from 2025. While I cannot determine the exact cost per customer, I would estimate it falls within the range of $100 per month. With 30 million customers at this price point, they could meet their revenue projections. However, numerous industry experts doubt Starlink’s profitability over the next decade and assign a low probability of eventual success to the venture. Nevertheless, it is possible for these experts to be mistaken.

Ultimately, the primary differentiating factor may be Elon Musk himself. His exceptional marketing skills and devoted fan base could tip the scales in Starlink’s favor.

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Iridium was the right product at the wrong time. Technology wasn’t ripe yet, and the usage of cellular phones wasn’t so widespread. StarLink (and other competitors) have a much better chance now.

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Starlink satellites: Everything you need to know about the controversial internet megaconstellation

Starlink will grow in business and become a threat for existing mobile operator.

Nowdays in Indonesia, Starlink market entrance become hot topic among the stake holder of telecommunication, here.

100 USD with 100 - 200 mbps bandwidth is the same price as FTTH offered, where Starlink can reach more area faster than FTTH deployment. It’s terrify condition for existing telecommunication business.

Then they try to negotiate to government to regulated Starlink business that cannot direct selling to the end market, & use Starlink only become as backhaul for them.

From that situation we already know that Starlink is game changer for telecommunication industry that China still can’t reach out yet.

Same as Hyperloop, USA Industry doesn’t want developing bullet train but they develop something a step a head.

Iridium is failed. But their failure become an lesson learn to reach more for Starlink.

Terrestrial technology development is getting faster than it’s deployment (3G - 4G - 5G - 6G - XG).

My thought,

  1. Future telecommunication will be convergence with Satellite + Wifi + FTTx.
  2. Boundary between country code will be terminated (UE can freely roam).