How Canada’s Oil and Gas Companies Can Enjoy Improved Internet Access

Have you heard of Starlink? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. A division of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Starlink provides Internet service through a collection of more than 1,700 low earth orbit (LEO) satellites. It began building this network in 2015, though it launched its first satellites three years later. And as a division of Musk’s SpaceX, Starlink has more than just financial resources to draw on. Its parent company has been launching satellites into orbit since 2009 and counts some of the world’s foremost aerospace experts among its staff.

Providing consumers and businesses with the Internet through orbital satellite networks is far from a new idea. In fact, HughesNet, which has 60 percent of the market for satellite-provided Internet, began launching satellites in 2012. Another large competitor, Viasat, first launched its service in 2012, with a satellite first launched in 2008. Together, these two companies provide service to approximately 2 million customers.

However, unlike Starlink, HughesNet and Viasat place their satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Because the relatively low height makes it impossible for GEO satellites and networks to cover the entire earth’s surface, GEO satellite provision can be inconsistent and slow. Further, these earlier satellite networks were simply not designed for today’s heavy usage. Streaming, videoconferencing, and other data-rich applications often suffer as a result. And some businesses, especially those requiring low latency, have occasionally struggled using these networks.

How Starlink Works

However, LEO satellite networks promise better service. LEO satellite networks, such as those provided by Starlink, OneWeb, and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, launch LEO satellites that form an interconnected web around the planet. Because this web has fewer coverage gaps, it enjoys increased speed, and users enjoy lower latency times. Starlink, for example, offers 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload speeds, while HughesNet only offers 25 Mbps and 3 Mbps, respectively. Starlink’s competitors, OneWeb and Project Kuiper, don’t yet have an operational LEO network of nearly the size or scope of Starlink’s. And Starlink plans to expand its network exponentially: from its current number of 1,700, it hopes to expand to 42,000 overtime.

Starlink’s current progress has positioned them to be the dominant force in this market. Indeed, its market position has prompted at least two competitors, Dish and Viasat, to engage the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to block Starlink’s growth until a decision is reached in a related court case. That case hinges on Dish and Viasat’s ability to persuade a federal appeals court that the FCC should have assessed the environmental impact of Starlink’s LEO satellite network before granting them the license to expand their existing network to 4,408 satellites and allowing those satellites to be positioned in higher orbit.

Improving access to underserved areas

However, even with the court case not yet settled, the U.S. government, among others, has realized the value Starlink creates. The division was recently awarded $1.1 billion Canadian in subsidies as part of the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which is designed to bring Internet service to U.S. regions without consistent access to high-speed Internet. It’s notable that in order to receive these subsidies, Starlink had to demonstrate that it offered a low latency service.

Canada’s Canadian RadioTelevision and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) approved Starlink’s operating license in October 2020, and the government has extended $600 million Canadian in subsidies. Starlink has extended beta testing offers to consumers in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K., and now has over 69,000 customers. And with each new satellite launch, existing gaps in coverage – where Starlink’s speeds are slower than others – narrow considerably in these countries.

Other individuals and businesses are recognizing the value Starlink provides. Individuals can use Starlink as an ISP by installing a satellite dish to receive the signal and bandwidth. Even given its industry-leading top speeds for satellite Internet, Musk is even more ambitious. He recently tweeted that by the end of 2021, he plans to improve Starlink’s top speed to 300 Mbps. While the initial costs are pricey – at $99 per month and a $500 satellite receiver for home use, Starlink’s speed and accessibility often make Starlink the best option in underserved areas. Further, Musk also plans to halve the cost of the satellite receiver when he unveils its next-generation model.

Providing incredible value for businesses

Starlink aims to complement fast wireline Internet service rather than compete with it. It cannot provide competitively fast speeds in high-density areas but can offer market-leading high speeds in low and medium-density areas. And consumers aren’t the only ones who can benefit. Many companies are headquartered in areas with limited access to traditional high-speed Internet. This is especially true of oil and gas companies, whose operations sprawl over large swaths of land yet whose field operations rely on Internet access.

Canada’s oil and gas companies can greatly benefit from Starlink’s services. While some industries may balk at the startup and connection costs, these costs are negligible compared to the returns on efficiency and productivity that high-speed, low latency Internet access can provide. Not only can oil and gas plants manage their networks and information systems without downtime, but field staff can also access their mobile devices and share data without restriction.

While most agree that fibre networks provide even better and more reliable Internet than satellite, laying fibre-optic cable in the ground to ensure coverage is a far slower process in most countries, including Canada. The environmental and business regulations that must be followed slow progress in this area down substantially. Similarly, orbital satellite networks raise many environmental and business concerns, many raised not just by Starlink competitors but by scientists, politicians, and other stakeholders. But unlike fiber, there’s simply less regulation and case law governing this arena at present. And the well-capitalized Starlink is taking full advantage of it.

If you work for an oil or gas company, you know how critical high-speed Internet access is to your operation. Downtime slows or halts productivity and can cost you considerably. At Pure IT, we recommend making the switch to Starlink now for its high-speed Internet and low latency periods in rural regions. Our clients who’ve made the switch have reported improved and consistent Internet access that’s helped them increase their productivity. And having helped several companies transition successfully, we’re ready to answer any questions you may have and help you obtain the Internet access you need. Contact us today to get started.