back to article Starlink's latent China crisis could spark a whole new world of warcraft

2020 was, by general consent, a bit naff. Everyone moped around not doing much. Everyone except Elon Musk, who pushed some 800 radiating routers into low-earth orbit (LEO) atop his personal fleet of reusable space rockets. As you do. This year he's already lofted another 200 Starlink satellites, including the first few with …

  1. Solviva

    Simples, the Chinese.gov contact President Trump and enlist him as the chief Great RF Wall builder.

    Just extend the Great Wall vertically with RF shielding materials (some form of metal mesh should do the job). Result - Greatest Firewall of China v2, it's gonna be the best firewall you've ever seen!

    1. Flak

      If you build it high enough...

      ...the satellites will just bounce off it!

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      And enlist Steve Bannon to raise extra funds for the wall

    3. MyffyW Silver badge

      @Solviva so funny, but also slightly, scarily prescient.

    4. TDog

      Maxwell's Demon

      Would be ideal for opening and closing the gates to let aircraft in.

      if (KE> small aircraft)

      {

      Open Gate (secure border control device)

      }

      else

      {

      Keep Gate Closed

      }

      finally

      {

      Whoops, sorry birds

      }

    5. NoneSuch
      Big Brother

      Any regime that keeps its populace ignorant of the world at large through censorship and threat of violence needs to be challenged with every technology available.

      Instead of running weapons, the CIA should be air dropping Starlink hardware randomly within Chinese and Tibetan borders.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        They have nukes.

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

          I rather hope that the CIA can tell the difference.

      2. Muppet Boss Bronze badge
        Happy

        >Instead of running weapons, the CIA should be air dropping Starlink hardware randomly within Chinese and Tibetan borders.

        Fresh from Foxconn factories I assume? Oh, they are really made in Texas? Sorry then, restricted technology. not allowed to be exported to China.

        But seriously yet another wish that the US should drop bombs/weapons/hardware onto some countries. I wish the US minds own business or gets their presents back.

        1. Robert Grant Silver badge

          > But seriously yet another wish that the US should drop bombs/weapons/hardware

          If you have to add random unrelated evil things in your category list - things that were specifically excluded by the OP - you probably don't have much of a point.

          1. Muppet Boss Bronze badge
            Thumb Up

            >If you have to add random unrelated evil things in your category list

            Fair enough but I only added bombing and specifically did not mention political killings, state-sponsored terrorism, training of terrorists, training of death squads, organized drug trafficking, torture, supplying training in torture, endangering civilians by fake vaccination, unethical human experimentation on prisoners and racial minorities and other types of confirmed CIA crimes (well, they call them "operations").

            The problem is, the OP saying that the CIA (being in the mind of many a criminal organization) better be parachuting Starlink's hardware to China instead of weapons (apparently to undermine the Chinese regime) is causing a strong emotional reaction for some people, including myself; it is like saying that China should aim to change the US regime by lobbying instead of supplying weapons to the US far-right groups, this would cause strong emotions for other people and they would have every right to be angered.

            Apologies if my point was not self-evident without this explanation. I simply do not like criminals and violence, even if they are funded from people's taxes.

      3. CrackedNoggin

        As noted by the author of the article that's not going to happen - because of Telsa's Shanghai plant.

      4. sniperpaddy

        By the same reasoning the CIA will need to drop starlinks within the US, when the next GOP government comes into power.

      5. It depends.....

        "Any regime that keeps its populace ignorant of the world at large through censorship and threat of violence needs to be challenged with every technology available."

        Agreed. But that's enough about the US, what do you propose we do about China?!?!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @depends, it's a good throw-away line.

          I know plenty of well-educated, well-informed US citizens. I personally know fewer, but some, well-educated citizens of the PRC. They'd like to search for information, become better informed, but certain terms will get them in real trouble. That's the difference.

    6. eamonn_gaffey

      .... and the Chinese are gonna pay for it :-)

  2. Flak

    A new game with no established rules

    In this scenario players may see themselves beyond or above established (international) laws, driven by economic - or political - self interest.

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    I am sure I remember reading about a Chinese directed EMP weapon a couple of years back.

    ' Nice satellites you got there Elon, pity if they got broken.....'

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      China probably would want to break the test ban treaty. North Korea on the other hand ...

  4. arthoss

    I think they'll shoot them down, just like they did in 2007 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Chinese_anti-satellite_missile_test .

    1. FeepingCreature
      Mushroom

      Not Likely, But Very Worrying

      China opens fire on American satellites. Ensues Icon:

    2. AVR

      Shooting down satellites creates debris which risks more satellites. If you're planning to put 13 000 satellites in similar orbits then this is a dumb idea. Jamming is far more likely.

    3. hoopsa
      Mushroom

      I'm not sure shooting them down is even possible. As far as I know they're not geostationary so they'd have to shoot down a lot of them. Do they have the capability? (Quite apart from it being an obviously bad idea from a political point of view)

    4. RLWatkins

      You don't really shoot them "down". You shoot them, but they turn into smaller pieces and stay in orbit.

