By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Over the years that we’ve been traveling scribes, things have certainly changed. When we got into the game, we sent paper manuscripts and 35 mm color slides via snail mail to our publishers. Then came the digital age, and everyone wanted to do it all via the internet. Keeping connected became a major issue, particularly when “on the road.” I remember begging phone lines of folks we’d recently met, as cellular internet connections were just a dream.
After stationing in Quartzsite, Arizona, for a time we “borrowed” a phone pole in a man’s yard where we had the land-line connection installed. We’d drive in, roll down the window, and run a phone wire to the box on the pole so we could tie in. Later, while living multiple months on the desert, we had a lash-up that included a wi-fi antenna in a coffee can, pushed up on a pole, high in the air, to snag a signal that was beamed across the desert.
Later, when we had a more permanent site, one of us had to become a “licensed satellite installer” so we could get a supposed satellite internet connection. It was notoriously unreliable, super slow, and had ridiculously low bandwidth allowances. To any of you who were once StarBand customers, you have our sincere sympathy.
Finally, “reliable” cellular internet came to town. We burned out the customer service number in three weeks; the company literally begged us to leave their service, and cut us loose from a long contract when our complaints about their lousy service became a daily, hours-long routine. We switched to Verizon, and have had a love-hate relationship ever since. When the snowbirds return, we don’t even have to look out the window to know they’re here. Download speeds drop to around dial-up speed – or less.
So when Elon Musk stopped shooting off his mouth and shot off internet satellites instead, it did pique our curiosity. The claims? Internet service, anywhere on the planet! Slow speeds? A thing of the past! Imagine download speeds approaching a gigabit per second – yes, you heard right – a gigabit! How do they claim to do it? Thousands of mass-produced satellites, blanketing the earth in low orbit, raining down high-speed internet for the masses. And since these little Telstar cousins are in low orbit, the latency (or the time it takes your computer’s instructions to get up and out to its final destination and to “hear back”) is said to be around 30 milliseconds. Ha! We just tested latency on our Verizon connection – 49 milliseconds, and this is a “good” day!
So when will this gift of the Big Chief of Electric Cars come to pass? Starlink (sounds suspiciously like StarBand) is going into beta test over higher latitudes this summer. Think Canada and the northern tier states. Even now, the company is gearing up for beta testers. Want to see how it works? It’s simple: Follow this link and give Elon’s kids your email address and zip code. You’ll hear back from the company if they need beta testers in your area.
With 500 satellites in the sky, we’re hopeful this isn’t “pie in the sky.” The idea of honest-to-goodness high-speed internet available just about anywhere, including Quartzsite, Arizona, and other regions that are in our travel-and-research sphere is almost a high-flying dream.