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Starlink – Internet access from outer space coming soon to your RV?

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.

##RVT993

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Linda
6 months ago

We just got Starlink in our house. It is all it says it is, and more. We have had speeds up to 200 mbps. Being in rural area, the cost is nothing, compared to what Huges/Viasat charge for limited data.

Paul Cecil
6 months ago

If you want better information on Starlink going mobile then I suggest going over to the Mobile Internet Resource Center. Here is a link to the latest update they put out:

https://www.rvmobileinternet.com/starlink-reality-check-for-mobile-satellite-internet-what-to-expect-and-when/

You can also follow the Mobile Internet Resource Center on YouTube. That is where I first heard the story. Anyway, SpaceX has filed with the FCC to allow mobile connections to the Starlink system. But how long it will take the FCC to process it is unknown.

KellyR
6 months ago

After reading the article and comments below, I am ready to go back to the 1950s and read this news letter in a magazine once a week, and write letters on paper, lick a stamp, and send it to my aunt. Wow, was life less complicated,and so much less to complain about.

David
6 months ago

No it won’t be coming to your mobile RV. The satellites are set up in cells. Your address is assigned to a cell and that is the only location your connection will work. Says so right on Starlinks FAQ.

Paul Cecil
6 months ago
Reply to  David

True, except SpaceX has filed with the FCC for approval to allow mobile connections to the Starlink satellites. See my comment above.

Jerry S Glazman
6 months ago

Nobody has mentioned the devastating effect these satellites will have on dark sky viewing or astronomical observation; particularly the detection of near-earth asteroids.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/10/starlink-already-threatens-optical-astronomy-now-radio-astronomers-are-worried

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
6 months ago

This is a very real problem. Already astronomers, who have to sign up and wait months to access telescopes, are finding some star viewing blocked by the low orbit satellites. I don’t see a Moon observatory to work around this problem being a realistic option.

Gary Stone
6 months ago

I think me being able to order a pizza to my boondocking site is more important than discovering the origins of the universe. Priorities, people…priorities!

David Hagen
6 months ago

My understanding is that Starlink is internet service only. If you want to watch TV, you will have to sign up, at a cost, to providers like Disney, Showtime, HBO, CBS, etc. Those costs will add up quickly.

wolfe
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hagen

Yes, it’s internet only. But with internet comes phone and streaming, just as it’s done with cable internet currently. How much more those special streaming services cost depends on your own tastes — I don’t pay for streaming, and the ads don’t bother me.

Fred
6 months ago
Reply to  wolfe

I hear you. My favorite thing on tv is dust. Favorite channel is “off”. Nothing there. I’d rather be biking.

David
6 months ago
Reply to  David Hagen

The other thing is your connection cannot move from the address you signed up at. The Starlinks FAQ explains that the satellites are set up in cells and you are assigned to that cell. If you move to another cell, your connection won’t work anymore. So unless you’re a stationary RVer this service is useless.

Andy
6 months ago

Although the idea of internet in remote locations may be appealing, think about what a night sky will look like with 42,000 low earth orbit satellites. If you camp away from cities to enjoy the night sky, those satellites will be “artificial stars” interfering with the natural constellations. It is nice to see a satellite every so often pass overhead, but 42,000 from starlink, and there are other companies that want to get in on the action, will ruin the stars for us.

wolfe
6 months ago
Reply to  Andy

Yes and no… the first couple launches, the satellites were uncoated and thus naturally reflective — you could see them when initially bunched together just as you said, and maybe (in especially bad geometries) as tiny single sparkles. ALL the launches since, the satellites are coated with an anti-reflective matte, impossible to see with naked eyes and REALLY hard to see with a telescope. Unless you yourself are launching rockets that high, you need not worry about the congestion.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
6 months ago
Reply to  Andy

Preach!

Janel
5 months ago
Reply to  Andy

We were camping a couple of weeks ago and saw the satellites for the first time. They are only visable when there is a reflection from the sun. And their orbit is every 90 minutes. They are beautiful to see and did not get in the way of star gazing.

billh42
6 months ago

My mailing address and winter home is in South Alabama near the Gulf Coast. A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation to join the Starlink beta test. (I had previously signed up for it). I declined because of the current geofencing and we are here only 6 months of the year. Once it opens up for mobile applications I will certainly look at it again. It would solve a lot of the on the road connectivity problems. At least the fact that it’s now open for the beta test in the Southeastern US indicates that the rollout is probably on schedule.

