It's been four months since SpaceX began beta-testing for its Starlink internet service. Since then, Elon Musk has promised customers the moon and the stars regarding the service's speed and performance.
The magnate recently tweeted to his roughly 47 million followers that the service would soon offer download speeds of 300 Mbps and near-global coverage.
But the larger question is whether SpaceX's can deliver on these promises, especially in light of an eventual Starlink IPO.
Starlink will be a flagship product for SpaceX in the coming years. It marks the most ambitious attempt to provide a space-based internet service-a service that could theoretically beam high-speed internet to virtually any location on earth.
Already at least 10,000 have ponied up the $500 hardware cost and are currently paying $99 monthly for the Starlink service. According to a recent U.S. Federal Communications Commission filing, SpaceX claims that Starlink is "meeting and exceeding 100/20 Mbps throughput to individual users," CNBC reports.
Not bad. But it's easy to deliver that kind of speed on a network with only 10,000 users.
But reaching Musk's promised speeds of 300 Mbps is going to prove difficult as Starlink's user base expands. On top of that, Starlink's technology remains untested on a large scale. Even with existing technology, consisting of fixed cell towers, mobile providers can only deliver average download speeds of 50 Mbps here in the U.S.
SpaceX's answer to these challenges of both scale and speed is simple-launch more satellites. The company aims to quadruple its satellite fleet to 4,425 by 2024.
"As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations, and improve our networking software, data speed, latency, and uptime will all improve dramatically" according to SpaceX senior engineer Kate Tice, according to Bloomberg.
Others aren't so sure, especially when it comes to Starlink's ability to compete with mobile providers. "It's hard to see the satellite trajectory keeping pace with the improvements coming in cellular," John Byrne, an analyst at Global Data, told Bloomberg.
Challenges aside, SpaceX believes the Starlink service could rake in as much as $30 billion from the service. For context, that's roughly ten times the revenue SpaceX currently pulls in from its rocket business. Armed with these projections, SpaceX has made assurances about a future Starlink IPO.
For his part, CEO Elon Musk has been hesitant to bring SpaceX as a whole public. Given his cadre of loyal fans, the stock would surely surge on its debut. But Musk has been hesitant about the financial scrutiny SpaceX would come during an IPO.
Nevertheless, Musk believes that Starlink will one day be ready for primetime. After Starlink finds its way out of the "deep chasm of negative cashflows," Musk tweeted. "Once we can predict cash flow reasonably well, Starlink will IPO."
Of course, Musk himself notes that "every new satellite constellation in history has gone bankrupt. We hope to be the first that does not."
As it stands, it remains anyone's guess if Elon Musk and SpaceX's reach for the stars will be in vain.