Elon Musk’s satellite network in Iran “will not fundamentally change the game”


Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi promised that it will not happen. no mercy against those who show hostility towards the Islamic Republic in the demonstrations. Meanwhile, Elon Musk assures on Twitter that there will be ” 100 active Starlinks in Iran soon “, while the authorities have restricted access to the Internet since the start of the wave of protests that shook the country.

Kave Salamatian is a professor of computer science at the University of Savoie.

RFI : How does Starlink work and how does constellation help bypass censorship?

Kave Salamatian: Starlink is based on low-orbit satellites, i.e. satellites orbiting in the sky at a distance of about 250 km from Earth. The interest of this technology is that it allows connecting to the Internet with a fairly limited ground infrastructure, antenna and receiver array. So this can make internet monitoring difficult, but it is also done to provide connectivity in some white areas where internet is not available.

Today, censorship has been installed in a number of internet checkpoints across the country. In Iran, censorship mechanisms are implemented through keywords, and they are usually installed at Internet access providers or Iranian Internet access points. Iran’s internet is designed in such a way that these access points can be controlled, limited and well defined. Starlink is completely independent of Iran’s internet infrastructure, as the only thing on Iranian territory will be the antenna and the receiving base station.

Does it completely bypass censorship and why? ?

Yes and no. For the lucky beneficiaries of this connection, it will eventually allow them to bypass censorship as they will have direct access to the Internet through Starlink. But as they say, there is no spring from the swallow. A hundred Internet connections will not change the situation, especially in Iran, the Internet is not completely sealed. We regularly manage to have internal videos and internal information, even if they are fragmented and difficult to access. However, the capacity we are talking about on Starlink today is less than 0.1% of what VPNs in Iran have today. This may change things for some activists, but it won’t fundamentally change.

Starlink has several elements to consider. First, the cost. When you buy the connection system, the device will cost about 500 euros, and you have a subscription of about a hundred euros per month to pay. At the current exchange rate of the euro in Iran, 100 euros is 80% of the average salary of a computer engineer. Another element to consider is that the internet came to Iran via satellites and around the time of the green uprising, i.e. around 2009, and there was a huge movement by the security forces to search for, locate and destroy internet satellite dishes. Anyone installing a Starlink antenna today would be in a pretty complicated security situation if discovered.

However, it is not patches like Starlink and others that have allowed Iran’s internet to breathe a little today, but the lifting of the US Treasury Department’s ban on Iranian internet traffic on US networks two months ago. Because the Iranian Internet was between two blades of scissors: on the one hand, the will of the government, and on the other hand, the desire of the United States to impose sanctions. Starlink is now coming in to reduce some of its previous impact, but the damage is done.

Is it risk taking or advertising for SpaceX bringing Starlink to market? ?

This is a huge ad. This allows them to present themselves as supporting democracy. This also goes in the direction of a fairly strong deployment at the Starlink level in Ukraine. Elon Musk is proud to be a very important support for Ukraine in terms of internet connectivity. The number of stations in Ukraine has nothing to do with the size of the number of stations in Iran. In Ukraine, we are talking about several thousand, even tens of thousands of stations. But we must not forget that Elon Musk very quickly said that it is not up to SpaceX to cover the costs. We are in such an approach that we want to advertise at the same time, but without spending too much.

► Also listen: Starlink funding: ‘There are big money talks and Elon Musk sabotage’

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