Today's video is about Starlink—I've had an active subscription since last February, and as it's been a year, I figured I should post an update.
The tl;dr: when I had a new roof put on late last summer, I took down 'Dishy McFlatface', but I haven't put the dish back up. I have been holding out hope I could transfer my hardware to my cousin, who lives on a farm 70 miles away, and only gets 300 Kbps upload on her DSL, but so far that seems to be a pipe dream.
In the video below, I outline four problems that have tempered my optimism when it comes to SpaceX's Starlink Internet service:
The rest of this post is a lightly-edited transcript of the video.
I took Dishy McFlatface off my roof, and I haven't been using Starlink for a couple months now, even though I'm still paying for it. More on that in a bit.
I had to take the dish down to get a new roof put on, and I didn't want the roofing company to try taking down the dish for me.
But I haven't put the dish back up on my roof yet. And I might not, I'm not sure yet.
But why? There are thousands of people who are still waiting for access to Starlink. Have I already become an entitled tech YouTuber flaunting Elon Musk-related things for clicks?
No, not really. I mean, my intention with Starlink was to test it and see if it'd be adequate to replace my weak cable Internet access. If it didn't work out, I'd pass along the hardware to my cousin, who lives out on a farm with even worse Internet, with upload speeds measured in the kilobits per second.
That's the first problem that soured my outlook on Starlink.
But there are four problems I wanna highlight:
- Starlink's preorders and coverage
- Flaws with the new Starlink router
- Power consumption
- Issues with the Starlink satellite constellation itself
Access and Expansion
Talking about anything even remotely connected to Elon Musk is risky business. I get that. There are people reading this who think he's a real-life Iron Man, come to save our planet and break through all the bureaucratic red tape to build the tech governments and stodgy old corporations can't.
Then there are other people reading who think he's the commensurate con-man: a snake-oil salesman who announces something so radical but just barely believable, sucks up billions of dollars from gullible sycophants, and never delivers on lofty promises.
I think the truth is somewhere in the middle, personally. And there are plenty of times where it's obvious Elon doesn't have anyone reining in his worst tendencies. But this post isn't about Elon. It's not about Telsa, or the solar roof. It's not about the perpetual delays to full self driving, robotaxies, or the Cybertruck.
This post is about something that exists, and people are actually using. It's about Starlink, SpaceX's fledgling constellation of thousands of satellites blanketing the world with high speed Internet.
But here's the problem: it's not blanketing the world yet.
I pre-ordered Starlink the day the public beta was announced, and got it only a few months later, in February 2021.
I have an entire video about my initial Starlink experience. I won't re-hash everything from that video, but I came away cautiously optimistic.
But what frustrates me the most is mobility. Not in trying to move around with my dish like on an RV or boat, but rather the difficulty in moving to a new address, or transferring the dish to someone else.
My initial plan—before discovering it was impossible—was to test Starlink at my house, and transfer it to my cousin if she could make better use of it.
And it's still impossible for me to do that, a year later, even though she lives just 70 miles away.
Technically, Starlink now allows changing the service address. That wasn't even a thing until late last year. But even so, that assumes coverage is available at the new address. And 99% of the time, it isn't. And technically, you can also ask to have the hardware transferred to a new owner, but that process has the same problem.
The support reps I've talked to mentioned I could cancel service and try to set it up again later, but if I do that, I'd probably end up in back of the pre-order queue, even though I already have Starlink hardware.
Once coverage is opened up in the area where my cousin lives, I still intend to give my kit to her. Hopefully it'll happen. But I'm not going to bet on it happening any time soon.
My cousin even put in a pre-order in March last year. Her initial estimate was 'mid to late 2021'. In late 2021, that estimate was changed to 'late 2022', but after seeing perpetual delays with other Musk-related ventures, how much faith can I put in that date?
Meanwhile, Starlink's been holding onto an interest-free loan to the tune of fifty-million-plus in unfilled pre-orders. My cousin's still in that group, but for how long?
