Industry Shorts September 2023

Following is a discussion of a few topics I found to be interesting, but which are not long enough for a separate blog.

Starlink is massively far behind its original business plan. Starlink ended 2022 with around 1 million customers, while its original 2015 plan projected 20 million customers by the end of 2022. The 2022 revenues were $1.4 billion, far under the original projection of over $12 billion. The original projection was for Starlink to make $7 billion in profits in 2022, but the company still had monthly operating losses last year – although the company now claims a small profit at the end of the first quarter of 2023. Starlink company currently has over 4,700 satellites in orbit. The FCC has approved the launch of over 30,000 satellites, and Starlink says that 11,000 are needed to complete the first full constellation.

The company is currently up to around 1.5 million customers worldwide, which is impressive. But Starlink has a new competitor in FWA cellular wireless in many rural parts of the country. T-Mobile and Verizon added almost 3.2 million customers in 2022 and another 1.8 million in the first two quarters of this year. Much of rural America should be getting faster broadband over the next four years from the many federal grants, and I have to wonder if Starlink will ever meet it’s rosy projections for rural America.

Starlink has also been delivering slower broadband speeds than it originally advertised. The company now claims the following speed capabilities on its website, which are slower than what was reported a year ago. For example, in September 2022, residential speeds were claimed to be between 50 – 200 Mbps with upload speeds of 10 – 20 Mbps.

Download                   Upload

Residential      20 – 100 Mbps            5 – 15 Mbps

Business          40 – 220 Mbps            8 – 25 Mbps

RV                  5 – 50 Mbps                2 – 10 Mbps

There is still a lot of pent-up demand for Starlink. In every county I’ve worked in this year, I’ve talk to people on the Starlink waiting list.

AT&T Internet Air. AT&T has not taken the same aggressive approach to selling FWA cellular broadband as Verizon and T-Mobile, which together had over 5.9 million FWA customers at the end of the second quarter of this year.

But AT&T recently announced that it is now installing several thousand FWA connections every day. The product will use the frequencies that AT&T has labeled as 5G for customers living in range of a 5G-enabled tower and will use LTE spectrum elsewhere. AT&T said customers could be provisioned with a combination of 4G and 5G.

Chris Sambar, the President of AT&T Networks, wrote a recent blog that says that the AT&T cellular network has seen a 30% annual increase in the amount of bandwidth used per cellular customer. Any network engineer will tell you that is a huge increase. Landline broadband usage has historically grown at a rate of about 20% annually. At a 30% annual increase, network traffic will double in less than three years.

Sambar also said that AT&T was starting to test what he calls standalone 5G. That means using cellular technology that incorporates the 5G standards. For the last five years, everything offered by cellular companies that has been labeled as 5G was actually 4G LTE delivered using a new set of frequencies. It will be interesting to see what 5G can actually do differently. The blog mentions network slicing, which is perhaps the most important 5G feature – it will allow a cell tower to match the bandwidth being delivered to a customer to match the demand – small bandwidth for simple uses, and bigger bandwidth when needed. If network slicing works as originally intended, the bandwidth at a cell site will be used far more efficiently and a cell site will be able to handle a lot more simultaneous connections.

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