So Starlink has now gone live (for everyone) in Australia. This article is aimed at those who are travelling full time and want amazing internet everywhere. Read on for our deep dive into details on how Starlink works for Travellers with details on power usage and benefits. We also cover off costs and setup.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is initially targeting fixed residential installations in relatively limited areas, and mobility is not (yet!) officially supported.
We have been tracking the development of Starlink since the constellation was first proposed back in 2015, through the launch of prototype satellites in 2018 and 2019, and through the limited public beta launch in 2020.
In February 2021 SpaceX began to allow anyone to put down a deposit to pre-order Starlink service, but even though the beta period is now seemingly over – Starlink is still under active development and has a LONG way to go before it is fully deployed and has coverage & capacity everywhere.
As of early 2022, SpaceX is less than half-way towards its goal of deploying the initial Phase 1 constellation of 4,396 Starlink satellites – which will be followed by an additional 7,518 Phase 2 satellites and then a proposed additional 30,000 next generation satellites after that.
Key Terms and Parts
There are some rather unusual terms that are mentioned frequently when discussing Starlink. Here is a quick glossary that can help make sense of them all:
- Dishy McFlatface – SpaceX’s official name for the Starlink receiver is (seriously!) “Dishy McFlatface”, or “Dishy” for short. Unlike most traditional satellite systems, the Starlink Dishy is not just a passive antenna, and it contains inside of it an advanced phased array antenna system and all of the electronic brains of the system. The indoor companion unit is just a basic Wi-Fi router for sharing the connection, it is the outdoor Dishy that is doing all the work.
- Cell – SpaceX has divided the world into service cells that are roughly 15 miles across, and not all cells are turned on for service – and others may be capacity constrained. Many older satellite systems didn’t care where you were on the ground – but with Starlink the cell you are in can ultimately matter a lot. Unfortunately – determining cell boundaries is a matter of guesswork since SpaceX has never published a Starlink coverage map.
- Portability / Roaming – Roaming referred to as service portability by Starlink allows Starlink systems to connect even when away from their assigned service address. Service portability was officially released on May 4th, 2022 as a monthly add on to your subscription charged on a month per month basis. Service portability can be turned on and off as needed, but there is no prorating.
- LEO – Starlink satellites orbit much closer to the earth than most satellites, just 200 to 350 miles above the surface. This is known as LEO (Low Earth Orbit), in contrast to the geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) more commonly used by communication satellites that are locked into seemingly fixed locations in the sky 22,236 miles above the equator.
- Ground Station – Since Starlink satellites orbit so close to the earth, they need a lot of ground stations every few hundred miles to use as an uplink to the internet. In countries or areas without ground stations, Starlink satellites (currently) can not communicate.
- Space Lasers – SpaceX is equipping future Starlink satellites with laser interconnects that will allow satellites to communicate with each other directly, able to act as relays to allow for coverage globally regardless of where ground stations are located. We’ll explain more about how this works later in this guide.
Why is Starlink Good
You may have heard Starlink is fast, there are other reasons it works well. Starlink has a physics advantage. The satellites are only 550km up, so the signal from your dish to the satellite and back only needs to travel 1100km, which means that the connection is capable of latency as low as 30-50ms, which is really snappy.
In addition, being much newer and with so many satellites in orbit, they can afford to dedicate more bandwidth per user. This means that the normal Starlink speed most users are experiencing is around 100-350 mbps down and 20-40mbps up. Australia’s average internet speeds (including in cities) is 58mbps down and 21mbps up. This means that Starlink is 2-5 times faster than the average Australian internet connection (Very, very fast in other words) In fact, Starlink is so fast that nerds all over the country, even in cities are trying to get their hands on the service.
Lastly, Starlink offer unlimited downloads and uploads in their package. No more watching what you are downloading or streaming, just go for it and enjoy unlimited, very very fast internet.
So in summary, Starlink is very very quick new technology that is as good or better than most people’s home internet connections in Australia.
What about for people travelling?
Starlink is absolutely a game changer for travellers, with some really important to know limitations and caveats.
Portable or not Portable?
Currently Starlink in Australia is not meant to be portable, it’s meant to be used at 1 address, however there are some users that are on a “roaming” beta test which let’s us move around from place to place without having to change our address in the Starlink App. Expect this to become widespread in the near future.
Although Starlink will eventually have complete coverage of Australia, at the time of writing it IS limited, although they have been expanding the service quite regularly. I have included a User Generated map below which I have fleshed out with my own research. If you are travelling in the red area’s, you can likely expect Starlink coverage.