Note: I know $50 million isn't a huge deal when it comes to Starlink's operating costs—but it's more the principle of the matter.
Some people have had enough and are pulling out from Starlink, especially if they found better LTE or 5G coverage, which is improving, though not very fast, in some parts of the US.
Now, I know there are technical reasons SpaceX is slow to expand. Part of it is due to the portion of the constellation still waiting to be deployed and bandwidth on existing satellites. And judging by how sporadic response times are with support, they probably need more time to grow their ISP-related operations too.
And the chip shortage hasn't helped either—I'm guessing they're putting out all the hardware they can build. But it's a hard pill to swallow for those who pre-ordered over a year ago, and now have a vague promise of getting Starlink in the next year... maybe.
So that's my biggest gripe. In my polyannic optimism, I assumed SpaceX would be a lot further along by now, especially in their home country.
But they're not.
The Hardware: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
SpaceX also made a couple baffling decisions with their new 'version 2' user terminal kit—that's the hardware package you get.
I have the 'version 1'. Both versions come with a dish, a stand, a long cable, and a router, and my older kit also has a separate power brick.
This original kit came with a heavy round dish (23" in diameter), but the new one comes with a smaller 19x12" rectangular dish. That dish is also half the weight of mine. That makes it easier to ship and transport, and means it doesn't need as strong of a dish mount.
That's a positive change, but there are a couple puzzling and outright user-hostile changes to the rest of the kit.
The new router only does WiFi. There's no extra LAN port on the back, like I have on my older router. If you wanna plug a wired network into Starlink, you have to buy this ridiculous-looking twenty dollar dongle, which, by the way, is on backorder for at least a month.
That's, honestly, insane. Like... an RJ-45 connector costs pennies, and it's not like it's some exotic thing to support wired Ethernet on a network router!
And WiFi is great, but this new router doesn't even have WiFi 6! It doesn't matter if the external bandwidth can't go higher than a few hundred megabits, WiFi 6 would at least allow devices on the local network to communicate much faster with each other.
But, gosh, twenty bucks to add on wired Ethernet? What are they smoking over at Starlink HQ?
At least the new router has a wider base so it won't fall over if you look at it sideways. And it has a 'bypass' mode, so you could still use your own router in tandem with the twenty dollar LAN adapter. I guess that's something.
But here's the thing that really gets my goat: This new proprietary cable.
SpaceX has the gall to charge $60 for a replacement Cat5e cable. The reason? Some weird proprietary end connectors.
It looks kinda like mini HDMI, but it's not. But inside the wire itself, it's just vanilla cat5e twisted pair. You can get a shielded outdoor-UV-rated Cat5E cable for less than half what Starlink Charges. Or heck, make your own.
You shouldn't have to resort to hacking together homebrew PoE+ bridges just to overcome the weird proprietary connectors used by Starlink.
I digress, though. These connectors are dumb, and I can't think of a good reason they exist. There are ways SpaceX could improve networking hardware, but proprietary non-standard connectors ain't one of 'em.
The new router does allow SpaceX to drop the separate power supply my kit has. And I guess the setup instructions can drop a step or two.
But dropping a LAN port and switching to a proprietary connector are both categorically dumb.
And you know what else is dumb? How much power Starlink's user terminal sucks down, continuously. In my video last year, I mentioned how my older dish would suck down 80 to 90 watts all day. And on snowy or icy days, the dish could peak at 140 watts!
Even if you're not trying to be energy conscious, adding a hundred watts of continous draw will make a noticeable impact on your energy bill.
Or if you're trying to go off-grid on solar and battery power, adding a hundred watts of continuous draw makes things difficult. It's a far cry from the 5-10 watts my router and cable modem or 4G modem use.
I get it, a complex phased array antenna like the one used in Starlink's dish is cutting edge for consumer equipment, and needs the power to do it's beamforming for satellites whizzing by in the sky.
