Starlink satellite trials set to improve rural broadband

The government has announced plans to beam high-speed broadband signals to remote rural locations using satellite systems.

A pilot launched this week will assess the speed and reliability of connections to more than a dozen “very hard to reach” locations.

Such areas are too difficult to upgrade via physical cables and make up less than 1% of sites in the UK, Defra said.

See also: Rural connectivity still poor despite levelling-up agenda

Locations on the trial include parts of the North Yorkshire Moors, Snowdonia and the Lake District.

Equipment will be installed at specific sites that connects to Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system, providing signals 10 times faster than is currently available.

Starlink’s Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are positioned about 550-1,000km above the Earth’s surface and, unlike geostationary satellites, travel along their own orbit.

The fact they are closer to Earth makes more applications possible, including video calls and real-time collaboration, while also making activities such as web browsing much smoother.

Tests have shown that satellites can deliver speeds of up to 200Mb/sec, well above the speeds achievable via copper cables.

Government digital secretary Michelle Donelan said that once the initial trials had been completed, a government review would assess the viability of satellite broadband.

“High-speed broadband beamed to Earth from space could be the answer to the connectivity issues suffered by people in premises stuck in the digital slow lane.

“These trials aim to find a solution to the prohibitively high cost of rolling out cables to far-flung locations,” Ms Donelan said.

The satellite venture comes after the government awarded a £108m contract to Northern Ireland-based provider Fibrus.

It will connect up to 60,000 rural homes and businesses across Cumbria, which has so far been unable to upgrade to faster speeds.

Voucher upgrade

In a further broadband boost for rural areas, the government has pledged to triple the value of vouchers available under the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme.

From early 2023, eligible homes and businesses will be able to apply for up to £4,500 to cover the costs of a gigabit-capable connection.

That is a jump from the previous scheme limit of £1,500 for homes and £3,500 for businesses.​​

To date, more than 111,000 vouchers have been issued, with 77,000 used to connect premises to gigabit-capable broadband.

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