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SpaceX’s Starlink to provide internet access to Tonga

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How do you provide internet access to a country still reeling from a major disaster? 

A volcanic eruption has left the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga with limited internet access since Jan. 15. But SpaceX is now working to bring emergency broadband service to the region with the help of Starlink, its satellite internet service. 

SpaceX plans to establish a gateway ground station on Fiji, which is about 500 miles away from Tonga, according to a tweet from Fiji’s Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

Tonga, which is made up of 36 inhabited islands, lost its broadband access in mid-January after the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano erupted and damaged the only undersea communications cable to the country. Repairs on the cable, which runs back to Fiji, are expected to take a month or longer, according to Reuters. 

SpaceX could help fill the void. Last month, CEO Elon Musk mentioned the possibility of supplying Tonga residents with Starlink, if needed. Once a ground station is established in the South Pacific region, it could beam internet data to and from the Starlink satellites as they pass over Tonga, providing users below with high-speed broadband.

SpaceX likely selected Fiji for the ground station because the island country still has access to an undersea communications cable. There’s no word on how long it’ll take for the company to get the ground station up and running. But the other obstacle is delivering Starlink dishes to residents in Tonga. The ongoing chip shortage has slowed down the company’s satellite dish manufacturing, so it still may take time for SpaceX to bring satellite internet to Tonga.  

In the meantime, the country still has access to other satellite internet providers, but capacity has been constrained, according to Reuters. Starlink is able to deliver broadband download speeds of around 150Mbps, although only for a limited number of users in each locality.

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