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Elon Musk’s SpaceX starts testing Starlink broadband in the UK

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Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

LONDON — SpaceX’s satellite broadband service Starlink is now being tested in the U.K. after it was given a license by U.K. telecoms regulator Ofcom.

Starlink was issued with an “Earth station network licence” in November, an Ofcom spokesperson told CNBC on Tuesday. SpaceX did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

The £200 ($272) a year license allows Starlink to sell satellite dishes and other communications equipment in the U.K. so that people can pick up signals emitted by Starlink’s network of satellites.

Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, SpaceX is an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company. It announced that it was creating the Starlink subdivision in 2015.

Musk, who is now the world’s richest person, has said he wants to improve internet access in parts of the world that aren’t currently served by broadband providers. He plans to do this by putting thousands of small telecoms satellites into low-Earth orbit that can beam high-speed, low-latency internet to the ground.

In an interview last March, Musk said SpaceX could make up to $30 billion a year by providing broadband. He said that Starlink will be “helpful to telcos because Starlink will serve the hardest to serve customers” adding that 5G isn’t great for the countryside because “you need range.”

Starlink, which will compete with the U.K.’s OneWeb, is aiming to have 1,440 of its 260 kg (570 lb) satellites in orbit by late 2021.

The company, which is primarily focused on connecting rural areas where internet is unreliable or not available, has been inviting people in the U.S. and Canada to try its service since October.

It is now inviting people in the U.K. via email, according to reports and social media users. Starlink is charging U.K. customers £439 for the satellite dish and other communications equipment, as well as an £89 monthly fee and a £54 shipping fee.

Those that test the service can expect data speeds of between 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and 150 Mbps, according to reports. The average broadband speed in the U.K. is 64 Mbps but those in rural areas often struggle to get anywhere near that. It’s unclear how many homes and offices are currently using Starlink’s service. 

SpaceX set up a U.K. entity in London called Starlink Internet Services last August, according to a document filed on U.K. companies registry Companies House.

A photo of what appears to be one of the first Starlink deliveries in the U.K. was shared on Reddit by Philip Hall, who lives in rural Devon, southwest England.

“As an enthusiast with no prospect of fibre (broadband) in the near term, I enrolled on the beta quite early,” Hall told CNBC via Reddit on Thursday.

Hall, who once deployed air defense networks for the U.K. military, said: “The tech capability in this, at consumer level, is astonishing.”

In terms of performance, Hall said he can consistently get 80 Mbps download speeds at home.

He suspects he got a Starlink dish because the company wants data ahead of a commercial rollout and he’s on the right latitude.

Describing the setup, Hall said it’s just like many other appliances. He installed an app on his Android phone, checked to ensure the dish had a clear view of the sky (something that was easy in rural Devon) and plugged it in. “The app asks you to register a name and password and you’re cooking,” he said.

Greece, Germany and Australia have also reportedly approved Starlink’s offering.


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Watch the ads that have been released so far

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Still from Michelob Ultra’s 2021 Super Bowl commercial.

Michelob Ultra

This year’s Super Bowl will be an extravaganza of first-time Super Bowl advertisers.

Super Bowl mainstays like Pepsi, Coke and Budweiser aren’t buying ad time on this year’s game (Pepsi is still sponsoring the halftime show.) Instead, they’re being replaced by companies that had a strong year while people were home during the pandemic.

Though the game is about two weeks away, some companies have already started releasing their commercials for the biggest TV event of the year. It’s an even bigger event this year, since so many 2020 events were cancelled, postponed or downsized. The brands advertising on the CBS broadcast will include Vroom, Toyota, M&Ms, PepsiCo‘s Cheetos and Doritos, Fiverr, Kellogg‘s Pringles, Intuit‘s TurboTax and more.

Here are the Super Bowl commercials that have already been released. This list will be updated as brands release their official spots:

Chipotle

Chipotle is running its first-ever Super Bowl ad, titled “Can a Burrito Change the World?” The restaurant chain’s spot highlights its “Food with Integrity” standards to reduce carbon emissions, save water and support local growers. The ad was created with advertising agency Venables Bell and Partners.

Mercari

E-commerce company Mercari is running a 15-second ad to show you can “buy almost anything from home.” The company, a first-time entrant to the big game, said it provided a safe way to clean out closets as Americans decluttered their homes during the pandemic. The ad was done with Rain the Growth Agency.

Michelob Ultra

Michelob Ultra’s 60-second spot, “Happy,” will feature talent like Serena Williams, Peyton Manning, Anthony Davis and Brooks Koepka. It asks the question, “are you happy because you win, or do you win because you’re happy?” The company worked with Wieden + Kennedy on the spot.

Vroom

Used car retailer (and, yes, another first-time Super Bowl advertiser) Vroom is using its airtime on the big game to show just how painful it believes buying from a car dealership is. The 30-second spot was made with ad agency Anomaly and wants to show the benefits of “contact-free” at-home car delivery.


Nominations are open for the 2021
CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of private start-ups using breakthrough technology to become the next generation of great public companies. Submit by Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 pm EST.


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GameStop jumps another 110% to above $140, trading briefly halted in another wild day

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Copies of ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ on display for sale at a GameStop store in Peru, Illinois.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The explosive rally in GameStop is showing no signs of slowing down as retail investors talking in chat rooms and hedge funds rushing to cover their short bets against the stock pushed it above $120 a share at one point Monday.

