What is Starlink Internet and should you use it?

Starlink dish on a house

If you live in a rural or remote area with an unreliable or non-existent internet connection, 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 less fortunate

Starlink is a satellite internet provider that is part of SpaceX, a rocket manufacturer. It offers high-speed broadband connectivity. Although it started out 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. In time, Starlink hopes to offer its services all over the world.

The company mainly targets consumers living in deprived or remote areas. But eventually it could also be present in urban centers.

How does Starlink Internet work?

Starlink in a rural environment

Satellite Internet services have been around for years. You may have heard of it: HughesNet or viasat† All satellite internet providers work essentially the same way to bring internet connectivity to you. Usually it involves a satellite, a ground station and a satellite dish. 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 relays that request to a ground station which locates the website server, picks up the relevant data and sends it back to the satellite, which beams it to you through your dish and router.

While this may seem like a very long process, it’s not that different from how your wired internet works† Only the route and media are different, the operating principle remains the same.

However, what sets Starlink Internet apart from the existing satellite Internet providers is its satellite orbit. People like HughesNet and Viasat use satellites in geostationary orbit, usually about 35,000 km away. These satellites have wide coverage, but their internet connection is slow and latency high.

On the other hand, Starlink uses a constellation of satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO) at about 550 km. These satellites have a relatively smaller coverage area. But because they are in low Earth orbit, the travel time to and from the user is much shorter than typical satellite Internet services. As a result, the latency is much lower. Starlink also offers faster internet speeds than other satellite ISPs.

From April 2022, Starlink will have: launched more than 2,000 satellites† But the company hopes there will eventually be as many as 42,000 satellites in orbit and delivers internet to all corners of the globe.

Who Should Get Starlink Internet?

Starlink dish and router

Starlink Internet is intended for people who live in areas where internet connectivity is low, limited or non-existent. If you need fast internet and are willing to pay a premium for it, Starlink can be a good option.

Since it requires no infrastructure on the ground, you can use it just about anywhere. This gives you the freedom and flexibility that is simply not possible with other types of internet services. That said, the company guarantees the service only to your registered address for now. So you can’t just pick up your kit and move to another city or state. But roaming support is in the works and may arrive in the future.

However, as this is too early for the company and Starlink is still building its satellite constellation, outages and coverage issues are a concern. A quick look at Downward Detector, a service that tracks network and website outages, shows that intermittent connectivity and service outages are common. These problems will diminish as Starlink adds more satellites to its constellation. But that could take years, as the company will only launch about 100-150 satellites per month in early 2022.

So if you have access to a decent broadband provider, it’s better to stick with them until Starlink is mature. But if you simply have no other option, Starlink will connect you, although you may have to deal with some of its growing pains.

How fast is Starlink internet and what can you do on it?

Starlink Internet Speed

Starlink says its customers can expect download speeds between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps and latency of about 20 ms in most service locations, which is sufficient for what a regular user needs, including streaming, playing online games, video conferencing and general web browsing.

And the company has just managed to keep that promise. According to data shared by Ookla, an internet speed tracking service, Starlink’s median download speed was 105 Mbps in the fourth quarter of 2021, while upload speed was 13.5 Mbps and latency was 40 ms. 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 have to pay for it?

Starlink internet charges vary from country to country. But if you live in the United States, you’ll have to pay $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.

Since the company does not offer an installation service, depending on how handy you are, you may also need to spend some money to install the dish in a suitable place on your roof.

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How can you get it?

You can order the Starlink internet service at: Company website† You need to enter the service address where you will be using the internet, and if the location is usable and not fully booked, you can enter your details and order Starlink.

However, if the limited number of slots available at your location are already taken, you may have to wait months to get your hands on them. In the meantime, you have the option to pre-order Starlink by paying a booking fee and secure a seat in the queue.

As of November 2021, more than 750,000 people registered for Starlink Internet wait to access the service.

What is Starlink Business?

Starlink Business module

Formerly called Starlink Premium, Starlink Business is a service tier aimed at small businesses. It hopes to meet the demands of small businesses by offering a faster internet connection than the regular plan. The business plan users can expect internet speeds in the range of 150 Mbps to 500 Mbps.

As you can expect, the business plan is significantly more expensive than the regular plan. The Starlink business plan kit 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 the dish is different from what regular subscription users get. The dish has a larger scan array to support faster internet speeds and improved performance in the case of small obstacles.

Promising option:

While Starlink still has a long way to go, the satellite internet provider has shown great potential. People in rural and remote areas can hope for fast 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 CooperOneWebeven Boeing† Starlink will hopefully also force existing satellite internet providers to improve their services.

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