If you live in a rural or remote area with unreliable or nonexistent Internet connectivity, Starlink is often touted as a solution to all your broadband problems. But what is it, and does it even make sense to you?
Serving the underserved
Starlink is a satellite internet provider that is part of SpaceX, a rocket manufacturer. Offers high-speed broadband connectivity. Although it began by providing Internet access to people in the United States, the company has since expanded its availability to more than a dozen markets around the world. Over time, Starlink hopes to offer its services around the world.
The company primarily targets consumers who live in remote or underserved areas. But eventually it could also have a presence in urban centers.
How does Starlink Internet work?
Satellite Internet services have been around for years. You may have heard of HughesNet or Viasat. All satellite internet providers essentially operate in the same way to provide you with internet connectivity. Usually 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 broadcasts it to a satellite. The satellite relays that request to a ground station that locates the website’s server, collects the relevant data, and sends it back to the satellite, which relays it through its dish and router.
Although this seems like a very long process, it’s not that different from how your cable Internet works. Only the path and means are different, the principle of operation remains the same.
However, what makes Starlink Internet different from existing satellite Internet providers is its satellite orbit. The likes of HughesNet and Viasat use satellites in geostationary orbit, usually about 35,000km from you. These satellites have wide coverage, but their Internet connectivity is slow and has high latency.
On the other hand, Starlink employs a constellation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites at about 550 km. These satellites have a relatively smaller coverage area. But since they are present in a low orbit, the data travel time to and from the user is much less than typical satellite internet services. As a result, latency is much lower. Starlink also offers faster internet speeds than other satellite ISPs.
As of April 2022, Starlink has launched more than 2,000 satellites. But the company ultimately hopes to have as many as 42,000 satellites in Earth orbit, bringing the Internet to every corner of the world.
Who should get Starlink Internet?
Starlink Internet is intended for people who live 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 may be a good option.
Since it doesn’t require any ground infrastructure, you can use it virtually anywhere. This gives you a level of freedom and flexibility that is simply not possible with other types of Internet services. That said, the company guarantees service only at your registered address for now. So you can’t just pick up your gear and move to another city or state. But, roaming support is on the cards and may come 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 that intermittent connectivity and service outages are common. These problems will lessen as Starlink adds more satellites to its constellation. But that could take years, considering the company, as of early 2022, launches only 100 to 150 satellites per month.
So if you have access to a decent broadband provider, it’s best to stick with it until Starlink matures. But if you just don’t have a choice, Starlink will hook you up, though you may have to deal with some of the growing pains from it.
How fast is Starlink Internet and what can you do on it?
Starlink says its customers can expect download speeds between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps and latency of about 20 ms in most serviced locations, which is enough for what a typical user needs, including streaming, online gaming, video conferencing, and general web browsing.
And the company is simply about keeping that promise. According to data shared by Ookla, an internet speed tracking service, Starlink’s average download speed was 105 Mbps in Q4 2021, while upload speed was 13.5 Mbps and latency of 40 ms. That’s still not 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?
The cost of Starlink Internet varies from country to country. But if you live in the United States, you’ll have to shell out $599 for the Starlink kit, not including taxes and shipping, and $110 per month for the service. However, the kit has everything you need to get your Internet up and running.
Since the company does not offer an installation service, depending on how skilled you are, you may also need to spend some money to install the dish in a suitable spot on your roof.
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How can you get it?
You can order Starlink Internet service on the company’s website. You will have to enter the address of the service, where you will use the Internet, and if the location is useful and not completely reserved, you can enter your data and apply for Starlink.
However, if the limited number of slots available at your location is already full, you may have to wait months before you get your hands on it. In the meantime, you will have the option to reserve Starlink by paying a reservation fee and get a place in the queue.
As of November 2021, more than 750,000 people registered with Starlink Internet were waiting to access the service.
What is Starlink’s business?
Starlink Business, previously called Starlink Premium, is a level of service aimed at small businesses. It hopes to meet the requirements of small businesses by offering faster internet connectivity than the regular plan. Business plan users can expect internet speeds in the range of 150 Mbps to 500 Mbps.
As you might 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 that its plate is different from what regular plan users receive. The dish has a larger 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 look forward to high-speed connectivity for the first time. Starlink’s popularity will also prompt other companies to create similar services, and we’re already seeing some action from Amazon’s Project Kuiper, OneWeb, and even Boeing. Starlink will also force existing satellite Internet providers to improve their services.