Over the next year, Starlink are launching V1.5 Satellites, these have laser interconnections and will greatly expand the Starlink coverage area, to area’s without Ground Stations, and it will also increase the quality of coverage in existing area’s. I will regularly update this article with updated information as I become aware of it.
This is a big one – Starlink costs one off $750 to $950 AUD for the system and then $139/month. This is a significant cost per month, however internet is unlimited and exceptionally fast.
At the moment, the Starlink dish is only 240V powered. There are some workarounds, but these will void your warranty and require custom electronics. This means that you will require constant 240V power to maintain your internet connection. The power usage isn’t that high, (50-150W) but you will need to maintain that all day, and all night, unless you want to power the dish off and lose your internet.
Starlink Costs Explained
The Starlink hardware is the same price for either service, but some people get caught by surprise by the shipping cost, RV vs Residential service, service portability or the need to pay extra for an Ethernet adapter.
This image breaks down what to expect when ordering a consumer Starlink system in the US their cost is $599 USD for hardware, $50 USD for shipping, your local sales tax and then the monthly service fee which can depend on the services you subscribe to. In Australia Starlink costs one off $750 to $950 AUD for the system and then $139/month. This is a significant cost per month, however internet is unlimited and exceptionally fast.
You will note the service is explicitly offered to RV owners in the US. According to Starlink this functionality is due later in 2023 for Australia.
Within the US The monthly fee for the RV service is $135/mo always subject to “best effort” which means it can be deprioritized (network managed). Your data is unlimited and unthrottled in that it’s never slowed down based on the amount of data you use, but can be slowed down or even disconnected based on network congestion at the time of use. This means that you may need be concerned in current waitlist cells and during high traffic times, otherwise your service should be pretty good.
The monthly service fee for the residential service is $110/mo for unlimited unthrottled priority data at your service address. Additionally, for those who want to be able to use their service away from their service address, you can opt into Service Portability on a month to month basis for an additional $25/month. Service while using portability is subject to the same network management that the RV service is always subject to and that it’s a best effort to connect you. One advantage with the residential service is you do have a service address you can move around to locations you want priority data at if capacity is available. You are only guaranteed service with the residential service at your service address.
Based on what is being offered in the US most mobile Traverlers and boaters using Starlink, the monthly cost will be $135/mo with either plan. The main difference is that the RV-er Starlink service does have the advantage of being able to pause your service when not in use. (Please note partial months are not prorated).
The residential plan is not able to officially be paused, but you can unsubscribe from portability while at your service address saving you the $25/mo portability charge. Again portability is not prorated and you are charged a full month for even 1 day of use during your billing cycle.
Is Starlink Power Hungry
Starlink currently only runs off 120V/240V AC power.
If you want to use Starlink off-grid, you need to be able to support running an inverter 24/7 to power Starlink if you want internet 24/7. You of course can power it off at night to save power, but if that’s your only internet option, you will unreachable during that time.
Whilst the numbers vary depending on location and person reporting the average consumption for the very first version of the round Starlink Dishy (with a black leg) was an absolute power hog, burning a consistent 100 watts, or 2.4 kWh/day. Some are reporting that the second generation Dishy will use around 50 watts per day, or 1.2kWh/day.
Software updates over time have decreased the power demands down to 70 Watts – but that’s still a substantial load for an off grid system.
The 2nd version of the round Dishy (with a grey leg) was more power efficient, and on the latest software seems to consume 40-60 Watts. The rectangular Dishy is even more efficient – getting the demand down to 35-40 Watts. This brings the overall power needed for Starlink to under 1 kWh/day – a big improvement over the early version, but still massively more power than cellular connectivity would require.
TIP: Recent updates to the Starlink app have given the user the ability to turn off the automatic snow melt feature, which helps keep your Dishy power consumption more conservative – especially when operating in colder climates.
There are a few brave souls who are testing this out, such as Marcus Tuck – https://www.tuckstruck.net/truck-and-kit/geekery/starlink-mobile-roaming/ So in short it is getting better and will be usable whilst you are moving at some stage.
So do you want to get Starlink lightning speed internet? The main things to consider are:
- Are you moving regularly? – Moving sites under the current system takes time to get the system to update and your new area coverage isnt guaranteed.
- You need to weigh cost vs need for internet speed. As we indicated the costs are higher but the speed is second to none.
- Can you run a 240 inverter all day? The power consumption is higher then other solutions.
- Would a good quality 4G setup cover your needs at this point? We find it works for us.