I was hoping the new terminal would be a lot more efficient, and it seems to be, somewhat. It draws 50 watts under good conditions, but still spikes to 100-plus watts when it gets too cold or snowy. Even the older dishes have improved with recent firmware updates, but the power usage is still a necessary side effect of Starlink's tech.
And even 50 watts adds four bucks to your monthly power bill. Or seven if you live in California!
Kessler Syndrome, maybe. Astronomy issues, definitely!
The last problem is something that's gone from more of a hypothetical to a very real, visible problem.
And that's the quantity of Starlink satellites whizzing around in the sky above us.
During launch, when the satellites are grouped together and not in their final orbit, they can be fun to see in a little light train through the sky.
But despite their best efforts at adding visors to block sunlight from reflecting to the ground, SpaceX hasn't been able to prevent their satellites from impacting certain sky observations.
Researchers at the University of Warsaw estimated .5% of twilight observations at one facility were affected by Starlink satellites in 2019, when there were only a hundred or so satellites. In late 2021, with almost 2,000 satellites, that number is 20%. And by the time SpaceX deploys all the ten thousand satellites in the constellation, nearly all images taken in twilight hours will have light streaks from Starlink.
Yes, it's possible to build AI and Machine Learning models that incorporate orbit data and correct the light streaks in software, but I'm sure that's not something all the astonomy departments around the world want to allocate budget for.
Kessler Syndrome, which I touched on in my previous video, is in some ways a reduced concern with how low Starlink satellites orbit. But collisions aren't an impossible outcome when you put tens of thousands of satellites in a polar orbit.
But broadening our discussion beyond just SpaceX and Starlink, what happens if Amazon launches it's Kuiper constellation, and China launches their constellation, and so on? Maybe Wall-E's caricature of a planet blanketed by space trash and corporate satellites wasn't that far off the mark!
Still an optimist, though
I feel like I've been a downer through most of this post, and I guess I have. But none of these points negates the fact that rural and off-grid Internet access is usually terrible.
And with more of the world's communications and commerce moving to the Internet, being able to get reliable access to anyone, anywhere is becoming more important every year. Many countries, including the US, have a lot of inequality when it comes to Internet access and affordability.
Starlink has already improved online access for many thousands of users.
And while I highlighted some of the bad things about the new Starlink hardware, they did make a number of improvements, and coupled with frequent firmware updates, I do think they're trying to make the end user experience better overall. I just hope they don't follow up with a version 3 that requires a proprietary Tesla power plug, or something insane like that!
Like I said at the beginning of the post: I took down the dish, but I'm still paying for the service—for now. I'm optimistic that SpaceX can solve these issues, but I'm also having a harder time each month justifying paying the hundred bucks in the hopes I can get the dish to my cousin any time soon!
I might put it back up so I can have a redundant Internet connection, or maybe set up upstream bonding so I could get more than 40 megabits of upload speed for the $240 a month I pay for Internet right now, but who knows.
"adding a hundred watts of continous draw will make a noticeable impact on your energy bill."
24 * 30 * .1 * 0.07 = $5 a month for the power
More than that in most parts of the US, and a lot more than that in Europe and other parts of the world.
Also, $5 would be a noticeable impact on my energy bill; I'm sure many people have much higher bills, but that would be 5-15% of my entire bill, depending on which month of the year (July and August are the worst for me, since AC has to run a lot more).
My rate is 0.35/kWhr
In US Virgin Islands, 1kwh is charged $0.50 by my landlord. So it comes to $30 a month
Wow, you pay 500 and moan about a couple of cables and power consumption?!? That you don't even need. Really!??? Sounds like you're desperate to pander to your readers to keep paying for your new roof.... Grow up, kid.
And yet here you are reading and getting upset about someone posting their opinions on their personal blog. How about you stop reading and move on to somewhere else. You have contributed nothing. It's clear who needs to do some maturing and it is not the author.
