Where is StarLink?

Jeff Lee, LittleT Broadband

Many in our area have been waiting patiently for the StarLink satellite internet service that is under development by SpaceX. I personally placed a deposit back in February of this year, but have not heard from the company yet. So, I have to assume that they are not ready to add service in our area.

To date, SpaceX has launched 1,650 StarLink satellites into low earth orbit out of a planned 12,000. The claim is that they should have minimal world-wide coverage by this fall. Earlier this year service was only offered in the higher latitudes - the Northern US, Canada, the UK, and Northern Europe. However, that continues to expand as more satellites are launched and put into service, and I have seen reports of beta test users in Alabama and other parts of the South.

The performance numbers that have been documented through the various speed test apps have been impressive. Though it varies from location to location, the StarLink service to date has been able to achieve an average download speed of 97 Mbps, with an average latency of around 45 ms. This places StarLink in a competitive position (performance wise) with fixed (land-based) broadband services. Clearly our slow Frontier DSL and satellite services from Hughes and Viasat don’t even come close.

At this time StarLink is still only offering beta service. This is not a full commercial internet service, as it is not available to all interested potential customers, does not have full regulatory approval from the FCC and other agencies, the final service costs and plans have not yet been established, and there are routine service outages as SpaceX works to dial in the new network, get more satellites in orbit, and build more base stations.

StarLink is not going to be a solution for everyone in our area. Due to the limited number of satellites in orbit, the StarLink transceiver dish must have clear open sky view down to 25 degrees above the horizon to the north. A single tree in within its line of site to a satellite can cause service disruption. Given the forested mountain ridges of our area, this will make good reception for many folks almost impossible. There is a StarLink phone app available to help one determine if a clear view can be provided for the dish. The hope is that this requirement will be relaxed over time.

When will the StarLink be available in our area? No one is really sure. The claim is that there will be more general availability of service by September, but this is not a certainty. Those that have already placed deposits with StarLink will be notified first, and general service announcements will come later. There is an expectation however, that the StarLink service will be generally available before new high speed broadband services are able to reach our homes, and this could provide some of us an internet solution while we wait for something better. Only time will tell.

In the mean time, we will watch the news, follow the progress, and continue to keep you informed.