By Randall Brink
Inveterate boondockers are always on the lookout for techniques and technology that help them stay out longer and enable them to stay in communication, get news and entertainment, and work remotely. Anything to do with water, waste management or internet access is of keen interest. So when I read of the development of Starlink, a satellite internet service provider under development by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, I was intrigued.
However, my excitement swiftly gave way to bewilderment while reading a wide array of articles on the subject. One online news item dashed my hopes for RV universal connectivity. It stated that the receiver must remain in a fixed geographic position to receive the Starlink service. Another told of high initial pricing and equipment installation costs. Yet another quoted SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk, as saying that his company was specifically developing mobile solutions for RVs and commercial truck applications. I tried contacting SpaceX/Starlink for information to sort out these contradictions, but the company did not respond.
Additional research revealed that, like all developing technologies, things change daily. The info about the fixed-location requirement was obsolete. However, the technology to provide mobile internet access has yet to be fully developed, and the entire Starlink service is still in the beta-testing phase. But Starlink is undergoing expedited development, and we now have some fresh facts that we can rely on.
Starlink needs more satellites
Some of the timing and uncertainty revolve around the build-out and scaling of the Starlink satellite technology. As of February of this year, SpaceX had launched 1,000 Starlink satellites, which enabled the company to offer a limited beta test service. This is primarily in the northern USA and southern Canada (the company has stated between 45 and 53 degrees north latitude). But Starlink says it needs to have 42,000 satellites in low-earth orbit to facilitate global service. U.S. government and international bureaucracies have only issued approvals for 12,000 satellites. So there is red tape yet to overcome for Starlink to get the required equipment into orbit. However, as SpaceX and its stellar technological achievements have shown, it’s never safe to bet against Musk and his projects.
Once the service is fully deployed, Starlink says that:
(1) The cost of setting up the service will be lower. Right now (beta) it is $499 for equipment plus $99 per month. However, it doesn’t say how much lower. Boondockers determined to acquire Starlink’s capabilities probably won’t complain too much about an equipment cost below $499. And they’ll most will likely be OK with a fee of $99 per month or less.
(2) The internet speed, which in beta testing is currently around 100-150 megabits-per-second (Mbps), will increase to circa 1,000 Mbps. Also, the company has stated that its low-orbiting satellites (i.e., a mere 390 miles above the earth, as opposed to 14,429 miles for currently deployed standard communications satellites such as Galileo) will deliver a much lower “latency” rate (the time it takes for a signal sent from a satellite to reach the earth’s surface) of 20 milliseconds.
So when will it be available?
Starlink forecasts the completion of its rollout and deployment in 2024.
If Starlink achieves its lofty ambitions, RVers will be a direct beneficiary. There will be no more blind spots, like with cell-based internet service providers that also provide your mobile cell phone services. No more degraded services in the more remote RV parks, where smoke signals are faster than email. RV dwellers can ditch the bulky coach-top domes and those that you carry around and place on the ground outside the RV. For that matter, standalone cable TV services or TV-internet bundles will become a thing of the past.
As the Starlink development gathers momentum toward full deployment, we will continue to report on its capabilities, costs and availability.