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This is how the Elon Musk Starlink internet works

By Sanuj Bhatia March 3, 2022, 9:34 am
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Starlink is again in the news. The ambitious satellite internet project by multi-billionaire Elon Musk has been the center point of attraction ever since its announcement. More recently, Startlink made headlines again when Elon Musk decided to redirect some of the satellites in the fleet over Ukraine’s territory, in the light of recent developments. If you've been wondering about how Starlink works, or will it be able to help people left without internet in Ukraine, look no more. Read along and learn everything you need to know about Starlink.

What is Starlink?

In simple terms, Starlink is the satellite internet service launched by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The idea behind Starlink is to provide broadband-level internet globally without using fiber or optical wires. Millions of people around the world don't have access to high-quality internet mainly because wires can't physically reach everywhere. Starlink aims to solve this problem by providing internet via satellite.

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starlink network Source: Cerexio

How does Elon Musk's Starlink work?

As stated above, Starlink is a satellite internet service. This works pretty much like your current DTH connections wherein satellite beams signal to the dish on your roof and then a device (set-top box in DTH's case) converts those signals. Similarly, in Starlink, satellites beam internet to the dish, called dishy, on your roof (included in the Starlink kit) which then passes on the signal to the Starlink Wi-Fi router. The Wi-Fi router then converts the signal received and provides internet.

However, to provide high-quality internet, the signal between the dish and the satellite must be strong. SpaceX is using low-earth orbital satellites, which are about 300 miles above the surface, to ensure the signals are strong. As we said in our LEO satellites explainer, LEO satellites have a low area range and thus require more satellites to bring internet everywhere — in order to establish a web of satellites. Think of it as a constellation of satellites connected to each other, working together in a synchronous manner to provide internet to each and every part of the world. SpaceX plans to launch thousands of Starlink satellites (as many as 40,000) to ensure global coverage without service dropouts.

How fast is it?

starlink ukraine speed test
Starlink speeds in Ukraine
Source: Reddit (u/OlegKutkov)

Of course, you can't expect satellite internet services to be as fast as traditional cable internet or even mobile data. As per Starlink's website, you can expect the download speed in between 50 and 200 Mbps and upload speeds around 30 Mbps. The latency remains around 20ms, according to various test results. Over time, Starlink has plans to increase the download speeds up to 300 Mbps and finally reach the region of 1 Gbps.

Speeds will only increase as more and more satellites are put into space. What started with only a handful of satellites, the number of Starlink satellites in space has increased to over 1700 in the past couple of years. Naturally, the internet speeds have also increased along. For now, Starlink offers speeds around 100 Mbps but they can vary as per weather conditions, your locations, the receiving dish, and a number of other factors. Starlink says sometimes short outages can occur, but the company ensures it is working to improve the situation.

Where is Starlink available?

Before you rush to your computer and place an order for Starlink, you must know that satellite internet service is not available everywhere. Despite the internet being beamed from space, Starlink still has to take permission and licenses from the government to start its operations in a country.

For now, Starlink is available in beta in the following countries:

  • The United States
  • The United Kingdom
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • Australia
  • Germany
  • Portugal
  • Denmark
  • Austria
  • France
  • The Netherlands
  • Chile
  • Ireland
  • Belgium
  • Switzerland

It's worth noting that even if these countries are supported, the service might not be available in every region. We would still recommend you to visit Starlink's website and check if the service is available in your region. To check the availability, enter your address in the "Service Address" section of the main page. If Starlink is not available in your region, the website will show a banner with the following text:

Starlink is not yet available in your area due to pending regulatory approval. As we receive approvals our coverage area will continue to expand, so please check back for future availability in your area.

How do I sign up for Starlink?

If you've made sure that Starlink is available in your region, go to Starlink.com and enter your service address. If the service is available, the "Order Now" button will turn white. You can click it, fill in your details, and place an order for the service. However, it's also worth noting that the wait times have been pushed beyond 2023. There is a huge waitlist of people trying to get their hands on the Starlink kit.

When you place an order, Starlink will let you know the date around which you can expect your device to reach you. Until the moment your Starlink is shipped, you will be able to cancel the order and Starlink will issue a full refund.

How much does Starlink cost?

The standard Starlink kit will cost you $499 for the hardware and $99 a month for the internet service. The standard kit comes with a satellite dish and a Wi-Fi router in the box. You will have to do the whole setup yourself, but Starlink has handy Android and iOS apps that'll guide you through everything.

There's also a Starlink Premium service that promises better speeds and antenna coverage, but it will cost you $2500 for the hardware and $500 a month for the service — yes, it's not so cheap. SpaceX seems to be mainly targeting this service to businesses.

Why satellite internet? What's wrong with fiber or cable internet?

wired internet Source: Photo by Jordan Harrison on Unsplash

With Starlink, Elon Musk is not trying to beat fiber or the traditional cable internet. Instead, SpaceX sees Starlink as an extension to the already present internet service providers. It's hard for cables and wires to reach each and every section of the world. Most of the population lives in such areas that do not have access to optical fiber internet service providers.

Think of Starlink as filling in the gaps between 5G and fiber and really getting to the parts of the world that are the hardest to reach

— Elon Musk

To solve this problem, Starlink was born. Since Starlink uses satellite internet, the signals can be beamed virtually anywhere as long as there is a clear Line of Sight (LOS). This can be beneficial for people in rural and hard-to-reach areas. The technology can potentially be life-saving as well. Of course, Starlink can grow and evolve to become a potential Xfinity and Verizon, but for now, it seems to be focused on improving internet accessibility around the world.

Other FAQs

Are there any data caps on Starlink?

For now, there are no data caps on Starlink. You can use as much data as you want to use without worrying about the amount of GBs being consumed.

Does Starlink lock you into a contract?

No, Starlink is a monthly service. On the support page, the company says that "you can cancel at any time if you decide the service is not a good fit for you. You can return Starlink within 30 days of receipt for a full refund of your payment."

Is there any dashboard to check Starlink usage, performance, and other things?

If you own a Starlink connection and want to check speed, uptime, latency, outages, and alerts, then you can head over to 192.168.100.1 or dishy.starlink.com on any web browser and check for yourself. Just make sure you're connected to a Starlink Wi-Fi before doing so.

Does Starlink work with a VPN?

Yes, Starlink supports VPN. As per their official website, Starlink supports these VPN protocols: TCP/UDP/ICMP. It's worth noting that the new WireGuard VPN protocol is not officially supported.

Does Starlink work with smartphones?

For now, no. Starlink does not directly work with cell phones and smartphones for now. The only way to use a Starlink connection right now is through using a dish and connecting it to the Wi-Fi router and then using the Wi-Fi on the smartphone. Future technologies may allow us to directly use our smartphones with satellite, but for now, Starlink doesn't directly work with smartphones.

Where can you learn more about Starlink?

Starlink has gained a lot of followers, thanks to the service providing global internet coverage and also due to the being owned by Elon Musk. To learn more about Starlink, you can visit Starlink's official website and the dedicated Reddit forum.

References: Wikipedia, Starlink

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