Lighten up, Francis. Proprietary cables where none are needed IS dumb. And a money grab. Completely unnecessary. Power consumption IS important. Even if not, standing alone, a large amount of money, it all adds up.
I have Starlink too.
My options were poor wireless, terrible dsl, or overloaded cell towers and I live inside city limits.
They could have doubled the dish price and monthly service fee and I still would have paid happily. Considering my next best option was $30,000 worth of underground bore work because there's no utility poles in this part of town.
I agree that not including an Ethernet option is silly and I'm no fan of proprietary connectors. But anyone that's seriously considering a starlink wouldn't care if the thing required regular blood sacrifices. I was just about to pull the trigger on the 30k before I got my invite.
Heh... that's the sad fact—because other options are so bad for some people, they will put up with whatever Starlink has to offer, since the speed (modest as it is, in comparison to all the European commenters on my video mentioning 2 or 25 Gbps fiber!) will blow away anything else available.
I am finally getting Starlink after being turned down for beta, as I'm ~10km north of test area. It drives me crazy after waiting basically 3 years to hear people whine about it lol. Elon said up front it's not for city dwellers, yet that's exactly who got the first 25000 orders I'd bet.
Speaking of being butt hurt, I was sad I wasn't getting a square dishy, they said its because they are only in the US right now, so thank you for pointing out its flaws, I feel a bit relieved I'm getting a round one now.
Where I live the only other option is 5mbps, 30' whip for $1000-1500, $110/mo. Every other satellite or LTE service turned me down. Starlink is a no brainer for the people that have no other choice. At least until we see what Amazon and friends come up with.
I also have Starlink (since October after waiting 8 months), and blood sacrifice seems cheap. Starlink needs to stop doing rinky-dink things like proprietary connections because someday they'll have competition - but for now, this replaces a $325/month 100GB data-capped satellite service that was only option, with so much latency and so ssssllllooooowwww that I still drove halfway down the mountain to get in cell range to use a hotspot to take critical meetings that I couldn't afford to drop. I was considering renting space in town a half-hour away to commute to to conduct my "remote job" duties.
Now, I can take video calls and not have to switch to audio-only and no worries if there are 5 other devices streaming at the time or not. It's better than the connections my "town friends" have, and even than some business connections I've had. It's like we moved from 2005 to Wakanda.
But I did have to unexpectedly create a new circuit on my UPS power source in order to handle the power draw...it uses 40% of the amount of energy I use each month to charge my 2013 Model S - another case of a company that introduces changes in the secondary product offering that makes it less desirable than the original was. And again, these issues will be a detriment to the ability to compete once there is actually competition in that market
Having to put up with 5mbps downloads for so many years with no sign of improvement anytime soon, Starlink is a blessing. I received my system one month after putting down my deposit. Not many options for internet in rural Montana till Starlink came to be. As far as power consumption? Go through your house and shuts lights of you don't need on, go through and see how many ghost loads you have, replace incandescent luminairs with LED luminairs. You will be surprised at how much power you can save with the simple little things. Most likely enough to more than offset any
extra power the Starlink system uses.
When I moved into the house 10 years ago the first thing I did was swap out all the incandescents with (then expensive, but probably better than cheap ones now) LED bulbs. Only had to replace three in the past decade! Lighting is low enough load (especially since we only use lights in the rooms we occupy) that I've had them stay on through brownouts a few times now.
When we moved in, we also bought HE appliances, and besides the electric clothes dryer and AC, nothing uses more than a few hundred watts intermittent. From that perspective, adding Starlink impacts our energy use more than our fridge!
