If you have been within throwing distance of the tech news world for the last year or two, you will have no doubt heard about Starlink Internet. If you haven’t heard of it, Starlink is a constellation of thousands of small satellites in low earth orbit. The goal is to provide internet service anywhere in the world via satellite.
Starlink differs from traditional satellite internet in several ways. Its satellites are only 300 to 500 miles above Earth, while traditional communication satellites are 23,000 miles above Earth. The closer distance improves latency, which is the time it takes to get a response.
Instead of single geostationary satellites that serve a wide area, Starlink will be launching several thousand satellites with narrower coverage areas resulting in higher bandwidth and faster speeds. Check out this RV Life article for a more in-depth look at how Starlink internet works.
The idea of having fast, reliable internet anywhere and not having to rely on cell coverage or data caps is a life goal for many RVers. RVers frequently ask about getting reliable internet on platforms like Facebook and forums like IRV2. Starlink is already beta testing in some areas of the United States and Canada, which has many RVers chomping at the bit to get some answers about taking the service on the road.
Recently, the Starlink team did an “Ask Us Anything” session on Reddit. The Starlink engineers answered many of the hundreds of questions posed to them. Elon Musk even chimed in from time to time. We sifted through the thread and pulled out five things we learned from the Starlink engineers that RVers might want to know.
Before you start making room in your compartments to accommodate the hardware, Starlink is not quite ready for the RV life. At this time, you have to register it at a specific address and only be accessed from there. They mention that it may be possible to use it in locations nearby, but the performance may suffer.
That hasn’t stopped some campers from testing their limits. As explained in this Do It Yourself RV article, you don’t need much to try out your Starlink internet hardware in nearby locations. A power source that will keep the 100W dish powered up and a smartphone are about it. It’s not a guarantee that it will work at camping locations near your home, though.
Don’t let this kill your Starlink dreams, though. The team is quotes as saying;
“Mobility options – including moving your Starlink to different service addresses (or places that don’t even have addresses!) – is coming once we can increase our coverage by launching more satellites & rolling out new software.”
Mobile Internet Resource Center
Update, March 2021
The Starlink team is bringing RVers even closer to Starlink internet on the road. The company recently filed with the FCC to give them the go-ahead on producing Earth Stations in Motion or ESIM.
Quoting the FCC filing, “SpaceX Services seeks a blanket license authorizing operation of such end-user earth stations for deployment as Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations (“VMESs”), Earth Stations on Vessels (“ESVs”), and Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft (“ESAAs”) (collectively, Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs”)).“
FCC Filing by Spacex
That’s right. Starlink wants to mount its dishes on vehicles; including RVs. That means the company is close to solving or has solved the issues brought up in the Reddit AMA. Considering Starlink just filed this application, no one is sure exactly when we will see this product hit the market. We do know it’s coming, though.
Many cell phone companies have pretty good coverage, and unlimited plans allow RVers to rely on those cell phone plans for pretty good internet. If you are in an area with decent coverage, you can browse, stream, and use your phone as a hotspot for laptops and other devices. Relying on cell towers for the internet has its limiting factors as well.
Many campsites are in out-of-the-way places like the mountains, the desert, and other unpopulated areas. It is possible to get cell signals in many of these places, but getting good 5G, 4G, or even 3G speeds in these areas can be challenging. Other times you will have plenty of bars, but there will be only one tower in the area, and everyone must share it. That’s every camper and everyone in the nearby towns trying to stream Netflix off the same tower at once. The result is poor performance.
For those that only camp on weekends and in areas with good cell coverage, Starlink internet would probably be more expensive than it’s worth. But, for those that travel full time or spend a lot of time boondocking, having an internet connection that only relies on a view of the sky rather than cell tower infrastructure can be the difference between having internet or not.
Starlink internet boasts speeds of up to 300Mbps at the moment, with an ultimate goal of reaching 1Gbps speeds. However, Starlink recently announced that it has a new goal, to eventually reach speeds of 10Gbps. Gbps stands for gigabits per second. 10Gbps would be more than enough speed for an entire small RV park to stream a movie at once. For digital nomads who camp where service is less than ideal, those speeds could be a game-changer.
3. You may have to deal with clearance issues for a while.
If you already have satellite TV, you know that trees and obstructions are not your friends. The same holds with Starlink. At the moment, the satellite coverage is relatively limited. That means your view of the sky has to be completely clear from branches, trees, and other obstructions.
Anyone who has traveled with a satellite knows that is not always possible. That might sound like a no-go for many RVers. But the Starlink team has some positive things to say about the problem and the future of the product.
“You should think about communication between the Starlink dish and the satellite in space as a ‘skinny beam’ between dishy and the satellite. So, as the satellite passes quickly overhead, if there is a branch or pole between the dish and satellite, you’ll usually lose connection. We’re working on some software features that are going to make this much better and long term, the clearance you’ll need is going to shrink as the constellation grows. So this will get much better!”
Clearance is already becoming less of an issue. While heavy tree coverage will always be a problem for satellite services, the amount of sky that needs to be visible should be considerably less soon since Starlink is shooting for global coverage by the end of 2021 according to the tweet below.
4. The dish is a bit of a power hog, but they are working on it.
Right now, the Starlink dish that you need to connect to the network uses about 100 watts while running. That’s not too bad, but it isn’t excellent news for boondockers. If you need internet 10 hours a day and are trying to run off solar, that’s a good chunk of power just to run your internet. Of course, power consumption will vary depending on your needs.
Starlink engineers said, “We have a couple of items in progress to further reduce power consumption. We are working on software and network updates to allow your Starlink to go into a deeper power savings mode to drop power consumption while still remaining connected to the network. Power reductions are a key item we are focusing on for the future.” That’s good news for boondockers, but we are going to have to wait for those upgrades to become a reality.
Mobile Internet Resource Center
It will be interesting to see how much of a power reduction Starlink will get with updated software of its mobile versions. The recent FCC filing states that the ESIMs are electrically identical to their current dishes. If that’s the case, it might take 100W of power to have the internet while driving down the road.
That’s not too much power for an alternator and an inverter to handle. However, whenever you stop your RV, you will need larger capacity lithium batteries, solar panels, or be plugged into power if you want to run your Starlink internet for any length of time.
5. Their system is very scalable, so bandwidth should not be an issue as they grow.
If you have ever been to a town that only has one cell tower nearby and everyone is using it, you have experienced low bandwidth. Too many users can slow internet speeds to a crawl. This issue plagues the current widely used satellite internet systems. Starlink engineers claim that their system will be easily scalable and allow them to grow with the user base.
“This is not going to be like your regular satellite internet where it gets way too crowded–as we launch more satellites over time, the network will get increasingly great, not increasingly worse.” The Starlink team said.
Like all new and groundbreaking projects, it has a ways to go. It is unclear whether Starlink internet users will be allowed to take their ground-based systems and set them up anywhere like satellite TV. However, RVers who find themselves in areas with little to no cell service frequently will have the option to mount Starlink internet dishes to their rigs soon.
Starlink engineers are working on the issues, and they will take all the help and suggestions they can get.
To quote the Starlink team, “We are super excited about the initial response and future potential of Starlink, but we still have a ton to learn. If you know any great people who can help us with that, please have them email their resume to [email protected].”
In the video below, Chris Dunphy from Mobile Internet Resource Center discusses some more information about the recent FCC filing and the future of Starlink internet.
You can learn more about the speeds, cost, and how Starlink Internet differs from traditional satellite internet in the following articles.
You may also want to invest in an RV WiFi booster – learn more about them here.