      Likely someone *would* consider that an act of war, as the smaller pieces will themselves destroy lots of other satellites.

  5. coddachubb

    I wonder if it could be possible to have an evil twin for Leo called Cleo flying just below her sibling and doing lots of fun stuff?

    1. sev.monster Bronze badge

      Closer Low Earth Orbit

      It's like LEO, but closer.

  6. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

    A fight with China means a squabble at the very least, with Russia, There's no mention in the article about Russia, who could jam nearly all of the sky just by themselves - China has been steadily buying up important strategic assets all over Africa and Asia, including many ports. Between them, the can jam the whole sky.

    1. ThatOne Silver badge

      > China has been steadily buying up important strategic assets all over Africa and Asia

      Europe too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        NO source but apparently Chinese interests own about 30% of US arable land...

        1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

          So what? There is no chance that they'd be allowed to build a satellite jammer on land they own in the US and very little chance they'd be allowed to build something in one African country that blacked out all that country's neighbours. Even blacking out China would probably hobble India, Japan, etc to an extent that was seen as an act of agression.

        2. Irony Deficient

          the value of sourceless statistics

          Here’s a source — a PDF document that includes multiple reports — from the US Department of Agriculture: Foreign Holdings of U.S. Agricultural Land Through December 31, 2019. From the document’s abstract,

          Foreign persons held an interest in nearly 35.2 million acres of U.S. agricultural land as of December 31, 2019. This is 2.7 percent of all privately held agricultural land and 1.5 percent of all land in the United States.

          If timberland is excluded from consideration as arable land, and gIven that just under half of that agricultural land is timberland, that means that as of 2019-12-31, all non-US persons combined held an interest (where “interest” could even take the form of owing a share in a US corporation) in 1.35% of all privately held cropland and pasture in the US.

          According to Report 4 within the document (page 211 of the document, labelled as page 207), Chinese interests (excluding US corporations with Chinese shareholders) own 191,652 acres [77,559 hectares; 37,326 microwaleses] of US agricultural land — either timberland, cropland, or pasture. In comparison, Canadian interests (excluding US corporations with Canadian shareholders) alone own 7,485,081 acres of US agricultural land, an area that is 39 times greater than that owned by Chinese interests. Since the amount of US agricultural land owned by foreign interests (excluding US corporations with foreign shareholders) is 24,891,634 acres, the percentage that is owned by Chinese interests is a mere 0.77% of foreign-owned US agricultural land, let alone 30% of all US arable land.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: the value of sourceless statistics

            Thank you

          2. Toni the terrible

            Re: the value of sourceless statistics

            Answer; Nationalisation of foreign owned farm land

    2. Kaki

      They are buying support in south america too, with helping countries that go with their narrative. To me it's a better approach than showing off miliray strength like the usa. This way the population will see real benefits without thinking much of the compromises made.

      1. gratou

        And it's cheaper too. One massive downside: the military industry suffers.

        1. EricB123
          Black Helicopters

          The military industrial complex

          I wasn't alive when Eisenhower was president, but know as a former general he knew all too well the dangers of the military industry influencing american politics.

          China and Russia are building trust and admiration vaccinating many countries. The president of Indonesia Joko Widodo got his Chinese vaccine on tv. Much more powerful a statement than parking an aircraft carrier nearby.

          1. ThatOne Silver badge

            Re: The military industrial complex

            > Much more powerful a statement than parking an aircraft carrier nearby.

            Yeah but gunboat diplomacy is a cherished tradition of "Western" governments, especially when dealing with what they consider inferior nations (meaning all others).

            1. John Jennings Bronze badge

              Re: The military industrial complex

              Gunboat diplomacy was practically invented in Chiina last time (the Opium Wars) - it wont be again. China would not permit it - they have long memories - and the US couldnt do it. Sure - they might be able to flatten china (given enough provication) - BUT - the cost is too high for that now. The US pacific fleet cant/wouldnt go within 100 miles of the Chineese uncontested waters. It will drag a coat round contested waters where it doesnt really matter.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        "This way the population will see real benefits"

        They will be promised real benefits that will never materialize - and when they'll discover it, will be too late...

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: "This way the population will see real benefits"

          That applies regardless of which "beneficent" country it is, and has done throughout history.

        2. sev.monster Bronze badge

          Re: "This way the population will see real benefits"

          No, they actually get the benefits—the problem is China sells the labor on loan, and if the country can't pay it back, China now has the leverage to either buy back the asset and utilize it for their own means, or otherwise put the country in a tough spot.

          How could that be beneficial exactly?

          Example 1: That highway we built you that crosses the whole continent? Yeah, now there's toll booths everywhere and Chinese nationals don't have to pay. Don't mind the constant stream of supply convoys and other Chinese-interest transportation.

