How Elon Musk used the Starlink satellite to advertise

Elon Musk said he will take steps to offer Starlink, his satellite Internet offering to Iranians. He already made this service available to Ukrainians after the start of the war against Russia. An increasingly political use of this little thumb 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 intend to apply for an exemption to the American commercial embargo against Iran to deploy its satellite Internet network, Starlink.

It all started, as always with the strange boss of SpaceX and Tesla, with a tweet, on the same day, announcing that Starlink is now available on all continents, including Antarctica.

Elon Musk, “friend” of Ukraine and Iran

Connecting to the South Pole is good, but for Iranian journalist Erfan Kasraie, who challenged Elon Musk on the microblogging site, offering services to Iranians is even better. “Is it technically possible? It could be a game changer in the long run,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Starlink will seek an exemption from international sanctions in this regard,” replied Elon Musk. Satellite internet “will allow unrestricted access to the network for all Iranians wherever they are in the territory,” said Hamza Mudassir, co-founder of the British start-up consultancy Platypodes.eu and professor. in entrepreneurial strategy at the University of Cambridge.

The Internet in Iran is not only tightly controlled by the authorities. It is also difficult to access in rural areas due to the lack of adequate infrastructure. To connect to the network of more than 2,500 satellites placed in orbit by Starlink, all you need is a modem and an antenna. What, possibly, “change the deal”, as pointed out by Erfan Kasraie.

Elon Musk has also not set foot on the Persian dish for a little while. The country has been rocked by anti-regime protests for two days, in response to the death of a young Iranian woman following her arrest by Tehran’s vice squad.

This is not the first time that the SpaceX boss has expressed his Starlink service in crisis situations or tense geopolitical contexts. The same is done in Ukraine where its satellite Internet service is made available to the Ukrainian army from February 2022 to compensate for the shortcomings of the traditional Internet network, which has been targeted by Russian cyber attacks.

This invasion of Starlink in the Russian-Ukrainian war has become a great publicity for Elon Musk’s efforts to improve the reliability of his service. “Starlink plays a key role in providing military coordination that allows Ukrainian artillery to have an advantage. [sur l’armée russe] in the first months of the conflict”, underlines the Smithsonian Magazine, the publication of the famous American institute of multidisciplinary research.

In a few months, Elon Musk used Starlink to show himself as a reliable ally of Ukraine against Russian aggression and to support the Iranians against the authorities that are too much of the Mullah regime.

American Indians in the Tonga Islands

This is, in fact, a kind of red thread in all the multibillionaire’s communication around Starlink. “He used it partly as a tool to shape his brand image as a committed businessman,” said Hamza Mudassir.

From its commercial debut at the end of 2020, Starlink allows Elon Musk to play the white knight of Internet access. The first to benefit from satellite Internet was a small community of American Indians – the Hoh tribe – in Washington State. Headlines quickly abounded in the American press to praise a service that allowed “an isolated community to be brought to 21e century”.

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

The Tesla boss then began to build his reputation as a benefactor of connectivity on the international stage. This is how in February 2022, he offered free access to his satellite Internet on one of the islands of the Tonga archipelago, which was cut off from the world by the eruption of the Hunga Tonga volcano a month ago. .

These many free service offerings are good for Starlink’s business, Smithsonian Magazine points out. Publicity stunts that are not strangers to the increase of more than 245% in the number of paying subscribers of Starlink (110 dollars per month and 599 dollars for the acquisition of equipment to connect) since the beginning of the year , added the magazine. There are more than 400,000 people in the world who have opted for satellite Internet created by Elon Musk.

Starlink, in fact, serves the economic interests of the entire empire of Elon Musk, Hamza Mudassir wants to believe. The multibillionaire “never made a traditional advertising campaign for its products, such as Tesla cars, and the popularity of its brands depends a lot on the public image”, recalls this strategy specialist in business.

This is one of the reasons that push the businessman to increase the challenges on Twitter. But he sometimes goes too far, and his untimely outings on Twitter can cause him problems with the authorities, such as the SEC (Security Exchange Commission, the American stock market policeman) who accused him of using Twitter to influence the stock price of companies. .

God complex?

A question of money and image. The “good works” done thanks to Starlink offer a very strong benefit to the image of Elon Musk. But all is not, however, all rosy in the realm of satellite Internet.

First, the apparent generosity of Elon Musk – offering Starlink free of charge to Ukrainian soldiers and American Indians – hides a violent space race that has prompted NASA to criticize the strategy of Starlink. The American agency points out that SpaceX is flooding space with its satellites. Elon Musk wants to send more than 30,000 into orbit. This is a kind of privatization of space for the benefit of a person, criticized some of the astrophysicists.

Elon Musk’s appetite for publicity stunts has also taken on new dimensions in the aid provided to Ukraine. 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 little complicated with God,” said Hamza Mudassir.

Elon Musk seems unconcerned about the geopolitical ramifications of his service offerings. However, Russia, Monday, September 19, accused the United States of “semi-direct intervention in the conflict due to the use of civil space technologies. [comprendre Starlink] for military purposes”.

“I am not sure that Iran will look favorably on an American company that wants to facilitate the access of Iranians to the Internet,” added Hamza Mudassir. Even in China, scientists linked to the Chinese military proposed in an article published in May 2022 to develop the capabilities of “destroying Starlink satellites”, because they could be used by the American air force in the event of a conflict .

Does Elon Musk know how to light different diplomatic fires? Not sure. Shortly after showing that he was ready to offer Starlink to the Iranians, he responded to a user who suggested that he would do the same for Cuba with a simple “ok”.

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