Billy
6 months ago

I wonder how much the long-haul trucking companies would pay for an always-on Internet connection. Once that’s in place, adding RVs to the mix would be simple

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago

Hope it works better than self driver Teslas. He better price it cheaper, or it will go the pricing rate of Sirius radio.

wolfe
6 months ago

You’re fighting with a technological bias on the Tesla cars there — the autopilot is MASSIVELY safer than a human driver, per car, per mile, per hour, every possible measure. But, when a computer crashes a car, it makes your skin crawl more than when a careless teen or blind gramma does. It’s hard for humans to let go of the wheel, pun intended.

As for Starlink expense, you have no idea what you’re looking at there — “Dishy McFlatface” is not a dish at all — it’s a gimballed phase array containing (I think?) 600-ish individual antennae elements. Imagine the expense of DirectTV with 600 dishes per subscriber, and electronics to coordinate the signals from all of them to act as electronic “aiming”? Now mount those 600 dishes on a “smart” platform that helps aim them (collectively) to catch the most satellites in a swarm that is whizzing overhead at (I think?) around mach-25? It’s subsidized because I can’t imagine that my $500 actually pays for the PA I’m sticking on my house!

wolfe
6 months ago
Reply to  wolfe

Now, whether it’s price-viable long term is a different issue — the entry price is high to ensure the people using it are motivated — it’s NOT intended as a replacement for cable internet for people who CAN use that. The trick, of course, is pacing the build out expense with the subscribers paying — which is the real reason for incrementally expanding the allowed subscribers.

Without going deep into the technology even further, one interesting thing to know is that the bandwidth should NOT reduce as people sign onto it — not only will there be a “metric buttload” of satellites, but they are all acting in a mesh for signals to move “around” one another at light speed. Unlike your cable system, speeds should indeed get faster as the constellation is built out… as noted, we’re getting many times faster bandwidth than cable right now, with only a sparse test-beta hardware in orbit.

Firefly
6 months ago

Nice to see a realistic article on this developing product. There are a number of regulatory hurdles still required, as you mention. For example, Starlink has petitioned the FCC to allow their satellites to operate at a lower orbit to increase their capacity. Microsoft is opposed because it would interfere with their planned product. As the Starlink constellation develops, their capacity limits will increase. However, do not expect them to quickly ramp up affordable mobile options. They have won bids from the FCC auction to provide broadband service to individuals in underserved locations. Starlink will receive subsidies for providing this service in addition to being able to charge standard rates for service. As an RVer you will not be subsidized. The need to geo-fence subsidized customers is likely the reason behind their testing of geo-fencing currently.

Walt Howard
6 months ago

One thing I can say to the nay sayers about Starlink is, here in Central Florida, Deltona to be exact, it seem like Elon’s Falcon 9 rockets go up about once a week from Cape Canaveral. Maybe not quite that often. Each one has 60 satellites to disperse, and it happens so often it’s barely newsworthy. The launches are almost ho hum except for the super cool landing of the reusable rockets. To us old folks, it reminds us of outer space shows we would see as kids. The rockets even look kinda like the ones in the old shows.

Walt Howard
6 months ago
Reply to  Walt Howard

I get goose bumps watching them land on the offshore drone barge, that’s what I said, drone barge, just a few minutes after they put the satellites in orbit, and they hit the bullseye maybe a foot or two off of dead center! Don’t even get me started on what these private companies have done for our Space Coast. Post shuttle days wee dim. Expensive condos on Cocoa were selling cheap. Different story now, and even the Kennedy Space Center is stepping up it’s game with a new, hands on, “Train like an Astronaut living on Mars” for adults and kids 10-17. It’s a 4 to 5 hour deal using those AI googles and hands on stuff. Look like an awful lot of fun..er…ah….for the kids…yeah….the kids.

Dave
6 months ago

Can’t wait until this type of service is available! 2024 sounds reasonable and I’ll be ready

Ronald Hiemann
6 months ago

There have been several articles about Starlink for RV‘ers. While it sounds exciting, it is still years away from becoming reality. I have signed-up for the beta and paid the fee. I did this because I own land in South Dakota, far away from any towers. According to Starlink, that area is expected to open up for service „late this year“ but no guarantee. Also, the service is geo-fenced because each subscriber is assigned to a certain satellite. Very important to know because it means that you can not move the equipment outside the fence or it will stop working. It will be a few more years before Starlink is fully operational and open to everybody (at home). As for RV‘ers, they will be the very last to receive service.

