Science

Ukraine, Iran, Cuba: how Elon Musk uses the Starlink satellite for advertising

Elon Musk has said he’s going to take steps to offer the Iranians his Starlink satellite internet offer. He has already made this service available to Ukrainians after the start of the war with Russia. The increasingly political use of this thumb is from Elon Musk’s empire.

Ukraine, Antarctica and soon Iran? Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, announced on Monday, September 19, that he intends to request an exemption from the US trade embargo against Iran to deploy his Starlink satellite internet network.

It all started, as often happens with the cranky boss of SpaceX and Tesla, with a tweet the same day announcing that Starlink is now available on every continent, including Antarctica.

Elon Musk, “friend” of Ukraine and Iranians

Connecting the South Pole is good, but for Iranian journalist Erfan Kasrai, who challenges Elon Musk on a microblogging site, offering this service to the Iranians would be even better. “Is it technically possible? In the long term, this could be a game changer,” he tweeted.

“Starlink will seek relief from international sanctions in this regard,” Elon Musk replied. Satellite Internet “will provide seamless internet access to all Iranians, wherever they are in the territory,” says Hamza Mudassir, co-founder of British consultancy Platypodes.eu and professor of entrepreneurial strategy at the University of Cambridge.

The Internet in Iran is not only tightly controlled by the authorities. Access to it in rural areas is also difficult due to the lack of proper infrastructure. To connect to the network of over 2,500 Starlink satellites, all you need is a modem and an antenna. Which would potentially “make a difference,” as Erfan Kasrai points out.

Elon Musk also did not step on the Persian dish in a banal moment. For two days, anti-regime protests rocked the country in response to the death of a young Iranian woman following her arrest by police in Tehran.

This isn’t the first time the SpaceX boss has brandished his Starlink service in times of crisis or tense geopolitical contexts. It has done the same in Ukraine, where its satellite Internet service has been provided to the Ukrainian army since February 2022 to compensate for the shortcomings of the traditional Internet network targeted by Russian cyberattacks.

This Starlink intrusion into the Russo-Ukrainian war was a huge publicity stunt for Elon Musk’s efforts to promote the reliability of his service. “Starlink played a critical role in securing the military coordination that allowed the Ukrainian artillery to have the upper hand. [sur l’armée russe] in the first months of the conflict,” emphasizes Smithsonian Magazine, a publication of the renowned American Institute for Interdisciplinary Research.

Thus, a few months later, Elon Musk used Starlink to present himself as a reliable ally of Ukraine against Russian aggression and in support of the Iranians against the authoritarian excesses of the mullahs.

American Indians in Tonga

This, in fact, is a kind of red thread of the entire communication of the multibillionaire around Starlink. “He uses it partly as a tool to build his brand image as a dedicated businessman,” notes Hamza Mudassir.

Since its commercial debut in late 2020, Starlink has allowed Elon Musk to play the white knight of internet access. The first to use satellite Internet was a small community of American Indians – the Hoh tribe – in the state of Washington. Headlines quickly multiplied in the American press praising the service that allowed “an isolated community to propel itself into the 21st century.”

Elon Musk at the same time made Starlink available to the emergency services of Malden, a small town in northwest Washington state that was almost completely destroyed by fires in the fall of 2020.

The Tesla boss then decided to carve out a reputation as a communications benefactor on the international stage. So in February 2022, he offered free access to his satellite Internet to one of the islands of the Tonga archipelago, cut off from the world by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga volcano a month later.

These many free service offerings have been beneficial to Starlink’s business, notes Smithsonian Magazine. A promotional stunt that is no stranger to more than 245% growth in Starlink paid subscribers ($110 per month and $599 to purchase connectivity equipment) since the beginning of the year, the magazine adds. In the world, more than 400,000 people have chosen Elon Musk’s satellite Internet.

In fact, Starlink served the economic interests of the entire empire of Elon Musk, Hamza Mudassir wants to believe. The multi-billionaire “never does a traditional advertising campaign for his products, like Tesla cars, and the visibility of his brands depends a lot on his public image,” recalls the business strategist.

This is one of the reasons that pushes the businessman to multiply provocations on Twitter. But sometimes he goes too far, and his untimely tweets could get him in trouble with authorities like the SEC who accused him of using Twitter to influence company stocks. . .

God complex?

A matter of money and image. “Good deeds” done thanks to Starlink give Elon Musk a more solid image. However, not everything is so rosy in the realm of satellite Internet.

First, behind the apparent generosity of Elon Musk, who offers Starlink for free to both Ukrainian soldiers and American Indians, lies a relentless space race that has prompted NASA to denounce the Starlink strategy. The US agency points out that SpaceX is flooding space with its satellites. Elon Musk wants to send more than 30,000 people into orbit. It would be a kind of privatization of space in favor of one person, some astrophysicists denounce.

Elon Musk’s appetite for publicity stunts has also taken on new dimensions thanks to Ukraine’s aid. It’s not just about helping communities that are isolated or hit by natural disasters. “Should a businessman interfere in geopolitical issues? It’s a bit difficult from God,” Hamza Mudassir said.

Elon Musk doesn’t seem to care about the geopolitical implications of his service offerings. However, on Monday, September 19, Russia accused the United States of “semi-direct intervention in the conflict due to the use of civilian space technology.” [comprendre Starlink] for military purposes.”

“I’m not sure that Iran would look favorably on an American company that wants to make it easier for Iranians to access the Internet,” adds Hamza Mudassir. Even in China, scientists associated with the Chinese military suggested in a paper published in May 2022 to develop capabilities to “destroy Starlink satellites” as they could be used by the US Air Force in case of conflict.

Does Elon Musk know about fomenting various diplomatic fires? Not sure. Shortly after he announced that he was ready to offer Starlink to the Iranians, he responded to a user who offered to do the same for Cuba with a simple “okay.”

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