          Example 2: That massive superstructure we built you in an incredibly useful (to us) location? Yeah, our military will be using that for recon from now on. You can keep the broom closet.

          Example 3: You didn't pay us for your 5G deployment. Pay us what you owe us or we remotely shut everything down.

          While these examples are ficticious, similar situations have occured—not just at the hands of China but by other large nations. Research the Belt and Road Initiative for examples in regards to China specifically.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Also, Crimea

    Russia has already said its residents cannot use Starlink. And the US has already said that no company can do business in Crimea. So far, it's Crimea who's the most protected from Elon's imperialism by authorities both foreign and domestic, not China.

  8. lostinspace

    Do existing satellite phones/internet not work already in China? What is new about Starlink except speed and latency? I imagine most people the Chinese government are worried about won't be trying to play games online or stream Netflix...

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Uptake is what matters. If many people use it, the Chinese government will want to stop it. If nobody does, they won’t care so much.

      I guess one big danger is that Musk is now talking about taking payment in Bitcoin. Making foreign transactions in China is difficult - but obviously they don’t control Bitcoin, which gives people a way to pay. Which makes it more of a threat. The Great Firewall is an important tool of repression, and will be defended.

      1. 96percentchimp

        For all its popularity, Bitcoin etc is only useful if you can use it to buy items in the real world, like food. If China doesn't want people to use Bitcoin, then it simply has to make the process of laundering it into Yuan too long-winded for most people to bother.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yes, they "Can" work. China has a mature regulatory framework for satellite communications. Some companies accept this framework and provide service in China.

      Basically the ISP must work with a licensed Chinese Telco. The provider must backhaul all data of Chinese nationals, aircraft, and ships to the licensed telco for compliance. It is a bit like a mandatory VPN.

      If you play nicely, they may allow overflight access to the Internet for non-Chinese terminals.

      For example you can use Inmarsat in and over China usually. Viasat no.

  9. Alan Brown Silver badge

    "The Internet inteprets censorship as damage

    And routes around it"

    A full-on mesh topgraphy will be the death knell of regional censorship/gateways

    Governments around the world have been frantically attempting to stuff the genie back into the bottle for some time bit it always slips through their fingers and Starlink may simply blow the entire "IWF"/"Great Firewall" issue out into the open where it can't be hidden

    The Emperor really is naked and no number of palace guards menacing the population is going to keep them from eventually noticing

    What this means is that policing actual criminality is going to have to change and the issues of "Intellectual copyright" reassessed (Hint: The USA was the world's largest industrial IP piracy operation in recorded history, actively encouraging and rewarding theft of ideas from other countries for nearly 200 years)

    The article misses that it's RUSSIA who are most actively opposed to Starlink AND have bottlenecked Internet across the entire country to a few key gateways AND have actually isolated the entire country on several occations

    WRT the financials of Starlink: Those laser links are the key. Starlink promises intercontinental linking of stock market hubs at latencies which existing dedicated multi-billion-dollar transatlantice fibre-optic cables can't match. once the income from that comes onstream the entire rest of the constellation could be turned off and it'd still be profitable

    1. John Jennings Bronze badge

      Re: "The Internet inteprets censorship as damage

      I dont think that this meshes well with the China states philosophy.

      They will most likely ban it - at least as an open connection (there may be technical options, such as middle kingdom basestations or simillar).

      Failing that, they would rather disable them than have them running open. Believe it.

      They are not US state birds (as was suggested above). They are commercial - the US govt wouldnt intervene kinettically... At least, that is the calculation China would consider.

      China was invaded before with trade and commercial interests. The Opium War was the last time - and this shapes Chinas thinking even today . That worked because China was divided and industruially primitvie compared to the great powers (and the US). I dont believe China would permit this again - and its strong enough to resist this time.

    2. low_resolution_foxxes Bronze badge

      Re: "The Internet inteprets censorship as damage

      Bwahaha

      I recall the US and London reaction to the EU trying to calm the algo trading millisecond down, by proposing to add a +-50ms randomised delay onto all trades. I recall the NY reaction was "eff off, this is profitable".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "The Internet inteprets censorship as damage

        > EU trying to calm the algo trading millisecond down, by proposing to add a +-50ms randomised delay onto all trades.

        Sure, they can add 50ms delays to all EU trades, who's that going to hurt apart from the EU?

    3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: "The Internet inteprets censorship as damage

      WRT the financials of Starlink: Those laser links are the key. Starlink promises intercontinental linking of stock market hubs at latencies which existing dedicated multi-billion-dollar transatlantice fibre-optic cables can't match. once the income from that comes onstream the entire rest of the constellation could be turned off and it'd still be profitable

      Perhaps, but-

      Radio waves travel about twice as fast as fibre-optic bound light

      is incorrect. Latency in fibre is about 0.7c or about 4.7ms/1000km. So at 550km altitude, about 3.67ms for one hop, ie 1100km satellite-Earth. Transatlantic cables are around 6-7000km and constant latency, satellite latency would get more complicated and vary as the terminal tracks satellites. There'd also be some additional latency as terminals and satellites process & switch traffic, especially if that includes authentication. Calculating typical path length & thus latency gets a bit complicated depending on how many hops there'd be satellite-satellite to get across the pond.

