Two Weeks with Starlink
- Location: Eastern Idaho
- Average Speeds (in Mbps): 75 to 150, occasionally up to 210
- Set up time (on the ground): 30 seconds
- Reliability: daily bouts of down time (but it is still a beta)
- Interoperability: My Protectli CentOS-based router works fine with it
Last summer I moved to an area with only one serious internet option: a wireless ISP that suffers regular downtime and slow speeds, and quite expensive for what you get. Internet is critical for my remote work, so I jumped quickly when the Starlink beta was announced.
I am frequently asked about what it’s like to use Starlink for home internet. There is information out there on the internet, but it’s not well organized. I thought I would write about my experience.
It could not have been easier to unpack and get it going. It was literally just lift the tripod and dish out of the (very nice) box and click the dish in.
It is seeming more and more like my plan to keep it on the ground may not work however.
The view of the sky that is required by the Starlink dish is substantial. In order to place my dish in a place where there are no obstructions inside the circle, I had to place the dish in the middle of my yard. If I had a small yard, it may not have even been possible to find a place on the ground.
I was not able to tell whether the app actually calculates the view of the sky based on location and where the satellites are, or if it just has a set of angles pre-programmed in that is used for calculating the circle. I do know that when I had a small part of my roof inside the circle (where obstructions are not allowed), I had a terrible internet connection. My dish points north and that’s where the roof was, so it’s unclear if a similar problem would have happened had the obstruction been on the south. I don’t think it would but I haven’t tested that.
As a result of this it will need a permanent home on the roof. I’m disappointed by this because roofs frequently leak where dishes have been installed, even when done well. They must be checked every couple of years, but even checking can be difficult because the leaks are often hidden and hard to see. However, it’s worth it to have reliable fast internet so I will most likely do it.
Internet Speed and Reliability
When it is working, my speeds and latency are great. Large downloads will frequently be at 150 Mbps, occasionally as high as 210 Mbps. Latency is consistently around 30 ms. Most tests were done using fast.com and speedtest.net, which yielded similar results.
At the moment there is frequent downtime. Nearly every day there will be a period with no internet. During those periods I have my router fall back to using my previous ISP. I won’t be cancelling my service with them until Starlink is out of beta.
In Starlink’s defense, they have been crystal clear that Starlink is currently a beta program. I am grateful that they are letting me participate in the beta, and I don’t doubt that they’ll get it rock solid in the future.
How it Works and Behaves
I strongly prefer to use my own router. I’m currently using a Protectli firewall applicance, which is basically a laptop with several NICs in it. It will run nearly everything, so I run CentOS on it. Being able to use it with Starlink is important to me.
Luckily it does work! There is a wireless router that comes in the box, but it is optional. There is a caveat though: The Starlink app will only work if you use the included router. The app is mostly for setup but it does have some great statistics and performance information in it, so it would be nice to be able to use it.
Currently my dish is always pointed to the north. I read somewhere on the internet (probably r/starlink) that currently the dish locks on to a single satellite at a time, but in the near future it will be updated such that it is not limited to a single satellite at a time.
In conclusion, I am stoked for the future. I fully believe that in the next year or two Starlink will be rock solid and lightning fast. Elon Musk has mentioned that reaching Gigabit speeds is a goal, and I couldn’t be more excited for that. The day I am able to cancel my existing wireless ISP service and use Starlink will be a time for celebration. It’s truly a game changer for those of us with poor internet options. Thank you Starlink!