Is Elon Musk’s Speedy Satellite Internet Workable in Southeast Asia?

SpaceX’s Starlink has satellite-based Internet service available in more than 30 countries and is set to expand its coverage in Asia next year. As the US company starts to accept orders for its Starlink Kit and ship them to the US and Europe, it’s unclear how this will work in Southeast Asia.
A assembled Starlink antenna dish (Photo: Steve Jurvetson)
A assembled Starlink antenna dish (Photo: Steve Jurvetson)

Cambodia is currently on the waiting list to welcome Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s Starlink Internet service to be rolled out in 2023, according to its map which reveals services will be introduced in the Kingdom, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos next year.

In May, SpaceX said,

“Starlink is now available in 32 countries around the world. People ordering from areas marked “available” will have their Starlink shipped immediately.”

The Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Internet service, available since 2020, provides high speed connections of between 50-500 Mbps and latency of 20-40 ms.

But what is Starlink’s satellite-based internet service and how does the US company plan to enter the Southeast Asian nations?

“A representative of the Vietnam Telecommunications Authority (VTA) said Starlink has not taken any move to apply for a license to provide services in Vietnam,” reported VietnamNet Global news site late last year. It added, “Internet service, a kind of telecommunication services, is a conditional business field under current laws.”

In Thailand, satellite operator Thaicom said it is looking to serve as a business partner for any operators offering low Earth orbit satellite. This followed an announcement from SpaceX that people in areas marked as service “available” on the map on its website can order the service and Starlink Kit online.

As an aerospace company, SpaceX also plans to offer services in Malaysia. The country’s International Trade and Industry senior minister sees “an opportunity for Malaysian companies to get involved in space technology in the near future.”

However, “Several matters were still being considered by the government on Starlink’s (policy-related) proposals to introduce Internet service using satellites. So far, the government has scrutinised some of the proposals submitted by Starlink,” reported Malaysia’s daily newspaper The Star.

In May, The Philippine's National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) approved plans for SpaceX to provide Starlink high-speed Internet services in the country. By the end of this year, the Philippines will be the first in Southeast Asia to access Starlink Internet services.

Currently, with an average download speed of 32.37 megabits per second (Mbps), the Philippines lags behind other countries in the region as existing laws are keeping internet prices high.

As of July, SpaceX is the third largest residential satellite provider in the U.S. by coverage area. Competing directly with Starlink is Project Kuiper, owned by tech giant Amazon, to deliver speeds as fast as 400Mbps.

Starlink speeds increased nearly 58% in Canada and 38% in the U.S. over the past year (Data by: Ookla Speedtest)
Starlink speeds increased nearly 58% in Canada and 38% in the U.S. over the past year (Data by: Ookla Speedtest)

Starlink’s Internet is said to be the answer to slow communications and is ideal for rural areas where connectivity is unreliable or unavailable, to complement 5G and ground fiber connectivity.

Starlink uses satellites at about 550km above the earth’s surface, giving it the advantage of relatively higher speeds and lower latency.

“An estimated 37 percent of the world's population has still never used the internet, with 96 percent of those people living in developing countries,” according to data from the UN’s International Telecommunication Union.

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