      Also I'm not convinced it'll be possible to route around official ground stations, ie route terminal-satellite-terminal partly for technical, but mostly for regulatory reasons. If traffic does have to go via ground stations, that would add some additional latency. China, Russia or other restrictive nations can just ban sale, installation & operation of Starlink terminals though.

  10. heyrick Silver badge

    more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

    And how long until it's a risky proposition getting off of this rock? It's almost as if he's building a chain link fence in space...

    1. DarkwavePunk

      Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

      It's a concern for sure with respect to possible chain-reactions and the like. However, the Earth is rather big and LEO quite a considerable bit more so. Those "space debris" charts you see sometimes in various news outlets are completely out of scale otherwise you'd see pretty much bugger all.

      It's a bit like Saturn. We all know pictures of Saturn and the rings look like some kind of dense fortress. But if you in a spaceship went full on at it on the plane of the rings to the planet, the chances of hitting anything at all are remarkably lower than what you'd generally imagine. The same applies to the asteroid belt.

      Even in the Solar System, it's much easier to miss things than hit them.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

        >Even in the Solar System, it's much easier to miss things than hit them.

        However, if you are out there for long enough, you can be sure something will hit you, the only question is how big and how fast.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

      The earth has a radius of ~6400km

      That translates to an area of approx 500,000,000 km^2

      4000 satellites means each one occupies an area of 125,000 km^2 (if evenly spaced out) - equivalent to a square over 350km x 350km. It's true that they fly across this square damn fast. But their positions and velocities are known to a high degree of accuracy.

      On top of that, there is the third dimension. In order to successfully hit one, your altitude would have to match at the exact same instant as your longitude and latitude do.

      1. Potemkine! Silver badge

        Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

        Your calculation is wrong, unless you consider satellites can roam inside Earth, and travel on the same plane.

        A low Earth orbit (LEO) is an Earth-centred orbit with an altitude of 2,000 km. Let's say it is between 300 and 2,000 km. The volume to occupy is around 20 580 000 000 km3. That means each satellite has a dedicated volume of 5 145 000 km3. That's a cube with a side of 173 km.

        disclaimer: If someone can verify my calculations please do, I'm not very well awake this morning...

    3. JohnG

      Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

      We manage to fit over 7 billion people around the surface of earth at an altitude of 0. The surface of Starlink's LEO offers even more area - there's plenty of room between the 12,000 planned satellites and even with the possible extension to 42,000 satellites.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

        "We manage to fit over 7 billion people around the surface of earth at an altitude of 0."

        True, but people accidentally colliding with each other doesn't tend to trigger a nasty cascade failure with potential long lasting consequences for subsequent people.

    4. FIA Silver badge

      Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

      “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.”

    5. David Hicklin

      Re: more than 4,000 orbiters by the end of 2021

      Plus China planning 10,000 of their own, that will be one hell of a risk assessment needed for every human launch and return.

      it will only take one ,,,,,

  11. jpo234

    This is covered by ITU regulations and is called "landing rights". Starlink will not go rogue and violate international treaties.

    1. Jon 37 Silver badge

      What's more, due to the requirement that Starlink satellites focus the beam at the ground station, they have to know where it is. And the ground station has to know where it is to focus the beam at the satellite, so it probably has GPS built in.

      So the system has GPS coordinates for each ground station, and can just refuse to work with ground stations in China, or in any other country where Starlink doesn't have a license.

      Don't know why the author of the article made this a big thing.

  12. HobartTas

    Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

    I'm a bit surprised given that TV detector vans exist in the UK that there won't be an equivalent in China, secondly in Australia here you can get into a lot of trouble if you use cellular jammers or even unlicensed Picostation repeaters to boost mobile signals and the relevant authorities and/or phone companies hunt these down as they usually cause a lot of issues and interference for other legitimate users. Given that Starlink will broadcast on known frequencies there's also the possibility of them being detected by China's own military satellites so if they are banned then presumably you'll receive a knock on your door there within the hour once you start using them.

    1. Dale 3

      Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

      Although TV "detector" vans may still exist, I doubt they are anything more than a PR exercise trading on the (diminishing) fear that it once was possible to detect emissions from TVs, maybe 30 years ago. I bet it won't be some nondescript white van trawling the neighbourhood in secret, but emblazoned with large colourful logos and driving around in the middle of the day to maximize exposure.

