List prices for Starlink communications devices nearly doubled in Ukraine as mobile networks began to fail amid Russia’s assault on the country’s power grid and increased demand for the device communications satellite manufactured by SpaceX.
According to the company’s website, Starlink terminals, made by Elon Musk-owned SpaceX, will go up to $700 for new Ukrainian consumers. That’s up from around $385 earlier this year, according to screenshots of past pricing data shared by users inside the country.
The consumer cost of Starlink’s monthly subscription has fluctuated recently, from around $100 to $60 on Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24 to “reflect local market conditions”, and will increase now at $75.
Prices also soared in neighboring Poland, where many Ukrainians stock up on Starlink to avoid domestic mail delivery problems, but remained the same in Slovakia and most other European countries.
Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The small, portable devices, which connect to satellites through a book-sized antenna, have provided crucial internet connectivity to Ukrainian military and civilians in areas with little or no mobile phone networks or broadband coverage.
It’s unclear whether prices have also changed for the Ukrainian government, which uses a mix of Starlink from various donors including Musk’s SpaceX, the Polish government and NATO allies and crowdsourcing supporters.
In separate, ongoing negotiations between SpaceX and the US Department of Defense, SpaceX had recently asked Washington to pay $4,500 per month for each terminal destined for Ukraine, a person familiar with the matter said. A Pentagon spokesperson said the department had been in contact with SpaceX about Starlink but declined to detail the discussions. He said the United States and Ukraine have identified satellite communications as a critical battlefield capability.
Musk activated connectivity for satellite service in Ukraine days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion on February 24, responding on Twitter at the request of a Ukrainian minister.
Since then, the Ukrainian army has used Starlink extensively along the front line, where months of battle have rendered mobile networks unreliable, using large amounts of high-speed data to communicate with each other, with their bases and to transmit high-resolution drone images.
The Ukrainian government plans to buy thousands of new Starlinks, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Tuesday, and will make their imports duty and tax free.
Civilians in areas regained from Russian control also often rely on Starlink as Ukrainian mobile network providers restore services.
In recent weeks, however, mobile networks in major cities like Kyiv have also faltered as Russia seeks to cripple Ukraine’s electricity distribution system.
Musk has previously complained that the cost to SpaceX of providing Starlink services to Ukraine could reach $100 million by the end of 2022, after the Financial Times reported that the Ukrainian military met with operational problems in October after discovering that the devices were not working. in areas recently liberated from Russian control.
SpaceX had also asked the US government to meet the costs of providing the service to the Ukrainian government and military, which could reach $400 million over a 12-month period, CNN reported in October. It’s unclear what additional costs Musk is referring to, as many users pay SpaceX directly to purchase the terminals and a monthly subscription.
Dimko Zhluktenko, a software engineer who runs a charity to raise money for soldiers, said he’s bought up to 200 Starlinks in the past to send them to the front lines, averaging around $500 for the price of each terminal, a deposit and the first monthly subscription fee.
But his most recent fundraising effort, where he raised $50,000 to buy 100 more, was derailed by rising prices.
“It really only affects civilians at the moment – as a Ukrainian doing it for the army, I will pay the necessary amount,” Zhluktenko said. He said he was using a Starlink because 4G in his Kyiv neighborhood was down on Tuesday afternoon.
Demand for Starlink has increased in recent weeks, local retailers said, as a small gray market has emerged where people are paying up to $1,125 for immediate delivery of devices, rather than waiting for buy them in Poland or have SpaceX deliver.
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