If you live in a rural or remote area with unreliable or non-existent internet connectivity, Starlink is often touted as a solution for all your broadband woes. But what is it, and does it even make sense for you?
Serving the Underserved
Starlink is a satellite internet provider that is a part of SpaceX, a rocket manufacturer. It offers high-speed broadband connectivity. Although it started by providing internet access to people in the United States, the company has since expanded its availability to over a dozen markets worldwide. Over time, Starlink hopes to offer its services throughout the world.
The company is primarily targeting consumers living in underserved or remote areas. But it eventually could have a presence in urban centers as well.
How Does Starlink Internet Work?
Satellite internet services have been around for years. You might have heard about HughesNet or Viasat. All satellite internet providers essentially operate the same way to bring internet connectivity to you. Typically, a satellite, a ground station, and a satellite dish are involved. When you try to access a website, a request from your computer is sent from your router to your satellite dish, which then beams it to a satellite. The satellite passes on that request to a ground station that locates the website server, picks up the relevant data, and sends it back to the satellite, which beams it to you via your dish and router.
Although this seems like a very long process, it’s not that different from how your wired internet works. Only the route and media are different, the working principle remains the same.
However, the thing that makes Starlink Internet different from the existing satellite internet providers is its satellite orbit. The likes of HughesNet and Viasat use satellites in geostationary orbit, typically around 35,000kms from you. These satellites have wide coverage, but their internet connectivity is slow and latency high.
On the other hand, Starlink employs a constellation of low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites at about 550kms. These satellites have a relatively smaller coverage area. But as they are present in a low orbit, the data travel time to and from the user is much lower than typical satellite internet services. As a result, the latency is much lower. Starlink also offers faster internet speeds than other satellite ISPs.
As of April 2022, Starlink has launched over 2,000 satellites. But the company eventually hopes to have as many as 42,000 satellites in earth’s orbit, delivering internet to all corners of the world.
Who Should Get Starlink Internet?
Starlink Internet is meant for people living in areas where internet connectivity is low, limited, or non-existent. If you need high-speed internet and are willing to pay a premium for it, Starlink can be a good option.
As it doesn’t require any ground-based infrastructure, you can use it pretty much anywhere. This gives you the level of freedom and flexibility, which is simply not possible with other types of internet services. That said, the company is guaranteeing the service only at your registered address for now. So you can’t simply pick up your kit and move to a different city or state. But, roaming support is on the cards and may arrive in the future.
However, as these are still early days for the company and Starlink is still building its satellite constellation, outages and coverage issues are a problem. A quick look at Down Detector, a service that tracks network and website outages, shows intermittent connectivity and service outages are common. These issues will reduce as Starlink adds more satellites to its constellation. But that could take years, considering that the company, as of early 2022, launches only about 100-150 satellites per month.
So if you have access to a decent broadband provider, it’s better to stick with them until Starlink matures. But if you simply have no other option, Starlink will get you connected, though you may have to deal with some of its growing pains.
How Fast Is Starlink Internet, and What Can You Do on It?
Starlink says its customers can expect download speeds between 100Mbps and 200Mbps and latency of about 20 ms at most serviced locations, which is enough for what a regular user needs, including streaming, playing online games, video conferencing, and general web browsing.
And the company is just about managing to keep that promise. According to data shared by Ookla, an internet-speed tracking service, Starlink’s median download speed was 105Mbps in Q4 2021, whereas the upload speed was 13.5Mbps, and latency was 40ms. That’s still not quite the speed of your average “fixed” broadband provider, but it’s a significant improvement over other satellite internet providers.
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How Much Do You Need to Pay For It?
Starlink Internet cost varies from country to country. But if you live in the United States, you will have to shell out $599 for the Starlink Kit, excluding taxes and shipping, and $110 per month for service. However, the kit has everything you need to get your internet up and running.
As the company doesn’t offer an installation service, depending on how handy you are, you may also have to spend some money to get the dish installed at a suitable location on your roof.
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How Can You Get It?
You can order Starlink Internet service on the company website. You’ll have to enter the service address, where you’ll use the internet, and if the location is serviceable and not completely booked, you’ll be able to enter your details and order Starlink.
However, if the limited number of slots available at your location are already filled, you may have to wait for months before getting your hands on it. In the meantime, you’ll have the option to preorder Starlink by paying a booking fee and get yourself a place in the queue.
As of November 2021, over 750,000 people registered for Starlink Internet were waiting to get access to the service.
What Is Starlink Business?
Formerly called Starlink Premium, Starlink Business is a service tier targeted at small businesses. It hopes to fulfill small business requirements by offering faster internet connectivity than the regular plan. The business plan users can expect internet speeds in the range of 150Mbps to 500Mbps.
As you can expect, the business plan is significantly more expensive than the regular plan. The Starlink kit for business plan costs $2,500 in the United States, and the monthly service is $500.
One of the reasons the business plan is so expensive is its dish that’s different from what regular plan users get. The dish has a bigger scan array to support faster internet speeds and improved performance in cases of minor obstructions.
While Starlink has a long way to go, the satellite internet provider has shown great potential. People in rural and remote areas can hope for high-speed connectivity for the first time. The popularity of Starlink will also push other companies to build similar services, and we are already seeing some action from Amazon’s Project Kuiper, OneWeb, and even Boeing. Starlink will also hopefully force existing satellite internet providers into improving their services.