      There could be some faintly detectable signal emanating from your TV, if only it could be separated from the myriad other devices with screens which aren't watching TV, and dozens of ways to watch TV which don't involve having a set at all. I suspect the only "detecting" being done nowadays is a bloke listening out for the Pointless countdown blaring out the soundbar or peering through your Windows to see what you're watching.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

        Back in the Old Days nobody bothered much with emissions from electronic equipment so a TV set was a hotbed of R/F emissions that were waiting to be picked up and anaylized by anyone with a directional antenna and a fairly crude spectrum analyzer. You could tell a TV was used because the horizontal scan amplifier was generating harmonics of the line frequency at quite decent power. If your equipment was sensitive enough you could tell what channel it was tuned to by the tuner's local osciallator emissions. You might even be able to pick up the color burst frequency.

        That was then. Now we need to keep our kit's emissions low to prevent interference to other equipment. Our flat panel displays don't need high power scan generators and we don't use analog TV signals any more. Since there's now no difference between a TV and a computer and computers are everywhere it becomes impossible to tell who's watching TV.

        1. Bartholomew

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          They also used to cross correlate the flickering light level on the back of curtains from a household with a intensity of the signals currently on air and use that to "detect" a TV. But who watches TV in real time any more. That exact method is dead. TV detection vans are no more.

    2. brainwrong

      Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

      "given that TV detector vans exist in the UK"

      No they don't. I don't think they ever have.

      That was a scare tactic used until sometime in the 90's. I saw one once in 1990 on the university campus, licensing officials walked round the halls of residence knocking on doors and asking if anyone had a television, that wouldn't have been necessary if the vans were real. I happened to be out when they knocked, my TV used for my CPC464 went undiscovered. I was outside, looking at an old panel van. There were 4 ordinary tv aerials fixed to the outside on top, one on each corner. Visible inside was an assortment of 1950's era tv production equipment. No-one was in it doing anything, such as detecting tv's.

      The current scare tactic is for crapita to send scary looking letters out to everyone who hasn't bought a tv licence, threatening to open an investigation, or maybe send someone round. The letters can be safely ignored (I haven't received any since i burned the last batch). Someone once did come round whilst I was in. I let them in to show them the back of my telly, where I had removed the tuner head so it was unable to receive broadcasts. She wasn't interested, or didn't understand, and asked me to turn it on to see it not receiving a signal. The letters stopped for a couple of years after that, then started again. They seem to think I'm going to reply to them each year to declare that I don't have a telly, fuck that.

      1. dave 76

        Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

        "The current scare tactic is for crapita to send scary looking letters out to everyone who hasn't bought a tv licence, threatening to open an investigation, or maybe send someone round. The letters can be safely ignored (I haven't received any since i burned the last batch). Someone once did come round whilst I was in. I let them in to show them the back of my telly, where I had removed the tuner head so it was unable to receive broadcasts"

        Your first instinct is correct, why let them in? you are not required to prove you don't have a TV, just send them on their way.

        If they want to waste money continually sending you threatening letters then that's their own problem.

        1. brainwrong

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          "Your first instinct is correct, why let them in? you are not required to prove you don't have a TV, just send them on their way."

          Dunno, just to see if it made them stop I think. It didn't matter either way, I genuinely don't receive TV broadcasts any more so there's no risk of me being caught out.

          "If they want to waste money continually sending you threatening letters then that's their own problem."

          That's my general attitude, I still get fed up opening the damn things.

          It's a pretty lame way of enforcing the rules, combined with the usually quite low fines for people who are prosecuted.

      2. Mike 16 Silver badge

        Re: Detector Van existance

        So the premise of the episode I saw on One Step Beyond in the 1950s or 60s was based on... what?

        The premise of the show, set in the U.S., but I am willing to stipulate that it may have been inspired by UK detector vans, was that a detector van um, detected, a stronger than usual signal, which (Spoiler) turned out to be an alien observer "phoning home" with the day's observations. I was amused but skeptical, but not about the existence of detector vans..

        1) "fox and hounds" contests (radio direction finding) had been popular among radio amateurs since before I was born, and in somewhat more sophisticated form for military intelligence in both acts of the Great War.

        2) Detecting the intermediate frequency of a Superheterodyne receiver would indicate that a receiver was operating to a particular standard. That is, looking in the 30-45 MHz area (depending on local TV modulation standards) would "find" televison receivers, but ignore audio receivers for AM (typ 455kHz) and FM (typ 10.7 MHz) receivers.

        3) In principle, such a van would be quite feasible, although before the retirement of analog TV, I'd expect them to be operated by Cable TV providers or market survey companies.

        4) That said, I don't recall if the show mention the signal being a _lot_ stronger than typical IF leakage, let alone "right side up" in spectrum as opposed to the normal spectrum inversion in a typical TV. That said, Outer Limits was not really a "learn to be a nerd" channel. I doubt that later shows like Star Trek made anybody believed one could create a "Universal Translator" from a painted cardboard tube, nor would they waste time including a cobbled up "technical explanation". McGyver bent the laws of physics more.

        Anyway, I don't find the concept of a detector van absurd. Yes, FUD is also a possibility, but for me the take-away from the show was "Hey, if you want to communicate less obviously, unused TV channels are a good place to hide".

