Will Elon Musk’s Starlink Speed Up Croatia 5G Network?

Lauren Simmonds

As Novac/Bernard Ivezic writes on the 24th of November, 2020, less than a month after Starlink, Elon Musk’s space telecom, started operating, discussions have begun about when it will become available here Croatia. Could Musk’s move mean the speeding up of the Croatia 5G network?

For now, Starlink has only offered Americans internet via satellite speeds that are between what 4G offers today and what 5G should initially offer in the future. Musk’s Starlink offers a speed of 50-150 Mbps with a latency of 20-40 milliseconds, so far with no gigabyte limit, and with the promise that it will be even better in the future.

Due to its price, this alternative to terrestrial telecoms won’t be for everyone despite the fact that it will more than likely have very positive effects on the Croatia 5G network. The monthly subscription is 630 kuna with a previous purchase of a package that includes an antenna, tripod and Wi-Fi router for 3200 kuna. However, factories that need a backup connection, construction sites, hotels, platforms, sailboats, ships and planes shouldn’t have a problem with these amounts. Musk has already asked the US FCC regulator for permission to test Starlink out on Gulfstream jets. A good portion of Starlink’s commercial testers are also potential users of the future 5G.

Satellite operation

Starlink’s entry into the European market won’t be easy. The first to be able to use his services in Europe are the Norwegians, and that should be in the next few months, as Canada and Norway are listed only as the first markets outside the United States to which Musk will expand. In addition, only India is highlighted, which Starlink is expected to enter in the middle of next year. Here in Croatia, as is the case in other EU countries, Starlink will apparently not be able to sell its services immediately. And until a week ago, when another of Musk’s companies, Tesla Motors, opened a car shop in Zagreb, it was inconceivable that something like this could happen here at all, now no one doubts that Starlink will make its way here, too.

From Hakom, Croatia’s telecommunication regulator, it was learned that Musk will need certain permits to operate Starlink in Croatia, as he will across the rest of the EU. Hakom states that a license isn’t required for the operation of these satellites, but one for the provision of Internet or “electronic communication services” on the territory of Croatia is definitely necessary.

“Starlink or any other company that plans to provide electronic communications services here in Croatia is obliged to apply to Hakom for this activity through the e-Operator portal,” they explained from Hakom.

Commercial 5G

They explained that then, the only remaining question regards Starlink’s satellite dish and which one Croatia’s users will buy. Hakom states that it has issued a general permit that allows the free use of fixed earth stations in a fixed satellite service that communicates with non-geostationary satellite networks. Here in Croatia, almost 150,000 residents use satellite television from Croatian Telecom and A1 Croatia. However, Hakom points out that they don’t yet know whether Starlink’s terrestrial terminals meet the conditions for that general permit, but this is likely to crystallise over the next year. During that time, telecoms are expected to accelerate the spread of the Croatia 5G network.

At this point, Croatian Telecom has already launched commercial 5G. A1 is announcing the same for next year, although it is being intensively tested, and two weeks ago Tele2 (Telemach) announced an investment of 130 million euros in its own 5G network and the launch of that same network next year. From Hakom, they say that all three operators can already offer commercial 5G.

“Licenses for the use of the RF spectrum are technologically neutral and refer to the frequencies that an individual operator receives, and with the change in October, we enabled the use of 5G technology to all operators,” they say from Hakom.

Rural environments and islands

“A public auction for the allocation of the right to use 5G frequency bands is planned to be launched at the end of the first half of 2021, and a public hearing on the specific model of the public auction and the obligations of operators will be held beforehand,” Hakom explained.

During that time, all three operators have licenses to test the full range of the Croatia 5G network in the Eastern city of Osijek. The condition is that they cannot offer this as a commercial service. Croatian Telecom and A1 are testing 5G in both Osijek and in Zagreb, and Croatian Telecom also covered ​​Bjelovar and Krk, while A1 installed their 5G antennas in Dubrovnik, Split, Rijeka and Cepin. Tele2-Telemach’a 5G is currently being tested only in Zagreb.

The wider application of the Croatia 5G network will enable operators to compete with Musk’s Starlink in rural areas and across Croatia’s inhabited islands, ie wherever there is no developed optical network today. Hakom states that telecoms will be able to use 5G to offer a landline phone, internet and TV connection. It will also be able to offer backup over 5G for users of the existing network, and the list of technologies and capabilities will be extended even to autonomous vehicles. Although Mate Rimac said that he was on his way to that, Hakom states that so far no one is using 5G for autonomous vehicles in Croatia.

“Something like this will be possible only with the allocation of 5G frequencies next year. It’s important to point out that for autonomous vehicles, it’s necessary to ensure the continuous coverage of all roads with a 5G signal with a certain quality of service, which will require large financial investments,” Hakom concluded.

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