Washington Emergency Management Division
The Starlink satellite internet network developed by SpaceX has been deployed on site by emergency services from Washington State in the last few weeks. This was the first Early Enterprise Service application to be announced.
The Washington State Military, which also includes the Emergency Response Department, began using Starlink user terminals in early August to bring Internet services to fire-ravaged areas. User terminals are the small devices on the ground that are connected to the satellites. The emergency department has seven Starlink user terminals that are deployed early.
“I’ve never set up satellite tactical equipment that set up so quickly or by far as reliably,” Starlink, Richard Hall, director of emergency telecommunications for the Washington State Department of Military IT, said in an interview with CNBC on Monday .
How Washington uses Starlink
Starlink is the name for SpaceX’s ambitious plan to build a connected internet satellite network, Also known as the “Constellation” to deliver high-speed Internet anywhere in the world.
For the entire Starlink network, around 12,000 satellites are expected to fly in what is known as a near-earth orbit, which is much closer to the surface than conventional broadband satellites. Hall, whose division has used other satellite broadband services, said “there really is no comparison” between Starlink and traditional networks, where the satellites are further from the earth in geosynchronous or medium orbits.
“Starlink slightly doubles the bandwidth by comparison,” Hall said, noting that he saw more than 150% less latency. “I’ve seen less than 30 milliseconds of latency consistently,” he said.
Hall said that other traditional services typically take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to set up a satellite connection, “with much less speed and bandwidth and much higher latency in a much larger packet”.
For comparison, Hall emphasized that it took him between five and ten minutes to set up and connect a Starlink terminal. And a single person can set up one of the devices: “You don’t need a truck, trailer, or lots of other additional equipment,” Hall said.
“I spent the majority of four or five hours on satellite devices to get a good one [connection]. So to me it’s amazing, “added Hall.
SpaceX’s Starlink development facility and factory is located in Redmond, Washington, just outside Seattle. Hall’s department had some early conversations with SpaceX, he said, as the state was working to “serve in the countryside some of our tribal areas that weren’t going to get broadband at all for a while”.
To date, SpaceX has launched more than 700 Starlink satellites – a fraction of the total need for global coverage, but enough to provide service in some regions, including the northwestern US.
The company has confirmed it was conducting a private beta test of Starlink with employees, but Hall said the Washington Emergency Department use case “grew organically from previously unrelated conversations.” As the Washington wildfires deepened with catastrophic damage in August, Hall saw Starlink as a new solution for areas where the damage meant “no other available data connection”.
Washington Emergency Management Division
Washington has used Starlink to enable “zero-day communications” for regions, Hall said. He has set up terminals in areas that were badly burned to give evacuated families wireless calls and internet access for insurance claim filing.
“I’ve even set myself up so that kids can do part of their elementary school as well because they’re slow moving with limited attendance. We covered a number of basics,” Hall said. “Starlink is changing the game as much as possible.”
The U.S. Air Force in particular also did early testing of Starlink, but the use of Washington is the first time the service has been using it over several weeks. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Monday responded to Washington State’s gratitude for support from Starlink.
“I’m glad SpaceX can help! We are prioritizing rescue workers and locations without an internet connection,” Musk tweeted.
SpaceX has broadcast both beta and the first commercial Starlink user terminals to Hall. He said the user terminals were all “of great quality” while the commercial ones were “just a little bit more of a leaner, more finished product”.
The base of the terminal was originally a solid, round weight, but was replaced by a tripod, which, according to Hall, allowed for a more flexible furnishing experience. While SpaceX Hall said the terminal “requires a clear shot north,” some spots it put up were “slightly obscured, but it still worked like a spell at great speed”.
No service fees yet
Musk’s company allows Washington State to use Starlink terminals for free. Hall said it “has not yet specified a fee structure”.
“The idea is that if we want them in the long term, we come back to the table and talk about it,” Hall said. “Myself and other people in my agency want to start finding out because, at least as far as we are concerned, they are here to stay for us. We want to bring as many to as many places as possible. So it’s sooner than better to know later what the cost will be. “
Hall added that he was aware of interest in Starlink from other organizations, such as the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“There’s a lot of interest. The only problem is we’re still limited to where we can use it outside of the Pacific Northwest,” Hall said.
SpaceX plans to continue expanding Starlink’s coverage area as more satellites are launched. The company announced in July that it did Construction of 120 satellites per monthas well as thousands of small terminals that consumers use to connect to the network.
SpaceX plans to launch a public beta test of Starlink after the private beta test is complete, with the goal of offering a commercial Starlink service in the northern United States and southern Canada by the end of this year.
“SpaceX is very careful about what they promise us right now, but it was nothing but good things,” Hall said.
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