      3. Charlie van Becelaere

        Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

        "given that TV detector vans exist in the UK"

        No they don't. I don't think they ever have.

        Perhaps not, but what about the cat detector vans from the Ministry of Housinge?

        1. DuncanL

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          Have you got a license for that half bee?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

      TV Detector vans are fake and always have been.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

        Old style CRT televisions radiated a lot of RF, and would have been easy to detect from the street. Why would they need fake TV detector vans when real ones would not cost all that much more (the van, gasoline, and driver's salary would be by far the most expensive part)

        1. GrumpyKiwi

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          Yes that would explain why in 1997 I got them thumping on my front door telling me I had a TV and no license. At the time I had no TV and told them to go f*** right off.

          Clearly it was very "easy" to detect. So easy one might suspect that they were in fact just making it up on the fly.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

            The RF radiation is at rather low frequencies and thus not very directional. You'd probably need readings more at least two locations to hone in. They might have got it wrong and detected a neighbor's TV.

            Back in then almost everyone would have a TV, so they probably didn't even try to triangulate. They may have just driven down the street and if they detected something they'd look for the nearest address that hadn't paid for a license and knock on the door.

      2. AW-S

        Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

        In the 20-30 years these vans apparently went roaming around the streets you would expect to see at least one photograph, taken by a member of the public, in a normal looking street. All I could find online are staged images - now mainly licenced by the like of Getty.

        Heck, I've seen the Google "street-view car" at 3 times on my travels. No, the vans were not the weapon the BBC used - it was forcing retailers to capture your postal address, and checking that with the central database. Then came the threatening letters.

        1. terrythetech

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          Nowadays they just hassle you if you don't have a TV license - in fact I believe that was the main way of "detecting" forever. Back in the 70s in a bedsit and not enough money to even afford a TV I got a knock. They obviously weren't detecting a TV as I didn't have one.

          More recently a friend who decided that TV was too crap to fork out for a license got threatening letters despite not having a TV and being way too paranoid to even watch videos ripped from BBC on YouTube.

    4. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

      They could simply have drones overflying and listening on those frequencies, and it would be easy to pinpoint the locations that are transmitting. Send round the police and put them in a "re-education" camp for a few years, and there will be very few willing to run the risk.

      Though jamming may be an easier solution, at least within major cities.

      1. StargateSg7

        Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

        Well... since we have our newest "Spooky Action at a Distance" technology that we are shrinking as fast as possible down to cell phone size, it will be soon enough that NO RF jamming will EVER work against locked-together Quantum Communications nodes.

        Since we can CURRENTLY lock 1024 separate sets of 64 bits wide Q-BITS represented by 3D-XYZ positional Xenon gas molecules trapped in a quantum well to separate nodes at a bit-switching speed of over One GHz, that means EACH SET of 64 bits can send 8 gigabytes per second as the data rate FULL DUPLEX which ALSO MEANS we can have 1024 separate channels (or 1024 different ports open!) PER HANDSET.

        Most people don't open 1024 windows in their web browser, but if they wanted to they can! Q-Bit-based communications is unbreakable/unjammable by 3rd parties since EM bands from 0.0 Hz to ExaHertz is NOT used in any way shape or form. An underlying "communications stream" as yet not fully understood by modern physics is being used. We just know that Quantum Communications propagates at least 50,000x the speed of light at any local or faraway distance unimpeded even by an entire planet or ten!

        Good luck jamming that!

        AND YES we have SOLVED the de-coherence issue when you try to read a Q-bit!

        Anyways, we have working in-lab gear for over a decade now -- We just have to shrink it down to handset size. We will be using thick slices of Boro-Silicate Glass to create Xenon-trapping bubbles that will be read and written by Green-band micro-lasers. (Borosilicate absorbs UV bands so we use green lasers) The chips are about the size of and twice the thickness of a Canadian Nickel coin which should work fine for most handsets.

        It could be released at ANY TIME depending what corporate is thinking. I've been pushing them for 5 years at least to do a full public release of the technology! We shall see!

        v

        1. FeepingCreature

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          This is not how quantum works. This has never been how quantum works. Quantum doesn't work like that. Sending data with pure quantum does not work. You cannot transmit information with entanglement. Entanglement in itself cannot be used to transmit information. There is not now nor will there ever be such a thing as an ansible, a quantum transmitter or any sort of connectionless information transfer through entanglement - because this is not how quantum works.

          (There is usage of quantum physics to validate transmission line integrity, but this is not the same as transmitting information through entanglement and it cannot function without a classical channel.)

        2. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          "MEANS we can have 1024 separate channels"

          ...and still nothing worth watching.

        3. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

          Were such quantum entangled comms possible, I can see how governments and militaries might supress such knowledge. But with our current understanding, that's just not how quantum entanglement works.

