Elon Musk’s Google-Starlink partnership explained amid recurring rumors

Bruno Cooke January 19, 2023
Elon Musk’s Google-Starlink partnership explained amid recurring rumors
Big Data, Cloud Computing, Block Chain, Hybrid Cloud, Multi Cloud. Downloaded from Getty Images Creative.

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Rumors that Elon Musk has bought Google persist, and are no more true now than they were a month ago, but it is certainly worth keeping up to date with SpaceX and Starlink’s partnership with the company’s cloud computing services. 

In 2015, Google and Fidelity together invested $1 billion in SpaceX, meaning the partnership Elon Musk enjoys with the search engine and cloud computing giant has history.

The investment meant the Google and Fidelity together owned just under 10% of SpaceX. 

“It’s no surprise that Alphabet is interested in space,” The Motley Fool wrote shortly afterwards. But what is at the root of Google’s partnership with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Starlink companies, and what could it mean for the future of the Internet?

Elon Musk, the Chief Engineer of SpaceX, speaking about the Starlink project at MWC hybrid Keynote during the second day of Mobile World Congress (MWC) Barcelona, on June 29, 2021 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Joan Cros/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In a nutshell, one of the key ideas behind the partnership is to affordably bring a fast and secure Internet connection to that part of the world’s population that can’t currently get online. That’s roughly 2.9 billion. When running, data will travel from Google cloud services to Starlink satellites and then to end users, bypassing the need for expensive cell towers and dramatically increasing coverage.

2.9 billion is a big number and represents a lot of people. The UN’s ICT arm published a report in late 2021 claiming that more than a third of the world’s population have “still never used the Internet.”

In May 2021, Google said it had signed a partnership deal with Elon Musk’s SpaceX that would enable it to use the space company’s growing network of satellites, known as Starlink.

The deal will allow Starlink customers to use Google’s cloud computing capabilities while enabling Google to use Starlink’s fast Internet speeds for its cloud customers.

Why Starlink, and why Google?

Some of us know Google simply as a nifty search engine. But the company also offers the Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

GCP is a suite of cloud computing services. It runs on the same infrastructure that Google uses for its search engine, email product, Google Drive and YouTube.

The Google Cloud Platform made more than $19 billion in 2021, making it a significant earner for the company. And as the world becomes more intimately and heavily connected, cloud data storage and machine learning will likely become more and more important and ubiquitous. 

Starlink, meanwhile, is aiming to be able to provide global mobile service after 2023. Its mass-produced small satellites are cheaper to make than large cell towers, and there are no wires connecting them to servers. So they may be cheaper and more efficient in the long run.

Telecommunications towers on blue sky, a red and white, the other white, antennas for television, radio, and mobile phones.

How deep does Elon Musk’s partnership with Google go?

The partnership between Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink company and Google’s Cloud Platform service will involve SpaceX installing ground stations inside Google’s data centers in order to connect them to Starlink satellites. 

That’s according to a video explainer from YouTube channel Elon Musk Zone.

While the partnership utilises the fast and secure Internet connection Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite constellation provides, Google will bring its cloud computing services to the table, and with it, lots more customers.

The video mentioned above notes that the enterprise promises “insane” Internet connectivity. But that’s not all. The connectivity it will supposedly provide will be accessible even to people living in remote areas. In other words, the 2.9 billion people still living without an Internet connection may be online before long.

Big Data, Cloud Computing, Block Chain, Hybrid Cloud, Multi Cloud

Who stands to gain the most from Elon Musk and Google’s growing partnership?

Some analysts predict Google will benefit more from the partnership. This is because it is competing more directly with the likes of Microsoft and Amazon.

But then, Amazon is also working on a satellite program, called Project Kuiper. And Microsoft has also announced an agreement with SpaceX in a similar vein to Google’s. 

Thomas Kurian, chief executive of Google’s cloud group, said of the partnership with Elon Musk’s Starlink program: “They chose us because of the quality of our network and the distribution and reach of our network.”

Undoubtedly customers, too, will be hoping to benefit from the partnership Elon Musk has struck with Google. The process should go like this: Google’s cloud services connect to Starlink for fast and secure Internet connectivity; when Google shares its services with Starlink customers, and vice versa, data will travel from Google cloud services to satellites and then to end users without the need for expensive cell towers. 

This should mean lower latency (less lag) for customers, and an all-round slicker experience of using the Internet.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.