Internet anywhere – Satellites in the sky … or pie in the sky?


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.


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6 months ago

The area I live does not have reliable internet. With adults working from home and the possibility of schools going back to remote learning, this would be great.

6 months ago

Is Elon Musk really Avenger Tony Stark aka Iron Man?

Bob p
6 months ago

Is this going to be like satellite tv, if there is significant cloud cover and thunderstorms you won’t have internet? Right now i get my internet from Verizon MIFI jet pack and it’s very reliable, and with the invention of smart tv my programming comes through them also.

6 months ago

Starlink will be a game changer.

A quick review of Wikipedia suggests the “user terminals” will be the size of pizza boxes and have a motorized system to track the satellites.

An altitude of 340 miles is quite a ways, so a sizable antenna and precise pointing appear necessary. Was hoping for something smaller, but physics is physics.

Gene Bjerke
6 months ago

So Elon is sending up another 500 satellites? It’s getting pretty crowded up there. Will they have to create a bypass so that people can get to the space station? What keeps them from running into each other? Low-earth traffic jam.

Carson Axtell
6 months ago

This will be a game changer. The present always looks unforeseeable from ten years earlier, so I expect the same will be true of Starlink. Gwynne Shotwell, president and CEO of SpaceX, has hinted that she expects the service to be competitive with monthly ISP and cellular data rates, so the tech industry press is anticipating rates of about $80/month, plus the $200-$300 purchase price of the receiver unit. Personally, I enjoy the old-school idea of camping to get away from the connected world, but I’m sure that being able to download maps and weather info in the back-of-beyond, or to contact emergency services if needed, will be irresistible, even for a recalcitrant old codger like me…

Carson Axtell
6 months ago
Reply to  Carson Axtell

Of course, the services I mentioned above are already available on the Garmin Inreach Explorer+, but as much as I am an internet addict while not in the back-of-beyond, I can also easily imagine myself whiling away evening hours Web surfing in the wilderness these days, too…

Lee Wenk
6 months ago

StarLink is amazing, but there are issues: astronomers have a real problem with potentially 12,000 satellites reflecting the sun. The StarLink system will be a godsend for all sorts of people that live
in places that are not served by any other good internet provider. You can easily see these satellites if you look in the right spots just after a launch. They orbit in a line before they are re-directed to their final position. There is an effort to reduce the flare by coating them. I’m not certain how well
this will work.

6 months ago

With more of us than ever working remotely and even some very expensive newer parks having nothing but pitiful wifi, sometimes only in their rec hall, this would be amazing if it’s affordable. Currently using Verizon hotspot and supplementing with DSL so I don’t exceed my limits.

Kevin Loving
6 months ago
Reply to  Maryann

“if it’s affordable” That my friend is the “money quote” in your comment!

6 months ago

More likely “eye in the sky”. Just my two and a half cents worth…

chris p hemstead
6 months ago
Reply to  Dan

Somebody had to make it a conspiracy

6 months ago

I’ve heard of this, but hadn’t seen the link for beta-testers. We live in the deep woods near Puget Sound, and have to get by on a twisted-copper connection that MIGHT give us up to 10 Mb downloads, sometimes… So – I just sent Elon my data. Thanks for the link, Russ & Tina! Hoping to be a beta-tester. Anything would be an improvement over what I’ve got!

Ray Leissner
6 months ago

Hughesnet has been advertising “high speed” satellite internet for years for $$$. I understand its not so much the “raining down” flow of data but the equipment necessary to “rain up”. I’m glad to see some competition looming.

6 months ago

We’re flailing along with 70-80ms and 20-26Mbps down right now on Sprint and/or AT&T. As a former Google Fiber user, the idea of mobile gigabit speeds makes me drool, but I’ll certainly believe it when I see it.