Starlink: Giving You Internet Access Anywhere on Earth
To date, billions of people are not connected to the Internet, which is probably one of the reasons the digital gap is at a high. However, whether to bridge such gap or address other tech feats, people from literally any part of the planet may now have access to the Internet with Space Exploration Technologies Corp or SpaceX’s satellite internet constellation Starlink.
SpaceX’s Starlink is a dream come true to those who have not had a chance to get connected to a decent Internet service and those who have been deprived of it. While available in cities, Starlink aims to bring Internet service especially to those living in sparsely populated areas, such as remote and rural locations, with more than decent speeds and low latency.
At this time of the pandemic, many of us are cooped up in our own spaces. But Starlink gives everyone the opportunity to work from anywhere, be it mountains, near lakes, beaches, or just any possible place. Thus, Starlink is that solution you are looking for if you want to bring your laptop and work a little far from your residence – registered residence.
But Starlink is currently on a beta service. Is beta better than nothing?
With a customer’s purchase, they are sent the Starlink satellite dish (also known as “Dishy McFlatface”), Wi-Fi router, power supply, CAT6 cables, and tripod. For rooftop installation, users may opt for necessary equipment, such as mounting plate hardware, pipe adapter, cable routing kit, and a carrying bag, that necessitates another amount of dollars. The satellite dish comes with heating element which simply melts ice or snow that falls or builds on it; however, too much build up may cause delay of Internet service. Moreover, it is worth mentioning that even heavy rains or winds may affect the quality of Internet connection. But that is a given factor as these natural occurrences definitely stall our Internet connectivity. As to grounding requirements, SpaceX meets the standards set by the National Electric Code (NEC); this includes lightning protection.
Further, the dish is motorized; therefore, the dish moves as it gets supplied with Internet service by the satellites orbiting Earth. So it would not be strange if you see your dish moving its face from one direction to the other. The movement allows the dish to automatically orient itself to stay aligned with the satellites above Earth.
As regards using the dish just anywhere you go, SpaceX currently restricts the use of the dish to the registered residence of the user or – at least – nearby. Ergo, you may not – as of the moment – be able to travel with your Starlink kit or move it to a different address. Every Starlink has an assigned area where satellites in space will send an Internet connection. Starlink satellites are to send Internet down to all users within a designated area – called cell. Thus, if you experiment on moving your Starlink satellite dish elsewhere, remember that you may experience either intermittent or no Internet service at all.
But with Elon’s tweet, “[Starlink] should be fully mobile later this year, so you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion,” it seems Starlink should live up to its promise. That means freedom for those looking to video streaming at the Grand Canyon National Park! But if that dream is too big for now, we will be waiting for the restrictions to be lifted sometime someday.
So, if you are up for a snowy wilderness adventure, you may probably think of bringing the dish with you. See yourself installing the dish on top of your car? Surely we would love these mobility options!
Starlink comes with an equipment kit at $499 and Internet service of $99 per month. While the stated prices are fixed, prices in different countries may vary because of taxes and shipping costs. We think $99 in one country costs a little less or more in another, and the same goes for $499. To some, these prices are either not affordable or nowhere near affordable, but we have to consider the fact that it costs SpaceX $2000 to manufacture each dish. That leaves us into thinking that paying $598 or a little more gives users all the possible advantages – considering the speed and latency of Starlink service compared with the existing broadband Internet service providers (ISP).
Asked whether the prices can be lowered in developing countries, Elon Musk said they cannot be reduced as these prices should remain the same for consumers in different countries. SpaceX adds that the company has been doing its best to make Starlink as financially viable as possible and believes the stated prices are fair for anybody who wishes to get Internet access of such quality.
Starlink’s service comes with 50mbps that reaches up to 150mbps download speed and latency between 20 milliseconds and 40 milliseconds. As for the term, latency refers to how fast data travel from one point to another; therefore, the lower the latency, the better. Think of a race of data packets being traveled from the source to its destination; with this example, the faster the travel, the better. Lower latency means that data travel faster from one end to another. If you check your Internet speed, the results show download and upload speeds, and another stat for latency; that latter stat should be lower, to mean that you are experiencing decent Internet connectivity. If you are fond of gaming, do video streaming, and have frequent video calls, your lower latency helps you do any of these tasks without or with minimal buffering.
With reference to data usage, SpaceX has set unlimited data, which is more than amazing for its consumers. Online search, video streaming, podcast, and calls can be done at any length. In addition, SpaceX has placed no tiered pricing and no long-term contracts on Starlink service. At least for now, all of its users enjoy surfing the Web at any piece of data freedom they have. Whether SpaceX intends to place data caps someday, we should hope the restriction is at a tolerable level.