Shares of the brick-and-mortar video-game retailer soared more than 110% to $142.96 at its high of the session in morning trading. The stock was briefly halted for volatility. Within an hour of the opening bell, more than 60 million shares has already changed hands, doubling its 30-day average trading volumes of 29.8 million shares.

GameStop shares have more than quadrupled in January alone and are up almost 700% in three months. The stock was worth just $6 apiece four months ago.

Monday’s jump came despite a double-downgrade from Telsey Advisory Group. The Wall Street firm slashed its rating on GameStop to underperform from outperform, saying there’s a disconnect between fundamentals and valuation.

“The sudden, sharp surge in GameStop’s share price and valuation likely has been fueled by a short squeeze, given the high short interest, and, to a lesser degree, speculation by retail investors on forecasts for the new gaming cycle and the involvement of activist RC Ventures,” Telsey analyst Joseph Feldman said in the note on Monday.

“We believe the current share price and valuation levels are not sustainable, and we expect the shares to return to a more normal/fair valuation driven by the fundamentals,” the firm added.

GameStop has been a popular short target on Wall Street. In fact, more than 138% of its float shares had been borrowed and sold short, the single most shorted name in the U.S. stock market, according to FactSet citing the latest filings.

On Jan. 11, news broke that activist investor and Chewy co-founder and former CEO Ryan Cohen is joining GameStop’s board. The stock jumped on the announcement on hopes Cohen would drive a change in strategy. The gain triggered a rush of short covering from hedge funds and traders who bet against the stock. When a shorted stock trades sharply higher, short sellers would have to buy back shares to cut their losses, which fuels the rally.

GameStop has also been a hot topic in online chat rooms, Twitter and Reddit as some retail investors and day traders aim to push shares higher and squeeze out short sellers.

One post on the popular “wallstreetbets” Reddit Monday morning said “IM NOT SELLING THIS UNTIL AT LEAST $1000+ GME.” The post quickly drew more than 2,000 comments.

“It’s just another reflection of the ebullient mood,” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, said Monday of GameStop, “Again, it will matter when it does, whenever it does.”

Citron Research, a vocal GameStop short seller, said Friday it would not be commenting on the company any longer because of attacks from the “angry mob” that owns the stock. Citron said there were too many people hacking Citron’s twitter account on Friday, and it canceled a livestream where it was going a detail five reasons why the stock will go back to $20.

Telsey’s 12-month price target is $33. According to FactSet, the average price target of analysts is just $12.39, far below where it was trading Monday.

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WhatsApp loses millions of users after terms update | WhatsApp

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A poorly explained update to its terms of service has pushed WhatsApp users to adopt alternative services such as Signal and Telegram in their millions.

The exodus was so large that WhatsApp has been forced to delay the implementation of the new terms, which had been slated for 8 February, and run a damage limitation campaign to explain to users the changes they were making.

Over the first three weeks of January, Signal has gained 7.5 million users globally, according to figures shared by the UK parliament’s home affairs committee, and Telegram has gained 25 million.

In both cases, the increase appears to have come at WhatsApp’s expense. Data tracked by the analytics firm App Annie shows WhatsApp falling from the eighth most downloaded app in the UK at the beginning of the month to the 23rd by 12 January. By contrast, Signal wasn’t even in the top 1,000 apps in the UK on 6 January, yet by 9 January it was the most downloaded app in the country.

Niamh Sweeney, WhatsApp’s director of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, told the home affairs committee that the exodus was believed to be related to the update to the company’s terms of service. She said that update was intended to do two things: enable a new set of features around business messaging, and “make clarifications and provide greater transparency” around the company’s pre-existing policies. “There are no changes to our data sharing with Facebook anywhere in the world,” Sweeney said.

But after viral posts – ironically, widely spread on WhatsApp – claimed that the privacy policy instead gave the service the right to read users’ messages and hand the information over to its parent company Facebook, WhatsApp announced a delay in the implementation of the new terms of service. “We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” WhatsApp said in an update posted to its site, which it is paying to advertise on Google under searches for “WhatsApp privacy policy”. The company says it will delay the implementation of its new policy until 15 May.

App Annie’s director of market insights, Amir Ghodrati, said moving quickly was important. “These types of shifts in messaging and social networking apps are not unusual. Due to the nature of social apps and how the primary functionality involves communicating with others, their growth can often move quite quickly, based on current events. We’ve seen growing demand over the last few years for encrypted messaging and apps focused on privacy.”

The shift to more privacy-focused messaging apps had been building before WhatsApp’s public relations disaster, Ghodrati said. “Messaging apps that provide privacy features saw the greatest engagement growth in [the first half of] 2020. These apps saw on average 30% more active users than the alternatives. Apps like Signal, Telegram, Wickr, and WhatsApp offer privacy features ranging from end-to-end encrypted data transfer to ‘self-destructing messages’.”

Ironically, in some ways WhatsApp is more privacy-focused than its competitor Telegram. The former applies end-to-end encryption – which prevents the service provider from being able to access user messages – by default to every chat except those between users and large businesses.

Telegram, however, only turns on end-to-end encryption for “secret chats”, an option that users must actively select for each individual contact. Such chats “are meant for people who want more secrecy than the average fella”, the service explains in an FAQ.


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