What has happened to Starlink satellite Wi-Fi? Have you participated in the Starlink beta, but found the service coverage spotty, slow, or unavailable?
SpaceX, the Elon Musk company that is the intellectual and financial force behind Starlink (more about Starlink here), has admitted that the beta has identified issues (as all betas do, which is what they are for). But it says that the end of the beta is near and there are exciting things in store for Starlink service, particularly where mobile users are concerned.
Back in April of this year, Musk, the SpaceX Founder and CEO, tweeted, “Yeah, should be fully mobile later this year, so you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion. We need a few more satellite launches to achieve complete coverage and some key software upgrades,” Musk wrote.
Starlink will exit beta this month (October 2021), according to a recent tweet from Musk.
Starlink has recently taken delays in the completion of its satellite constellation, including a “stand-down” from launches in May 2021. The reason was that it developed a next-generation (“Gen2”) Starlink terminal dish (aka “Dishy McFlatface”), which SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said the company can manufacture at a higher rate – 5,000 units each week. SpaceX anticipates launching as many as 30,000 of the Gen2 satellites.
Among design enhancements in the Gen2 phase, SpaceX has stated that the new version will also employ “laser inter-connects.” That means instead of bouncing signals back and forth between the user terminal and the satellite, the satellite will send the signal to another satellite and another in the array, thus dramatically reducing so-called “latency” or delay, which translates to speed for the user.
What does all this mean for the RV community?
The start of service and technology development of Starlink has been keenly anticipated by RVers, who anticipate unlimited Wi-Fi service anywhere and everywhere – a development yet to see fruition and that has frustrated RV beta users of the Starlink service, particularly boondockers. Once Starlink emerges from beta, and as the Gen2 satellites continue to be deployed, Musk claims that the service coverage will extend from 57 degrees South to 57 degrees North latitudes.
Higher speed, lower price?
According to the Starlink website, the speed of the service will increase, with the termination of the beta testing period. During the beta, users were frustrated by low speeds, particularly in marginal coverage areas, often as low as 50 Mb/s, though sometimes as high as 150 MB/s, along with rather high latency in the 20-40 millisecond range. Musk has repeatedly forecast internet speeds of 300 MB/s, with latency dropping under 20 milliseconds, in late 2021.
The Starlink user terminal equipment, which costs $499 in the beta version, will eventually be delivered for as low as $250, Musk said.
SpaceX RV subscriber survey
Members of the RV community who are Starlink beta subscribers and have asked about the so far vexed issue of mobility, have been invited to participate in a survey by SpaceX, to better assess the needs of RV subscribers. Questions include geographic use, average duration of camping or full-time, RV type, data volume and the nature of RV internet use, i.e., for work or leisure, primarily boondocks or uses campgrounds, whether the RV has a generator, etc.
If you are a current Starlink beta subscriber and did not receive an email with a link to the questionnaire, you can contact Starlink Support for access to the survey.
There are currently 100,000 beta testers in the Starlink program, and the service provider claims another 600,000 are on a waitlist to obtain terminal equipment, accounts and services.
Launching a 31,500-satellite constellation and working out all the kinks and glitches of a space-based communications system is a very ambitious undertaking and, understandably, takes time. But Elon Musk, SpaceX and Starlink have developed an undeniable reputation for delivering on technology and forecasts.
As RVers eagerly await the next steps in the development and roll-out of Starlink, they can clearly see a time on the not-too-distant horizon when fast, reliable Wi-Fi service will be available anywhere and everywhere.