Elon Musk claims SpaceX’s Starlink internet satellite service will be IP-less
Starlink, a massive satellite-based broadband internet service set to enter orbit in the near future, is said to be completely IP-less. At least, that’s what its creator and SpaceX founder Elon Musk claimed would be the case.
In response to a tweet musing what connection type SpaceX will utilise for Starlink, the tech entrepreneur explained that Starlink won’t utilise standard IPv6 connections. In fact, he states it “will be simpler than IPv6 and have tiny packet overhead.” It’s also “definitely” going to be a peer-to-peer connection.
A little after, in response to another tweet asking how he’d ensure this peer-to-peer connection would remain safe, Musk elaborated upon the technology he envisions for Starlink. On a base level, he sees it being “end-to-end encryption encoded at firmware level”. Musk believes such tech is “unlikely to be hacked [with] current computing tech” and, if it does end up being hacked, “a crypto fix will go out immediately via [a] network-wide firmware update.”
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As one Twitter user pointed out, this would mean SpaceX’s Starlink terminals would receive over-the-air updates in a very similar way Musk’s Tesla brand of automobiles do.
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If successful, Starlink would be the first true satellite broadband network in existence and it’s really no easy feat to bring to life. Currently, it’s believed around 12,000 satellites would be needed to ensure global coverage. If that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of satellites orbiting the Earth, there are around 4,256 up there at the moment – most of which aren’t even functioning.
Clogging up near-Earth orbit with another 12,000 satellites isn’t ideal, but that’s actually the least important logistical concern of developing something gargantuan as an entirely satellite-based broadband system. One corner of Reddit is particularly interested in just how viable a non-IP-based internet system will work at such scale.
Interestingly, it’s come to the conclusion that an IP-free network may not be that big a deal in the short term as Musk’s network would still have to connect to ground relays. In the long run, internet infrastructure on the ground may change, but for now, you’ll still be dealing with IP addresses for your homes and devices connecting to a ground relay before it’s beamed up to Musk’s satellites.
SpaceX Starlink: Satellites and politics
The real interesting aspects are when people have their own relays to pick up unfiltered connections direct to Musk’s satellites. It’s this aspect that could have an impact on just how warmly it’s received by governments around the world. An IP-less infrastructure could come at a government level where suddenly internet traffic becomes near untraceable. Not only does it smash the plans around internet regulatory rules that many governments are bringing in, but it could mean Musk’s project never gets off the ground.
Speaking with Business Insider in 2016, Musk admitted that many countries may object to having a groundlink on their soil if they don’t agree with the way Starlink intends to run its network. One nation that concerned him at the time was China. With its strict rules around internet regulation and its satellite-smashing rockets, Musk feels inclined to just stay away from the country than try to negotiate with them.
“Obviously, any given country can say it’s illegal to have a ground link. […] And from our standpoint we could conceivably continue to broadcast,” Musk said during the event. “I mean, I’m hopeful that we can structure agreements with various countries to allow communication with their citizens, but it is on a country-by-country basis.
“If they get upset with us, they can blow our satellites up, which wouldn’t be good,” Musk said. “China can do that. So probably we shouldn’t broadcast there.”