SpaceX Starlink has placed more than 1,700 satellites into low-earth orbit and has a total of more than 12,000 satellites planned. Starlink’s mission is to bring high-speed internet to everyone on Earth, regardless of location. It looks like they are moving ahead with plans for a Starlink satellite mobile broadband service using a new antenna design.
Starlink’s service is still in the testing phase and is only open to certain parts of the U.S. and Canada. But when Starlink goes on sale to the public, it will cover most of the globe. Starlink is aimed at more sparsely populated areas and Elon Musk has described it as meant to complement fiber-optic and 5G networks.
Starlink’s internet service is currently aimed at homeowners, renters, or other fixed positions on the ground and was designed to be installed in place with a clear view of the sky. As RVtravel.com publisher Chuck Woodbury recently reported based on information from Mobile Internet Resource Center, you technically can move Starlink dishes around, but if your new location has maxed out the number of users, you won’t be allowed to connect to the network.
Hitting the road
Good news, though. In recent FCC filings, Starlink has applied for a license authorizing operation of “Earth Stations in Motion.” In English, that’s a mobile broadband internet connection from space to ground. If they can pull this off, this will be a huge deal. (Intel tried and failed with the WiMax back in the 2000s.) It would mean that RVers finally would have access to high-speed internet anywhere they go, even on the go!
In another filing, Starlink applied for a license outlining a ruggedized antenna that would be capable of receiving and sending signals to the Starlink satellite network. I looked at the filing and in it they describe a “phased array” antenna. A phased array antenna is flat and uses software to “aim” it at the satellite system. Boeing used these in the early 2000s and they continue to work on them today for military applications. If Starlink uses this type of antenna, then you won’t even have a large dome or antenna you have to raise and lower on top of your RV.
In their application, Starlink says:
Granting this application would serve the public interest by authorizing a new class of ground-based component for SpaceX’s satellite system that will expand the range of broadband capabilities available to moving vehicles throughout the United States and to moving vessels and aircraft worldwide – and most particularly, to those in challenging environments where ruggedization is appropriate.
Starlink also filed an application with the FCC to use additional bandwidth to lower latency and increase speed. And Starlink continues to build out its network of satellites and improve the software. Recently users have reported speeds just shy of 100Mbits/sec. That’s true broadband speed and almost twice what it was just a couple of months ago.
Is Starlink the answer?
So, is the Starlink satellite mobile broadband service the answer to true mobile high-speed internet? Perhaps, but let’s remember that this whole system is still in “beta” testing and many things aren’t ready for prime time and some technologies might not make it to the top of your RV.
For instance, while an internet speed of 100mb/sec is broadband, the current quality of the connection, or latency, is still not as good as your cable or fiber connection at home. It’s still much better than other satellite internet providers and as good as any solid 5G connection. There are also things that interrupt service like trees, tall buildings or other tall antennas. So don’t count on putting Starlink in your RV in 2021. But with SpaceX continuing to launch satellites and work on the system, you might be able to have true broadband anywhere in North America in the next couple of years. We’ll keep you up to date as more info becomes available.
Kim Christiansen is the owner of SiteBastion LLC and provides website management, security, and support to RVtravel.com. You can find out more at his website sitebastion.com or find him on twitter @sitebastion.
Parts of this story were found here at PCMag.com.