As Starlink is on its beta stage, intermittent or downtime service may be experienced. As of May 2021, SpaceX has launched over 1300 satellites into orbit and expects to send more than 4000 by 2024; more satellites means better speed – in layman’s terms. FYI: there may be a concern as to the speed reliability of satellite Internet constellation. In general, the farther the satellites from Earth, the higher the latency. However, SpaceX launch satellites to orbit much closer to Earth, making an advantage in terms of lower latency or better speed. While it is true that SpaceX’s satellites are closer to Earth, their satellites have a smaller field of view. This explains why SpaceX plans to launch thousands more of satellites, like 12,000 satellites over a decade kicking off in 2020.
Two more terms to explain: constellation and field of view. SpaceX is launching thousands of satellites to communicate with one another (or in a geosynchronous way), thus providing Internet for the registered dishes here on Earth; such network of satellites is called a constellation. On the other hand, field of view is the space needed by dishes and their satellites to communicate with each other. You may imagine an invisible beam traveling between the dish and the satellites for the satellites to send Internet connectivity to the dishes. Therefore, any obstruction, such as a tree, pole, and building, between them may hamper Internet service.
By the end of 2021, Elon Musk promises to see better stats, with more satellites launched, ground stations (also called Earth stations) installed, and networking software improved. And by better stats, Elon Musk means speeds around 300mbps and lower latency of about 20mbps.
While you may think of a pizza – only 19 inches in diameter – being delivered to your doorstep, this box’s installation is a DIY kit for the consumer. No, SpaceX does not currently provide installation service for the Starlink dish, so consumers are on their own for the most part. The consumer may go for either roof mounting or ground installation, partnered with Starlink’s quick start up guide. Further, to set up Starlink, you should have the Starlink app at hand first. The app, available for both iOS and Android users, features an AR or augmented reality showing where to place the satellite dish best. Literally, the app shows arrows that points where Starlink should be installed. The app also tells of the network health, including download and upload speeds. So pretty much, SpaceX has included everything you need to know about installation.
Since the consumer may opt for rooftop mounting, with the help of the Starlink app, users are able to know whether they have to place the dish a little higher or lower, or slightly left or right of their spaces. Further, as your dish faces its satellites above Earth, you should be concerned about obstructions, such as poles, buildings, trees, and walls – as already mentioned. These obstructions may cause the delay of Internet service from the satellites to your dish; in short, you may experience lower or interrupted speeds. In cities where there is high density, where to set up the dish may be an issue; on the other hand, in rural areas where there are not a number of big buildings, Starlink’s installation may be quite easier.
Once installed, give the Starlink’s dish about 15 to 30 minutes to calibrate itself, aka communicate with the satellites above Earth. While SpaceX’s kit tells you – though – that the whole installation process is done by the consumer, after some time of calibration, Starlink is ready for use. Again, you may check the Starlink app for its speeds.
But according to Elon Musk, self-installation comes in two simple steps, “Point at sky, plug in.” Hope that works fairly easily for everybody!
As we speak, Starlink is on its beta stage, and thus available only in chosen areas such as the United States, Canada, Western Germany, the United Kingdom, and the South Island of New Zealand; and as of May 2021, SpaceX expanded its coverage to include France and Austria. Although Starlink is available in selected locations, over half a million people have already placed an order or sent a deposit for Starlink service. With that number in mind, users have to expect a long waiting list – probably wait months, not to mention the first-come, first-served basis.
While SpaceX is currently considered the leading company for Internet satellite constellations, other countries have also either launched or planned to launch Internet satellite swarm. OneWeb of the UK has launched over 150 satellites, but their services are geared toward enterprises. Canada’s Telesat, on the other hand, will begin commercial services for satellite Internet in 2023. Amazon’s Project Kuiper is, too, on the run for Internet satellite constellation. Russia has its own plans of launching a constellation of satellites, which may come in 2024. As to what the market of these ISPs is, we hope anybody from any part of the world could have access.
SpaceX wants to bring Internet to consumers, enterprisers, mobility applications, vessels at sea, and aircraft in flight; however, at the moment, Starlink is available for consumer use as it is still on a beta test. In the meantime, Starlink is being tested by the US Air Force and the army.
In a Nutshell
Satellite Internet in general may provide higher latency compared with other types of Internet connection, such as fiber Internet and fixed-wireless. However, as SpaceX launches satellites at a closer reach to Earth, latency may not be an issue any more; knowing that the distance of satellites from Earth affects connectivity, SpaceX is to launch over 12,000 satellites within a decade. So those who have initially signed up for the service, we are all hoping speeds and latency become statistically better sometime someday. While Starlink is on its beta testing phase, many of us have been given hope to connect to the world wherever we are. Where it is one of the fastest growing technologies in human history, the Internet should not be elusive in our era. Thus, we have but hope for this game changer, Starlink.