A Futurist Look at Global Connectivity


Occasionally, I conduct impromptu and unofficial focus groups to test the random knowledge of my friends and family. These queries usually involve general interest or scientific factoids. “Why does salt melt ice?” “How does lighting produce thunder? “Why do men have nipples?” While it is true that some of these questions invoke relatively unimportant facts, I can usually predict which will be generally known versus which will be met with a universal WOW. But the responses to a recent query — indicating a general lack of familiarity with the topic — truly surprised me and made me realize that my own focus on those things that are in the process of reshaping the very world we live in is not necessarily shared by all.

The question I asked was about Elon Musk’s Starlink — the futurist entrepreneur’s mission to provide high speed internet access to everyone on the globe. Put simply — I cannot think of anything on the legitimate horizon that will have a larger impact on every person on Earth and play a larger role in ‘The Great Reboot/Rewiring/Reset’ than real global connectivity and I believe strongly that we should all be thinking about the repercussions that it could have if we meet the opportunity — and what a sad waste it would be if we do not.

When fully realized, Starlink will essentially be a constellation of amazingly fast and interconnected man-made satellites, hovering over the globe in an Earth low orbit. Once fully connected and vetted, this constellation will consist of thousands of satellites and in communication with ground transceivers with the goal of providing easily available and seamless Internet to the entire world. As of the time of this posting, SpaceX has launched about 900 Starlink satellites and plans to have 42,000 by the time the constellation is complete.

Back on earth, the equipment will be a sort of “UFO on a stick” and users will need only to point it at the sky and plug it in. “Those instructions can be done in either order,” Musk has joked focusing on Starlink’s commitment to making the experience super-easy for consumers. Initially, the service will cost $99 per month along with $499 for the “Starlink Kit,” a bundle of hardware to start receiving service. The kit will include the terminal, a mounting tripod, and a WiFi router, according to CNBC. A Starlink app on both iOS and Android will tie the service together.

A company that is providing connectivity that is super easy to get and reaches anywhere must be a huge concern to our unchallenged national and regional monopolies Telco’s and Cable providers. Let us not forget, its 2020 and nothing is going to be the same again. Like the ol’ adage says, don’t sweat the small stuff, and right now, Starlink’s main customers will be the small stuff.

Musk counters the idea that he is going after the telco business as Starlink, SpaceMobile (another upcoming player) in the global satellite business will be targeting different remote geographies and customer sets, and that the overall effect on Telcos will be a minor part of their $30 billion global addressable market.

Starlink will effectively serve the three or four percent of the hardest to reach telco/cable customers and people who currently have either no, or very poor connectivity, providing broadband service with latency “below 20 milliseconds”. In case you think that’s not fast, that speed is more than acceptable for fast-response video games at a competitive level.

Think of it this way. Alaska — The Last Frontier- is twice the size of Texas — The Lone Star State — geographically, with a total population of only 700,000. That is only one-fifth the population of Los Angeles. Alaska Comm (NASDAQ: ALSK) delivers connectivity to areas like Anchorage with around 300,000 people, and to a mix of scattered villages that have as few as 50 people. To serve a population that is that spread out, Alaska Comm needs to deploy its network coverage over rugged terrain and in temperatures that can dip to 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

So what will this new found connectivity mean to the most far flung reaches of civilization? As we consider the possibilities, let’s remember what Morpheus warned in the Sci-Fi epic The Matrix. When explaining what the masses might do when suddenly freed from an oppression that they had never known they were subject to. “You have to understand,” he explained to Neo, “Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured and so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.’’ In an interesting and ironic twist from the plot of that prophetic movie, those about to be faced with unimaginable changed are on the cusp of being ‘plugged in’ to a much larger world rather than ‘unplugged’ from a dreamlike unawareness — though the result will be very much the same. Their new connectedness could, in fact, be more than they bargained for, and, if the vacuum created is allowed to be filled with triviality and ugliness (a side of connectivity we are all painfully too used to), we could imagine their rejection of it, in favor of their once uncomplicated disconnection.

But what if, instead of a cesspool representing the worst civilization has to offer, they are met with new ways to interact and exchange ideas with people they could never have imagined and present the opportunity to bring others from around the world directly into their own lives — sharing experiences that make them who they are? Then, perhaps, Morpheus’ warning can be heeded rather than lived, and the awakening of some can truly lead to the elevation of all.

At my company, Digital Wheel of Fortune, we focus on envisioning and forecasting what this type of fresh access to, and potential interaction with, previously isolated audiences might mean to forward-leaning brands and their customers — and preparing them for how best to leverage this opportunity to elevate their role in the coming fully interconnected world, rather than simply advertising to it. Just imagine the synergy that might be created by the new ideas, commerce, art, music, dance, celebrations, ceremonies, truths, falsehood, lies, pains and deaths will we now have access too.

While I was surprised at the results of my most recent informal focus group query, I am thankful for having conducted it as it has sparked a commitment to be part of widening this important conversation. I welcome hearing your thoughts about the importance of the coming global connectivity that Starlink promises and I commit to exploring it potentiality further in this forum and others.