If you live in a rural or remote area with unreliable or no internet connectivity, Starlink is often touted as the solution to all your broadband problems. But what is it, and does it even make sense to you?
Serve the underserved
Starlink is a satellite internet service provider that is part of SpaceX, a rocket manufacturer. It offers high-speed broadband connectivity. Although it started out 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. Eventually, Starlink hopes to offer its services worldwide.
The company primarily targets consumers living in underserved or remote areas. But it could possibly also be present 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 basically work the same way to provide you with internet connectivity. As a rule, 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 transmits it to a satellite. The satellite transmits this request to a ground station which locates the website server, retrieves the relevant data and sends it back to the satellite, which transmits it to you through your dish and router.
Although it seems like a very long process, it’s not that different from how your wired internet works. Only the course and the supports are different, the principle of operation remains the same.
However, what differentiates Starlink Internet from existing satellite internet providers is its satellite orbit. Companies like HughesNet and Viasat use satellites in geostationary orbit, usually about 35,000 km from you. These satellites have wide coverage, but their internet connectivity is slow and latency is high.
On the other hand, Starlink uses a constellation of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) at around 550 km. These satellites have a relatively smaller coverage area. But since they are present in a low orbit, the travel time of data to and from the user is much less than that of traditional satellite Internet services. As a result, the latency is much lower. Starlink also offers faster internet speeds than other satellite ISPs.
In April 2022, Starlink launched over 2,000 satellites. But the company eventually hopes to have up to 42,000 satellites in Earth orbit, delivering internet to every corner of the world.
Who should get Starlink Internet?
Starlink Internet is intended for people living in areas where Internet connectivity is weak, limited or non-existent. If you need high-speed Internet access and are willing to pay extra, Starlink may be a good option.
Since it requires no ground infrastructure, you can use it just about 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 guarantees service only to your registered address at this time. So you can’t just pick up your kit and move to another city or state. But, roaming support is on the cards and may come in the future.
However, since the company is still in its infancy and Starlink is still building its constellation of satellites, 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 issues will diminish as Starlink adds more satellites to its constellation. But that could take years, given that the company, at the start of 2022, is only launching around 100 to 150 satellites per month.
So if you have access to a decent broadband provider, it’s best to stick with them until Starlink matures. But if you just 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 about it?
Starlink says its customers can expect download speeds of between 100Mbps and 200Mbps and latency of around 20ms in most serviced locations, which is enough for what a regular user needs. including streaming, online gaming, video conferencing and general web browsing.
And the company is well on its way to delivering on that promise. According to data shared by Ookla, an internet speed tracking service, Starlink’s median download speed was 105 Mbps in Q4 2021, while upload speed was 13.5 Mbps and latency was 40ms. . It’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 this?
The cost of Starlink Internet varies from country to country. But if you live in the US, you’ll pay $599 for the Starlink kit, excluding taxes and shipping, and $110 per month for the service. However, the kit contains everything you need to get your internet up and running.
As 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 Starlink Internet service on the company’s website. You will need to enter the address of the service, where you will use 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 to you are already filled, you may have to wait months before getting your hands on them. In the meantime, you will have the option to pre-order Starlink by paying a reservation fee and getting your place in the queue.
As of November 2021, over 750,000 Starlink Internet registrants are waiting to access the service.
What is Starlink Company?
Formerly called Starlink Premium, Starlink Business is a service level aimed at small businesses. It hopes to meet the needs of small businesses by offering faster internet connectivity than the regular plan. Business plan users can expect internet speeds between 150 Mbps and 500 Mbps.
As you might expect, the business plan is significantly more expensive than the regular plan. The Starlink kit for the business plan costs $2,500 in the US, and the monthly service is $500.
One of the reasons why the business plan is so expensive is because its dish is different from what regular plan users get. The dish has a larger sweeping array to support faster internet speeds and improved performance in minor obstructions.
Although Starlink still 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 spur other companies to create similar services, and we’re already seeing actions from Amazon’s Project Kuiper, OneWeb, and even Boeing. Starlink will also hopefully force existing satellite internet providers to upgrade their services.