Editor’s Note: Peter Pelland is the CEO of Pelland Advertising, a company that he founded in 1980 that has been serving the family camping industry for nearly 40 years. His company specializes in building fully responsive websites, along with producing a full range of four-color process print advertising, for clients from coast to coast. Learn more about Pelland Advertising at www.pelland.com.
You have no doubt heard about Starlink, the satellite-based high-speed Internet service from SpaceX. To say that Starlink is innovative and groundbreaking in every way imaginable would be quite an understatement. Primarily intended to provide broadband Internet to people in remote locations, Starlink differs from other satellite-based Internet service providers such as HughesNet. Unlike conventional satellite networks that use small numbers of enormous satellites in geosynchronous orbits over 22,000 miles into space, Starlink employs a “constellation” of 573-pound refrigerator-sized satellites in low Earth orbit at an operational altitude of only 340 miles. Based upon those orbital heights alone, the improvements in signal latency are tremendous.
At the time of this writing (late May 2022), there are currently about 2,400 Starlink satellites in orbit, mostly operational and some on standby. SpaceX is launching another 50 or so into orbit about once a week, essentially as fast as they can be built. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed SpaceX for 12,000 Starlink satellites and international regulators are expected to license another 30,000, totaling the 42,000 satellites that SpaceX hopes to eventually deploy in its “mega constellation.” Each of the satellites presents the connecting point between end users and fiber optic gateway ground stations that provide the Internet data that is being requested. The distance between an end user and the associated ground station also influences the overall connection speed and latency, and SpaceX is continually adding new ground stations while also introducing a new generation of Starlink satellites that will communicate directly with one another at the speed of light via laser, minimizing the number of ground stations needed.
In case you haven’t already guessed, I am a Starlink subscriber who is quite enthused with the service. Until recently, people waited up to a year for their Starlink equipment, but the service is readily available now. I am based in a heavily wooded, rural location in Western Massachusetts, and at any given time, I am connecting to one of anywhere from six to 12 satellites that are within view of my very carefully mounted antenna. Depending upon which satellite is connecting with my equipment (a fluid process that is constantly changing), my data might be coming from a ground station in Litchfield, Conn.; Lunenburg, Vt.; Beekmantown, N.Y.; Lockport, N.Y.; or even Sullivan, Maine. If you really want to geek out and monitor your connections in real time, I highly recommend the third-party Starlink Coverage Tracker at starlink.sx.
Back to My Original Question
Is Starlink right for you? Maybe. Starlink is primarily designed to provide high-speed Internet service for people in rural and underserved areas. Until now, my only option was DSL (which I think is an acronym for “Darned SLow”) or paying Comcast $20,000.00 to extend the cable to my residence so I would then have the privilege of subscribing to their service. With Starlink, you are seamlessly connecting to a satellite within the constellation that is within reach of your antenna, so latency, download speeds and upload speeds will continually fluctuate but are roughly 20 times the speed of DSL. With our DSL phone lines now ported to Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through Ooma (for both my business and residential services), I was able to cancel our services with Verizon, effectively offsetting the Starlink subscription fee. Every service and device in our household that requires an Internet connection is running through Starlink, with bandwidth to spare.
The rule of thumb is that, if you have fiber optic or cable available, one of those would be your first choice. If not, Starlink will be your first choice. There are three options currently available.
I am subscribing to the residential service. The equipment consists of a rectangular antenna, a WiFi router and power supply, a 75-foot cable and what I would consider a temporary mount. This equipment will currently cost you $599, plus $50 shipping. It is said that this is about a third of what the equipment costs to manufacture, and one of the things that I really like is that everything is marked “Made in the USA.” The antenna is really remarkable. It sets itself up, motorized to track satellites in real time and it is heated and programmed to automatically melt snow and ice in the winter. Choosing the antenna location is accomplished through the Starlink phone app, which will also show you obstructions in real time, including any resulting loss of signal. I mentioned that the mount was temporary. There are a variety of heavy-duty permanent mounts available as accessories that can only be ordered after you already have your equipment. In my case, a roof pivot mount and flashing mount were another $101.00. You will probably also want the optional Ethernet adapter, which is another $25.00. I found that my desktop computer does not have a very good Wi-Fi adapter, and using the Ethernet adapter (that I have attached to a gigabyte switch) made a BIG difference in connection speed. The recurring fee for residential service is $110.00 per month, with no data limits.
There is a Starlink option for businesses, with faster Internet speeds and greater throughput that partially result from an antenna that is twice the size of the residential unit. It is intended for businesses and storefronts with up to 20 users at any given time and multiple kits can be run through a single centralized account to increase that bandwidth. This option comes at a price. The equipment currently costs $2,500 and the monthly subscription fee is $500. Talk to your Wi-Fi network provider to see if this is a viable option for your campground. As with all Starlink services, a clear view of the sky is essential.
Starlink for RVs
Starlink for RVs became available on May 23, 2022. Up until now, subscriptions were for only one fixed location. This option allows use anywhere you travel where there is active coverage and an unobstructed view of the sky. Currently, that coverage is spotty in the Eastern United States, except for Northern New England and upstate New York. Active coverage is generally available in the Plains States and most of the interior West, with spotty coverage in parts of Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington. Keep in mind that Starlink is being rolled out to first serve remote areas where Internet access options are otherwise limited. Active coverage is generally available throughout Southern Canada and all of Mexico. Active coverage is expected throughout the rest of the United States, including Alaska, by some point in 2023. Starlink for RVs has the same equipment and cost as Starlink Residential and the monthly subscription fee is currently $135.00 per month.
The service can be paused and un-paused on a monthly basis to coincide with individual travel plans. For this to work effectively, you will want to choose to stay at open grassy campsites whenever possible rather than heavily wooded sites, since tree coverage will definitely degrade service. This plan also makes sense for people with a summer home in a remote location, but without excessive tree coverage. Bear in mind that this service cannot be used while you are driving down the road in your RV, although that type of mobile service is in the planning and regulatory approval stages.
There are factors other than price and tree coverage to take into account when considering Starlink. Do you want to help make the world’s richest person (Elon Musk) even richer or reward him for his genius? Other concerns include potentially negative impacts on astronomy and concerns about orbital collisions and eventual re-entry into the atmosphere, but SpaceX is addressing those concerns. For example, these satellites have an onboard autonomous collision avoidance system and an onboard propulsion system that is designed to safely de-orbit each unit at end of life. Taking all of these factors into consideration, I am pleased with my experience so far.