Google Cloud and SpaceX’s Starlink to Bring Satellite Internet Connectivity Around the World

Google and Starlink are teaming up to expand satellite internet coverage and bring cloud access to all corners of the globe.

A look at Starlink’s satellite receiver in the wild. (Credit Nilay Patel, The Verge)

A look at Starlink’s satellite receiver in the wild. (Credit Nilay Patel, The Verge)

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk wears a lot of hats, running the world’s largest electric vehicle company, hosting Saturday Night Live, “investing” in Dogecoin, selling flamethrowers and sending rockets into space. It’s that last venture, the one with the rockets, or more specifically SpaceX, where Musk is making some real progress on creating technology that people might use every day—without even realizing it. Starlink, a company that works within the SpaceX corporate structure, is working to launch high-speed, low-latency broadband internet via a network of satellites and ground-based centers. If successful, the company believes they can provide better, cheaper Internet to rural parts of the world.

Starlink’s network of satellites can provide lower latency than traditional satellite-powered broadband internet providers. This makes it possible to stream video, play games or video chat without lag. Now, Starlink will get a boost through a new partnership with Google Cloud.

Working together, SpaceX, Starlink and Google will look to expand the satellite Internet coverage to the entire globe. SpaceX and Starlink will begin locating their ground stations at Google Cloud data centers. Starlink’s global internet service will work seamlessly with Google Cloud’s private network to enable connections to the cloud and Internet and allow users to access enterprise applications from anywhere around the world. Starlink and Google Cloud will power teams and corporations who need access to their data and applications in far-flung locations . The cloud makes it possible for users to tap into their apps and datasets anywhere, while the connectivity of Starlink makes it possible to do so quickly.

Google Cloud and Starlink are a perfect pairing, and executives from both companies spoke bullishly on their joint efforts.

“Applications and services running in the cloud can be transformative for organizations, whether they’re operating in a highly networked or remote environment,” said Urs Hölzle, Senior Vice President, Infrastructure at Google Cloud. “We are delighted to partner with SpaceX to ensure that organizations with distributed footprints have seamless, secure, and fast access to the critical applications and services they need to keep their teams up and running.”

“Combining Starlink’s high-speed, low-latency broadband with Google’s infrastructure and capabilities provides global organizations with the secure and fast connection that modern organizations expect,” said SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell. “We are proud to work with Google to deliver this access to businesses, public sector organizations, and many other groups operating around the world.”

An Ambitious Internet Project

Starlink is an extremely ambitious Internet project, with its focus specifically on improving service in rural areas where it is typically difficult, or expensive, to install the cables and infrastructure required for traditional broadband service. As the world and economy shift ever more dramatically to the web, rural areas are at risk of becoming even more disadvantaged. The COVID-19 pandemic only served to accelerate the shift towards full digitization of work, education, commerce and entertainment.

Unfortunately, the payoff for building out broadband networks in rural areas is hardly worth the expenditure for traditional internet service providers. President Joe Biden’s bold infrastructure investment plan had called for up to $100 billion to invest in rural broadband, but that figure has already dropped to $65 billion as the administration looks to cut a deal with Senate Republicans. By the time an infrastructure proposal becomes more than talking points to be batted around in Congress, the outlay for rural broadband could be cut down again.

Starlink works differently, with its satellites launched into low-level orbit on the back of SpaceX’s rockets. Over 1,500 are already in orbit, beaming down low-latency broadband that is a huge upgrade over traditional satellite Internet because the satellites are 60 times closer to the surface of the Earth. Starlink users simply install their receiver, connect it to a router and are good to go. Even better, they’re not beholden to telecommunications conglomerates  high monthly bills.

So far, reviews are mixed at best on Starlink’s product, which, it should be noted, is still in beta mode. There are still kinks to be worked out, like line-of-sight issues (if you’ve ever tried to use a GPS watch while running in a big city, you know what I’m talking about) and spotty download speeds. Starlink is still in the very early innings of its attempt to change the way we connect to the web, but given time to work, the company could represent a worthy competitor to traditional broadband.

Space: The Next Big Frontier

A SpaceX rocket prepares for launch in Florida. (Credit: WJXT News4Jax)

A SpaceX rocket prepares for launch in Florida. (Credit: WJXT News4Jax)

Outer space has always been billed as the “Final Frontier,” but there hasn’t been much headway made by private corporations into tapping the obscene value waiting to be unlocked past the far reaches of our atmosphere. That feels like it may be changing, however, with a handful of billion-dollar companies—both publicly traded and privately held—making big bets on the future of the space economy. Nearly $9 billion was invested in space-focused companies in 2020, and several high-profile space IPOs went public, notably that of Virgin Galactic.

Perhaps fancying themselves playing the role of a real-world Tony Stark, a long list of the world’s biggest tech minds like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson are putting billions of their own fortunes at stake in driving the 21st Century Space Race. If the 20th Century Space Race was all about showing off global supremacy for superpowers like the USA and USSR, the race for the 21st Century will be all about unlocking the potential of space to generate fabulous wealth and build the legacies of men like Musk and Bezos as the leading technologists of their time.

Amazon also has its own satellite internet venture cooking called Project Kuiper. Meanwhile, Microsoft has its own competitor to Amazon’s projects with Azure Orbital, which is similar to what Google and Starlink are working to accomplish with the cloud. The race to dominate in space is heating up between the largest companies. A handful of huge space startups have also gone public via the SPAC route. Billions are being sunk into the private sector’s efforts to commoditize space unlike ever before.

Space Investment is a Win for All

Outer space has long been the playground of government agencies, with huge geopolitical ramifications. Humanity has certainly benefitted from the billions of dollars spent by our leaders on exploring space, but the tide has turned and many countries have shied away from continuing to fund their space programs at the level required to break beyond the point of exploration and begin creating a true “space economy.” Should the projects by the likes of Bezos, Musk and Google pay off, the long-term ramifications for humanity will be huge. We are only scratching the surface of how our everyday lives can be improved through space.

It seems clear that the majority of innovation in outer space over the next 100 years will have to be driven by non-traditional players in the private sector who stand to benefit the most if their investments hit. These companies have the fire power to drive innovation and the incentive to capitalize on their position as first movers in the space sector. The future of the space economy is unfolding right before our eyes, and it’s an exciting time to be a citizen of this terrestrial body.