Starlink Internet to be deployed in outback Aussie school

Image: Dreamstime: Bluebay 2014

Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s Starlink Internet service is like something out of a sci-fi movie. Floating 550km above the Earth, each Starlink satellite swaps laser fire with four other satellites as it passes them, and then beams data to its Earthly destination at almost the speed of light. A select number of Australians have begun trialling Starlink’s Internet, with a full release expected in August. But now a new initiative is introducing the technology to Aussie schools.

Codenamed Project Halo, it’s a partnership between communications company NetVault and software manufacturer Cisco. The project grants $100,000 to one Aussie school to fund the installation of Starlink terminals as well as conferencing hardware and software to hook up teachers and students to high speed, low latency Internet, giving them similar connectivity to city schools.

Starlink is seen as a kind of saving grace for outback learning. The technology is giving far flung communities hope that they’ll one day experience super-fast broadband with seamless connectivity, tapping the resources the rest of the country takes for granted. Early connectivity tests for Starlink download rates look promising, showing rural users can clock speeds four times faster than the average Aussie Internet connection. The service also isn’t limited by infrastructure, which ideally suits it to outback areas where broadband connectivity has traditionally been a challenge.

As an indication of speed, remote users currently trialling the technology have reported data speeds between 50Mb/s and 150Mb/s and latencies from 20 to 40ms. That’s lightning-fast compared to the current broadband speeds of between 10 and 20Mbs and latencies of between 500-600ms. Slow internet connectivity is no laughing matter in country areas. Apart from being annoying for those rural users wanting to enjoy the latest streaming entertainment, high-latency Internet is also terrible for dynamic learning in outback schools, since frequent dropouts occur when latency reaches above 150 milliseconds.

For the grant recipient, NetVault will help integrate the technology into one Aussie school and provide the telecommunications service with Starlink. The company will also use its Starlink+4G LTE Failover technology to address the problem of dropout said Radek Tkaczyk, NetVault senior systems consultant.

“NetVault will integrate with the Starlink system by directly linking the Starlink network back to the NetVault fleet of 10 data centres located across Australia. This means that if, for a few minutes, a Starlink satellite is not within range or is out of service temporarily, users will automatically be failed-over to the standby 4G LTE circuit in under one second, so their service is not interrupted and remote learning is unaffected,” he said.

“There is no failover like this currently available for most remote users, who would be forced to wait for the service to reconnect and start their video or voice call again,” said Tkaczyk.

Approximately 1,200 Starlink satellites are currently in orbit across Australia, travelling at 27,000km an hour. That number is expected to grow as SpaceX, the parent arm of the Starlink program, deploys more Starlink satellites into orbit in the coming months.

SpaceX is currently the only company in the world providing launch services that uses a reusable orbital class rocket. Starlink satellites are different to conventional satellites in that they follow a low orbit of the earth, which makes them more efficient at transferring data. In comparison, the NBN Sky Muster satellites that are currently delivering outback schools with broadband, are located 36,000km away from their data centres.

Applications for the $100,000 grant are open to any Australian school within 50km radius of Australia and close on May 30.

To enter, eligible schools are required to submit a 500-word submission about how and why the grant would benefit their school, with a supporting video submission strongly encouraged.

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