*Starlink - Fast Internet for Rural Areas*
By: wmerrin
30 July 2023

We have had Starlink high speed Internet via low earth orbit satellites just under a year and it has worked very well for us. Currently the initial cost of equipment is $600 and the monthly fee is $120 (USD). I was on the waiting list for almost a year and a half before I could get service but now service is much more widely available across much of the US.

My alternative to Starlink was to pay the cable company almost $15,000 to extend the cable up to our house from the pole line down on the road. We had been getting by with 1.5 Mbps (usually slower) DSL (yes, the decimal point is in the right place), which sucks when files like operating system upgrades or large programs need to be downloaded. We live in an RF shadow from hills, so cellular or other wireless service is very poor. Most of the time we don't even have enough cell signal to make a phone call.

Our service is variable, with download speeds as high as 200+ Mbps to as low as 20 or 30 Mbps depending on time of day and weather conditions. Prime time peak hours may drop down to around 20 or 30 Mbps depending on what other people are doing. Satellite bandwidth is shared among customers, like with cable, so loading can vary. I can't quantify it, but it appears as if heavy cloud cover or fog/drizzle will degrade the signal some but not enough to cause problems. Most of the snow we received last winter came when I was not online so I can't say what affect that had.

Our service has improved dramatically in the last several months. Early on our peak period speeds when people were home streaming movies was not great but still better than our original DSL service. Really slow speeds were short duration and were probably associated with poor satellite geometry relative to my location. Satellite geometry is constantly changing, so there can be significant variablity in any given time frame. However, the last two or three months things have improved greatly.

Upload speeds typically hang around 8 to 15 Mbps with occassional spurts to 20 or 25. Oddly enough, it seems when our download speeds are the worst is when our upload speeds are the best. Maybe that's because of other people streaming (downloading) video during evening hours.

Just like our DSL service (which is included in our telephone service essentially free) Internet performance is variable. The Starlink app running on an iPad, iPhone or Android will test the satellite connection; it is not uncommon for the net to be slow but the satellite to show good speed. The other night pages were loading painfully slow but the satellite connection tested out at over 100 Mbps download, so the problem was out in the broader Internet.

Even though short term download speeds are variable, the average speed stays reasonable when downloading large files, like operating system upgrades. Files that used to take from tens of minutes to hours to download now come in at seconds to a few minutes. A notice to install an urgent upgrade is no longer a cause for tooth gnashing. When we first got the service I would wait until after midnight to download a big operating system upgrade but now I usually just start them and walk away for awhile.

We have had Starlink since early August 2022 and I am very happy so far. I keep thinking I should put the system on a UPS so it doesn't go away with power cuts, but I haven't gotten around to it. A power outage the other day reminded me to move that up on my things to do list.

Starlink should not be the first choice for people who have easy access to high quality broadband through terrestrial service providers. Not only is it expensive, but service can be degraded somewhat by peak user congestion and bad weather. Latency is generally good, but variable. I have not used Zoom or other collaboration software so I can't say how well it works over the satellite connection. I have seen forum posts where users say it generally is ok but with some occasional drop outs. If that is important to you, do your homework first. The same thing applies to gaming - I don't have any experience with online gaming, so I can't say one way or the other.

But for those who live in areas with low population density where big providers don't want to go, Starlink can make it possible to live a modern on-line life without having to take out a second mortgage.

Here are three screenshots of the Starlink app running on an old iPad. The first is from last Friday evening about 5:40 PM (peak time period), the second is from tonight (Sunday) about 10:30 PM and the third was from a Saturday afternoon around 2 PM a month and a half ago. I can live with these numbers.



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