Taiwan wants its own Starlink network to be more resilient to Chinese invasion | Abroad

Taiwan wants its own Starlink network to be more resilient to Chinese invasion | Abroad
Taiwan wants its own Starlink network to be more resilient to Chinese invasion | Abroad

A brand new, completely private satellite network should keep Taiwan online, even in times of crisis. Currently, 15 submarine internet cables are the only connection between the island and the rest of the world, but this system is very vulnerable. The plan is based on the operation of Starlink, Space X’s satellite network, albeit on a much smaller scale.

Last year, residents of the Matsu Islands, a Taiwanese archipelago off the coast of China, were without internet for several weeks. The cause was ships that, during their passage through the Taiwan Strait, had damaged or cut the two internet cables that connect the archipelago with the Taiwanese main island. The Taiwanese authorities immediately pointed to two Chinese fishing boats, but did not comment on whether the damage was intentional.

The residents had to work with the reserve network, which worked with a radio link; sending a text message took an hour; making phone calls or watching videos via the internet was impossible. The residents of the islands were already used to this: in the past five years, the cables were damaged no fewer than 27 times by boats, whether intentionally or not.

15 sea cables

The fear is that the island of Taiwan will sooner or later experience the same thing: the only connection to the world wide web consists of 15 sea cables, or the same radio link. In the event that China invades the island, these cables are of course very vulnerable. If the internet fails on the island, this could have major consequences for society and economy, but also for military capabilities.

That is why Taiwan is working on an internet connection via satellites, Wu Jong-shinn told CNN. Wu is director general of TASA, the Taiwan Space Agency, which is collaborating on the project. He points to Starlink as a great example: this network consists of thousands of satellites that orbit the earth and can provide fast internet in inhospitable places. Starlink is also used in Ukraine and Gaza to have internet access amid the violence of war.

Taiwan itself does not have access to Starlink: the law stipulates that if the country works with foreign private partners, there must be a joint venture in which the country holds the majority of the shares. SpaceX wants the same, and that is why Taiwan decides to develop its own network. Initially, two communications satellites, developed by the government itself, are to be launched by 2026. TASA will subsequently work with commercial partners on four more.

Doubts among experts

However, experts note that six satellites is far too few to provide the entire country with internet. At least 50, believes Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist at the National University of Australia, are needed to provide “reasonably decent” emergency coverage. “If you want reliable bandwidth that everyone can use, you need many more, probably hundreds,” he says. The budgetary aspect will be the main hurdle, “but if the country commits to it, it should be possible. The hardest part is finding the money to launch them all.”

Su Tzu-Yun, director at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, also doubts whether it is realistic to achieve full internet coverage with just a few satellites. But at the same time he sees the usefulness of the project in the longer term: “It ensures that we become a player in the space industry, and can give our armed forces more flexibility for the development of communication systems in our weapons material in the future.

At the same time, Taiwan also collaborates with the British OneWeb, which can provide internet on a smaller scale. This proved to be very useful during the major earthquake that struck the island in April: communications were disrupted around the epicenter, but via OneWeb the government was still able to provide internet for the emergency services and those affected.

Taiwan suspects that Chinese ships are cutting internet cables from islands: “We cannot rule out that this was done deliberately”

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Tags: Taiwan Starlink network resilient Chinese invasion


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