        4. batfink Silver badge

          Re: Its very easy to detect ground based broadcasts

          If you think people don't open 1024 windows then you haven't met Mrs Batfink.

  13. Chris the bean counter

    This is why Oneweb gives UK leverage

    Where Elon cant go because of Tesla issues UK can threaten to go.

    Hopefully Oneweb is a bit of a mini clone of Elon's to allow interopability and keep costs down.

    Elon would be relaxed as makes him a bit of money on launches while not too big a competitor...and for a monopoly always useful to have a weak competitor to keep regulators happy.

    1. 96percentchimp

      Re: This is why Oneweb gives UK leverage

      OneWeb has all the makings of another Boris white elephant, not least the massive cost of using one-shot Russian launchers to build and maintain the constellation, instead of owning a fleet of reusable launchers like SpaceX. On top of that, the need for cooperation with the Russians means that OneWeb will only be able to play where Putin says it can, and probably do whatever Russia's new Chinese best mates want as well.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    3 major options for starlink

    I see three major options:

    1)Starlink doesn't play in China. Short term this is certainly the play, they have their hands full being their service built up right now. Pros: simple option. Cons: missing out on a huge userbase.

    2) They offer service in China, but comply with government regulations and all Chineese traffic is routed through the great firewall. Pros: gets into a huge market without a huge fight. Cons: potential backlash in the West, plus likely to have to provide sensitive technical info to China to prove compliance, said info could bootstrap a Chinese starlink clone.

    3) They try to offer service in China without complying with government restrictions. Somehow they'd need to smuggle in hardware and arrange for billing that the Chinese government couldn't track. Pros: make friends among some that do not support China. Cons: Chinese government response ranging from customers disappearing to jammed signals to even more aggressive actions.

    A side question is if China will allow starlink access by embassies and foreign nationals.

  15. Brian Morrison
    Flame

    Make as much trouble as possible...

    ...because the Chinese Communist Party and their government deserve absolutely all the trouble that comes along and irritates them.

    I've got plenty of popcorn.

  16. Nifty Silver badge

    Even putting Musk's constellation to one side, the interesting thing is the high cost of modern censorship.

    Draw a historical timeline and note that the fall of the Berlin wall and the breakup of the USSR came within 'historical seconds' of cheap direct to home satellite TV arriving, and of personal mobile phones. Not to mention the internet itself which came to Joe public at home another fraction of a historical second later.

    You can either assert that the above is entirely coincidental, or study the potential link between advances in communications technology and the end of traditional totalitarianism. Has anyone ever studied that timeline or published a PHD on the topic?

    What will happen with Starlink is that Chinese state telecoms company will become China country manager for that region and possibly even a stakeholder. Musk will be holding his nose but it will happen.

    1. Google

      If you haven't already, you might like to pick up a copy of "the net delusion". It deals with soviet citizens living near the iron curtain watching western tv and subsequently being less susceptible to the spells of capitalism because they saw for themselves life in the west wasn't as celestial as it was made out to be in the innards of the soviet union.

  17. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    A bit of fantasy

    One could imagine the US and a few other countries paying Musk billions of dollars to build out inexpensive Starlink service to China's neighbors and then daring China to interfere.

    In reality, China doesn't have anything to worry about. Starlink is never going to be free and subscribing from China would be no less complicated than creating hidden VPN tunnels.

  18. Jim84

    Starlink vs Blimp net

    While everyone seems to be looking at Musk's shinny keys, a dark horse may be approaching:

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/aerospace/aviation/no-propeller-no-problem-this-blimp-flies-on-buoyancy-alone

    tl;dr - Companies like Softbank, Google, and Facebook have been trying to build an ISP using flying wing drones for over a decade, but unsucessfully as they have durability problems. Blimps that fly via changes in bouyancy and don't need propellers could be a solution. By being closer to the end users Blimps could allow mobile internet on people's mobile phones rather than requiring a small satellite dish.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      Re: Starlink vs Blimp net

      Blimps are also fairly easily shot down.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Starlink vs Blimp net

      You're overlooking the small matter that Google closed down its Loon project.

      Also for the blimp to be closer to the end users it also has to deal with wind and turbulence...

  19. Sparkus Bronze badge

    the CCP will be in the position to undercut Starlink prices

    All the way down to Zero. Imagine China offering 'free' CCP-sponsored internet access to every African country.

  20. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    A question

    Can one hide a satellite dish on the ground? Inside a shed for instance? With a thin roof? Like the big radar domes?

    1. Ghostman

      Re: A question

      IF the shed/shack/utility room had a fiberglass panel roof. I have seen some dishes inside attics where there was a skylight.

    2. Irony Deficient

      Re: A question

      If the Iranian experience [PDF] is any guide, the answer is yes, even without a roof or dome for cover. (Home satellite dishes are illegal to own in Iran, but nonetheless there are estimated to be several million of them there.)

      1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

        Re: A question

        But those are only receiving and thus fairly difficult to find, in the case of Starlink the dishes will also be sending and for that reason fairly easy to track.

