Government trials Elon Musk’s Starlink for high-speed broadband

Government uses Elon Musk’s low-orbit Starlink satellite system to make high-speed broadband available in remote countryside

The Government has begun trialling Elon Musk’s low-orbit satellite system Starlink to deliver high-speed broadband to remote rural areas.

Enabling superfast broadband will boost growth, says the culture department, enabling anybody to start-up and run a business of any size from anywhere in the UK – from the Highlands to the Norfolk Broads and the Welsh Valleys to the Lake District.

A mountain rescue base in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales and a 12-century abbey in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park are among the first test sites.

Starlink was chosen mainly for its availability and low cost, the Government said, although it added that it had not closed the door on using other suppliers and distributors, including British satellite broadband pioneer OneWeb, in future satellite trials.

Less than one per cent of sites in Great Britain, such as mountainous areas or small islands, are too difficult to upgrade via physical cables.

The Government’s goal is to deliver gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure to 99 per cent of premises by 2030.

Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are positioned around 550-1,000km above the Earth’s surface and, in contrast to larger geostationary satellites, travel along their own orbit.

The fact they are closer to Earth than previous generations of satellites makes more applications possible, including video calls and real-time collaboration, while also making activities like web browsing much smoother. The limited ground infrastructure required means they can provide additional resilience to critical networks in remote, often dangerous, environments.

LEO satellites can deliver speeds of up to 200 megabits per second, well above the speeds capable via copper cables commonly used in hard-to-reach areas today.

Digital secretary Michelle Donelan said: “High-speed broadband beamed to earth from space could be the answer to the connectivity issues suffered by people in premises stuck in the digital slow lane.

“Ensuring everyone can get a quality internet connection is crucial to our levelling up plans and these trials aim to find a solution to the prohibitively high cost of rolling out cables to far-flung locations.”

Project Gigabit

Meanwhile, the Government has signed a £108m contract with Northern Ireland-based provider Fibrus to connect up to 60,000 rural homes and business in Cumbria, as part of its £5bn Project Gigabit programme to reach the final 20 per cent of the UK without access to ultrafast broadband.

Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme

Meanwhile, the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme to help businesses get help with costs of installing gigabit-capable connection in hard-to-reach areas is to be tripled in value to £4,500.

Business that are eligible for gigabit vouchers can access the scheme through a registered supplier. In turn, suppliers can put together a proposal to supply gigabit broadband in remote areas where there is demand, and apply for vouchers on their behalf.

Overall, more than 111,000 vouchers have been issued through the Government’s voucher schemes, and to date, more than 77,000 of these vouchers have been used to connect businesses to gigabit-capable broadband.

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...

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