Bob P
6 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Hiemann

It’s probably like everything else Elon Musk starts, there’s a lot of “blow hard” by him before any real action takes place. How many years did he brag about EVs before he put one on the road, he’s been bragging about his EV truck for 3 years and I’ve only seen 1 prototype, bragged about his Class 8 commercial truck for how many years and have seen anything but a mock up.

Engineer
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

How many R&D projects have you financed and we’re responsible for? Based on your comment that answer would be none.

Tommy Molnar
6 months ago
Reply to  Engineer

I haven’t financed any R&D projects either, therefore I agree with Bob P? Mr. Musk may well be a visionary, but he’s a lot longer on vision than production.

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

He is the best salesman with our money. People forget when they say dumb things like the government spent X am out of money, there is no such thing as government money, it’s OUR MONEY.

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago
Reply to  Engineer

Clown motors’ CEO Elon Muskie had a solar panel plant built in NY state to the tune of 1 billion (with a B) dollars and shortly after, moved the manufacturing equipment out and tried to hide it in another warehouse about 40 miles away.

Look it up, and never shoot before you know the facts. This dude didn’t spend a dime, just hood winked Mario the second, who is busy with his own mess.

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

Just this week, somebody released a youtube video on Tesla self driving cars. It was so factual Elon had it taken down faster than Number 45 was removed, and thats sayin something :-). I found it though, shows crashes, people totally asleep as the car goes down the road, going down a oneway street, etc., pretty hilarious, if it wasnt coming to smash into you in the near future.

John T
6 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Hiemann

Each subscriber cannot be assigned to a certain satellite. They are in low-earth orbit, and your signal will transfer from satellite to satellite as they pass over, just like your cell signal transfers from tower to tower as you pass them by. If you were assigned to one satellite, you could only use for a few minutes each orbit as it passed over.

Carol
6 months ago
Reply to  John T

I thought they were in a geosynchronous orbit?

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago
Reply to  John T

Simple, talk fast!!!!

wolfe
6 months ago
Reply to  Ronald Hiemann

NO, you are not assigned to a specific satellite — that’s hilarious! In low earth orbit, satellites have to WIZZ over your head to stay orbiting — geosynchronous orbit is 35786km above the geoide, while these LEOs are at 550km, or about 1/70th the altitude. There will be 24 orbital planes set at 53* inclination.

As for the geofencing, it’s temporary and voluntary as far as I can tell. The receiver is technologically free to relocate, but you CAN easily move to a place that’s not covered by the incomplete taurus of satellite planes. The “dish” (as you think of it) can only watch 90* of the sky, which is a surprisingly small orbital area with LEO satellites — so small that there are still small holes even where it IS expected to work. So, to prevent people from complaining about long outages, Starlink just says not to even try in certain areas for now.

Bill T
6 months ago

I guess this internet option will depend on your individual needs. Personally I enjoy being free from continuous internet connectivity. Check my cell periodically for any immediate communique’s then enjoy the “R” in RV’ing, recreation.

Ray
6 months ago

I hope I’m around and still traveling when Starlink becomes viable across the entire USA and subscribers are no longer limited to a fixed area.

BILLY Bob Thronton
6 months ago
Reply to  Ray

I think the build out of 5G will add to the mix

Paul S Goldberg
6 months ago
Reply to  Ray

I have such good coverage using Verizon and AT&T that Starlink would have to provide at least that complete coverage with the speed of 5G before I would consider it. The additional competition for our business should drive prices for all services down. To me that is the greatest benefit of Starlink yet another competitor for VZ and ATT.

Steven
6 months ago

5g service is great as long as you don’t exceed your data cap. Starlink is promising no data caps, and one analyst is predicting that the 5g system will be supplemented by Starlink in the future. You can blow thru 30 gig in a week if you are trying to work from your rv. Starlink engineers has also been saying that a portal may be created where you simply update your new address for your rv and you will be assigned to that grid. This may not solve the issue of internet while moving, but for most rv’ers, just being able to change their nightly address may be enough. This is going to be a game changer for the vintage telecoms.