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Are Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX on the Way to Global Internet?


Musk’s two biggest companies, Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX, could partner in order to create global internet connection. These two companies are both striving to change their industries, but don’t seem to have much in common. Sure Musk has hinted at the SpaceX package for the new Roadster, but no other partnerships beyond that, and this article has nothing to do with high-speed cars. SpaceX has been developing a broadband satellite constellation they have named Starlink since 2015. The goal of the constellation is to bring reliable, high-speed internet connection to the entire world. On the surface, it doesn’t seem as if Tesla could do anything to help with this, but SpaceX could utilize each Tesla car to act as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) for the Starlink constellation. With this system, SpaceX wouldn’t need to install any antennas in areas with even one Tesla car in order to provide the internet connection.

Starlink

To understand this partnership, it is necessary to understand the $10 billion constellation called Starlink. Launches are slated to begin in 2019 and be completed as by 2024; the constellation will be located in Lower Earth Orbit in two separate plains. The bigger group, containing 7,518 satellites, will be 210 miles above the ground; the smaller group, containing 4,425 satellites, will be 750 miles above the ground. The smaller group will be mostly to provide backup for the larger one if any issues arise. This is an incredible amount of satellites, especially when taking into account that there are currently only 1,459 operational satellites in orbit. This will be one of the lowest satellite constellations ever, possibly the lowest. To give context, Iridium’s new constellation, Iridium Next, is the lowest satellite communications constellation in orbit, and it is 485 miles above the ground. The reason Iridium built this constellation so low was to allow for lower latency, giving it the fastest speeds out of any other current satellite communications company. The closer the satellites are to the ground, the faster the speeds are because there is less distance for the signals to travel. Starlink will be offering internet speeds of 1,000 Mbps which is comparable to 5G (about 1,400 Mbps). The FCC, which approved the constellation in March of 2018, has stated that 15.2 Americans don’t have any access to internet connection of any form. This behemoth of a constellation has been projected by SpaceX to be able generate $15 billion annually. Musk has also stated that it should be able to handle up to 10% of all internet traffic in more congested regions and provide internet to billions of people worldwide.

Tesla’s Role

The Starlink system would work well as a soley a communications satellite constellation, but in order to provide their blazing fast internet speeds they need customer ground transceivers. These are small terminals that are mounted on the roof or wall of the home to receive signals that provide the building with Starlink’s incredibly fast internet. Tesla vehicles could utilize this technology in many ways, looking at Iridium’s recent partnership with Amazon it becomes apparent that using vehicles as an IoT product for a satellite constellation is very reasonable and doable. This means that Tesla vehicles could be outfitted with an IoT receptor connected to the Starlink satellite to provide many better services. This partnership would allow for fast and reliable in-car wifi, and a real-time update on traffic conditions to enhance their built in GPS. Tesla could incorporate this as part of a high-end package, or make it its own separate package. By making it a package, the service would be completely paid for, as well as the cost of the actually receptor. This receptor could also instead be built as a transceptor, allowing each Tesla vehicle to not only receive the signal, but also transmit a “field of wifi” if you will. What this means is that as the fleet of Tesla’s grows, there will be more “fields”. These fields should cover a decent amount of area, not as much as a regular telephone pole, but covering at least 40 meters, as is standard with today’s technology. SpaceX, if they were to go along the transceiver route, would most likely develop their own transceivers that would be more advanced than what we have today. The more that SpaceX invests into the R&D of creating the new transceivers, the more effective they could be.

How Likely is This Partnership

There is strong evidence that Musk and Tesla will go down the path of a partnership with SpaceX in order to provide a global internet connection. All Tesla vehicles are outfitted with a 2×2 802.11a/b/g/n+BT Module (SiP), which they filed for with the FCC in 2016; this module is an adaptor that allows for wifi and bluetooth connection. This adaptor is in use for bluetooth capabilities in Tesla vehicles, but their internet capabilities are currently only used to relay Autopilot data back to Tesla. Tesla has the capability to receive a signal capable of providing the wifi in the car, they also already have the necessary technology to convert that signal into wifi with the module. Musk has shown interest in in the past to give Teslas the capability of a mobile “hotspot”. This all is reasoning for Tesla to partner with SpaceX in order to allow in-car wifi, but what about the car becoming a transceiver by adding a transmitter. In April of 2018, Tesla filed for a DXX – Part 15 Low Power Communication Device Transmitter with the FCC. This device is a transmitter being built by Tesla, classifying as “original equipment”. By Tesla designing their own transmitters, they will be able to design one that is integrated in the car, and made to meet the requirements of Starlink.

Bottom Line

This constellation will be completely unique, and offer wifi speeds that are currently unrivaled. By partnering with Tesla, SpaceX could vastly improve their service by providing wifi in even the most remote locations on the road. This wifi service is expected to be much cheaper than other satellite wifi services that aren’t even as good, it is also expected to be cheaper than most other regular internet providers’ plans. Tesla will also be one the only car with access to global wifi which could add to the appeal to purchasing their vehicles. This wifi could be provided to the car by a monthly fee, or with a package at the purchase of the vehicle.