Residents in Washington state recovering from the wildfires are remaining online, thanks to SpaceX’s satellite broadband network.
The company’s Starlink system has been supplying the emergency internet to residents in Malden, a town of about 200 people, where an estimated 80 percent of the homes have been destroyed by the wildfires.
On Monday, Washington’s Emergency Management Department tweeted a photo of a Starlink satellite terminal acting as a public Wi-Fi hotspot. “Malden, WA is an area where fiber and most of the town burned down. Without this equipment, it would have been much harder for folks to get internet in that area,” the department added in a follow-up tweet.
“SpaceX provided seven terminals for our agency to use for free, where we saw the most need,” the state’s Emergency Management Department told PCMag. Other Starlink terminals are supplying emergency broadband around Bonney Lake, Washington, where some local residents were also forced to evacuate due to the wildfires.
“The terminals are being used for free public Wi-Fi, but we also used them for incident command vehicles out at the Bonney Lake, WA wildfire,” the department added. “SpaceX has not given us a timetable on when they need the equipment back. They’ve been pretty generous.”
The department declined to answer questions about the speed and latency rates for the emergency internet, and instead told PCMag to ask SpaceX. But according to CNBC, the latency rates have been reaching about 30 milliseconds, which is on par with ground-based internet.
“I have never set up any tactical satellite equipment that has been as quick to set up, and anywhere near as reliable,” Washington State Military Department’s IT division head Richard Hall told CNBC in an interview.
SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But CEO Elon Musk responded to Washington’s emergency management department in a tweet: “Glad SpaceX could help! We are prioritizing emergency responders and locations with no internet connectivity at all,” he wrote.
Earlier this month, SpaceX revealed that Starlink is currently capable of delivering 100Mbps download speeds using around 700 satellites. However, the company plans on one day achieving 1Gbps internet speeds by launching thousands of more satellites into space with the goal of supplying fast broadband across the globe.
In the meantime, the company is preparing to launch a public beta for Starlink later this year, likely for residents in northern US and Canada. SpaceX then plans on expanding the coverage to most of the world by sometime in 2021. However, one of the current challenges facing the company is launching the satellites on schedule to power the broadband system. On Monday, SpaceX had to delay sending up another batch of 60 satellites due to poor weather.