    3. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921 Bronze badge

      Re: A question

      Satellite dishes could be disguised as woks

  21. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Alert

    Tesla in China

    Achilles' heel for Musk - if he starts rocking the boat with Starlink into China, he may find Tesla output at the Chinese factory suddenly going south for multiple reasons beyond their control.

  22. sbt Silver badge
    Boffin

    Radio waves travel about twice as fast as fibre-optic bound light

    About 1.5 times faster in general, but carry on. Path length is also a factor; some international fiber links are not that straight due to ocean/coast geography. They might still be shorter than relaying up to space and passing between Starlinks, as presumably each will add a little forwarding delay.

  23. harmjschoonhoven

    Be careful what you wish

    Einstein has said "I don't know how WWIII will be fought, but WWIV wil be fought with stones and clubs.". We can add to that "under the twinkling lights of Starlink".

  24. ecofeco Silver badge

    Internt Free China

    Seems like a modern update of Radio Free Europe.

  25. crosspatch

    They should publish a schematic for a receiver. This would drive the Chinese government insane if people could simply build their own.

    1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

      The receiver is the easy part, unfortunately, for Starlink they will also need to build a sender, slightly more difficult (and far easier to track).

  26. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Don't worry! Brexit Boris will increase UK's nuclear arsenal, and fight China. So much better than being under the yoke of Evil Empire EU.

  27. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    That's a nice electric car factory you have

    Mr Musk. Please hand over control of the factory to these people. You know it makes sense.

    https://www.theregister.com/2021/03/16/china_concerned_about_alibabas_portfolio/

  28. HamsterNet

    Easist Solution

    Not sure why Starlink wouldn't just agree to have all China based customers connections sent back down to only China based base stations.

    Regardless of what you think of a counties laws, if you want to provide products/services you follow that countries laws. Musk is quite paly with the CCP.

  29. Persona Silver badge

    Hot air

    It's not an issue. The Starlink Dishy McFlatface terminals by necessity are location aware. Any traffic to or from terminals in China will be required to be routed via gateway ground stations in China. It's inconceivable that the Chinese government would not ask for this as a condition of service. Starlink would jump to accept that condition. Operating in every geography is key to Starlink profitability as they can only make money when overhead an area where there are paying customers. If there aren't customers below a satellite its bandwidth is unused.

  30. hoola Silver badge

    Who are the actual beneficiaries here?

    There is a lot of discussion around censorship and authoritarian regimes with controlled/oppressed populations and how bad it is. Now look at the state of the US, Europe and models of capitalism, add to that Russia since the fall of communism.

    In the West we have companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple & Microsoft with the power to destroy entire nations. Social Media allows all sorts of genuinely damaging material to be distributed in ways that were not possible before yet refuse to do anything to fix the issue. Niche extremists are given platforms that then entice (for whatever reason) huge numbers of followers creating even more issues. Fake new, deep fake the reliance on AI is all in the hands of unaccountable US corporations. There is always an argument for allowing those that are oppressed a voice and to a certain extent that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. But one has to ask the question if what is replacing it is any better. Many of the normal citizens in these oppressed regimes see the US as a model of perfection, they want the goods. Now look at how the US/Western food culture is causing issues all over Asia. Populations that where healthy and in some cases actually self-sufficient are no longer and and now getting all the health problems we have. Is that progress?

    Musk and Starlink are a private enterprise, yes they may be bringing uncensored access to people in China but does Musk really care as long as he gains? No. Just look at the untapped wealth of information that can be harvested? Information is power and already far too much is concentrated in one place, the US. Is the US any more stable than China politically? Probably not and in some ways less so and more unpredictable. They have far more to lose and still believe that military might is the answer to everything.

    Just look at the problems with Iran/Iraq/Syria. The west took one side to protect interests or to take on idealism ending up making the situation worse because unlike WW1/WW2 it was not possible to "finish the job". Platforms such as Facebook started for good but have themselves turned into monsters. It is a bit like drugs, people get sucked in and then cannot get out.

    Let's be clear, an oppressive regime or extremism is generally bad but we also need to be mindful the the alternatives are not perfect by a long way and you just end up replacing one set of problems with another. I am all for trying to address the digital divide but there are probably more appropriate ways to do it than yet another US corporate trying to take over the world.

  31. Clinker

    Wonderful Writing

    "It's not just the countryside where you find hedges."

    This line made my morning! Thanks!

  32. baralmo sixtyone
    Stop

    Why Fight About It ?? Really ??

    Oh Come on you Guys ..... I don't even have my Dishy yet and you are already talking about shooting it down ??? Try and learn to get along !!!! FFS , why can't everyone use the technology TOGETHER ???? There is no need of multiple satellite Constellations in the atmosphere .... Soon Every Frickin country will want their own !!! Total BS ..... Just let us have our Internet and FLICK OFF !!!!!

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