2 Mar 2023

Starlink high-speed internet could reach the remotest islands

8:47 am on 2 March 2023
This handout image released by TED Conferences shows Tesla chief Elon Musk speaking during an interview with head of TED Chris Anderson (out of frame) at the TED2022: A New Era conference in Vancouver, Canada, April 14, 2022.

Elon Musk himself is expected to take the stand in the rare securities class action trial (file picture). Photo: AFP / TED conferences / Ryan Lash

Slow internet could soon be a thing of the past in the Pacific's most isolated locations with Elon Musk's Starlink said to be looking to enter the regional market.

The tech-billionaire's company promises to deliver high-speed internet to the remotest regions, by using thousands of satellites orbiting close to the planet to deliver the service.

Cook Islands Competition and Regulatory Authority chair, Bernard Hill, said Starlink wanted to enter the Cook Islands "as soon as they can".

"There's a lot of interest in having the option of a Starlink antenna and having direct to the sky access," Hill said.

"That includes the Pa Enua, the outer islands, and the Northern Group Islands in particular, which have very small populations, something like Starlink could be quite a game changer."

Three companies currently provide internet services to the Cook Islands with Vodafone being the biggest.

Hill said another company joining the market was good for competition.

"What's necessary is that there is an option for some people and that tends to lead the market in terms of people's appreciation of quality and value, and has a price impact as well."

Bernard Hill

Bernard Hill Photo: Supplied

Vanuatu's telecommunication regulator was also working in collaboration with Starlink to get the company a licence to operate.

'Ideal internet solution' for remote areas

Paul Brislen, who is the CEO of the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum, said low-earth orbit satellite companies like Starlink were an ideal internet solution for people living in remote areas.

He said it was far more cost effective than building a fibre connection to an isolated property.

"I think we're going to see satellite coverage in parts of the world that have never had voice or data services before and that's very exciting for people who are working at the extreme edges of civilisation," Brislen said.

He said people who never previously would be able to, would now be able to stay in touch, call for help when needed, share remote research and study without needing to move to a big city.

"I think it's tremendously exciting to finally have a solution that works so well for rural and remote communities."

However, Brislen said there were limitations to low-earth orbit satellite providers including services getting congested if there are too many users in the same area.

He also said "rain fade" could be a problem, which is when signal is unable to travel through the atmosphere to deliver the content.

Brislen said it would be especially difficult if the satellite signal had to get through areas with a lot of ash in the atmosphere.

Vanuatu warning to local Starlink users

In Vanuatu people are already using Starlink despite the company not being approved to operate.

The country's telecommunication regulator earlier this month warned that any of the company's equipment brought into the country would be confiscated until it gets a licence.

The regulator's competition and consumer affairs manager, Roger Jimmy, said people were using the service illegally.

"We have a number of people who told us they're using Starlink and at the moment we're working closely with the customs department to inspect all of the equipment entering the country," Jimmy said.

He said Starlink did not know how this could have happened.

"They told us that they have no idea of what's going on or why people are bringing their devices to Vanuatu. It seems people possess this from either from New Zealand or Australia and bring it to Vanuatu."

Starlink told RNZ Pacific the company was focused on rolling out the service "around the world" and did not specify when the Pacific would be connected.