Have had Starlink (gen 1) deployed since early fall of '21, as, aside from using a cell hot spot (or it's equivalent cellular device), Starlink has been the sole option, but it's certainly revolutionized our internet situation here. I've been completely off the grid for very close to a decade now, and a fair bit off the beaten path in the western mountains of Maine...running cables of any kind to their nearest tie-ins would be far too cost prohibitive. During the initial period of operation, maybe a month or so, the power consumption was fairly acceptable @ a near constant 40 watts, which is not great news for anyone who lives on battery power, but the trade-off for me was worth it... After all, I can always exercise the option of simply pulling the plug when I'm not using it (always when I go to bed anyway).
Then the cold weather hit us hard, and that power went straight to 170-180 watts, just like that, in no small part due to the heating elements in the dish. I just can't get over how foolishly that part of the system was designed. The sole purpose for these plate warmers is to shed the dish of snow and ice, as if everytime the temps drop below 34° (what I've more or less deduced the thermostatic trigger to be), there will be snow/ice on the dish. 98% of the time, there is no snow present, which makes the extra power draw so needlessly wasteful. As a guy that is VERY cognizant of what a watt is, and how many of them every item in his house uses, I can tell you this is a fuck-ton considering what it is being used for. It's literally like running an extra 3.5 (standard top freezer, 2 door) refrigerators in your house. I had to upgrade my battery bank to accommodate, which I wanted to do anyway mind you, to the tune of ~$11k. It would have been easy enough for Space X to integrate a switch to disable the heating elements right from ones phone, thereby cutting down drastically the power draw. Plus, many users, myself included, ground mount the dish, so manual clearing is an easy task. The power brick is rated for 180 watts, which it sees near continuous through much of winter, and it shows... That damn thing heats up to the extent that I've had to prop it up from the wooden surface of the shelves it sits on. Hell, I came in a couple weeks ago after snow clearing for a couple hours, fingers frozen to the bone... And do you think the first thing I headed for was my wood stove?... Nope, that damn power brick, because it fit in my frozen hands and I knew it would warm them up in seconds. Generally speaking, electronics that see their max power rating more often than not tend to be destined for short lifespans, so that's concerning. The fact that the cabling could not be disconnected from the dish was also extremely annoying to me, with no good reason why it was designed as such.
The second gen system looks less appealing than the first gen one to me, and now they are announcing a "premium" tier package at $2500 for the equipment and a whopping $500/month subscription fee. I can't help but think they are headed in the wrong direction here.
I can't complain too much though, I guess... We get consistent 200-250mbps download with a typical 20-30 Mbps upload in a system that meshes well with my isolated, decentralized, self sufficient (more or less) environment. It's nice to know my continuity of power is not subject to the fragility of the grid, and so now is my net access. It's hard to put a price on that, all said and done.
I really appreciate your StarLink posts - thank you so much for sharing them.
I imagine I'm in a somewhat similar situation as your cousin. I'm just 15 miles from downtown Durham NC - but in a rural buffer of Orange County, NC - and while there's both cable and fiber in the ground just 2 miles away - the *only* option I have - and the only option I've had for the 8 years I've been here is 6.0Mbps down and 500Kbps up DSL from CenturyLink for $100 a month - I'm right at 10,000 feet from the DSLAM.
I'd get a *second* DSL line and multiplex them - but I can't. The area has been marked "in exhaust" since the mid-2020 due to pandemic-related changes - and my one attempt to make a change resulted in me getting artificially reduced to 3.0Mbps - which I had to spend two days on the phone with CenturyLink to *beg* to get my service restored back to 6Mbps.
Starlink is my only future hope at all for change, and they've put off deployment here until 2023 - and even then I have the bottom 5% of the North-facing sky blocked by trees. And it seems like their equipment changes are going to be for the worse as well.
The state of Rural Broadband in the U.S. is bad, bad, bad. Even with the infrastructure bill, I seriously doubt anything is going to change because of the way the Census Areas are mapped - and how good the deployments are in urban areas in this region. Unfortunately in NC - the monopoly providers successfully lobbied to prevent any Governments from competing - so the County can't do a deployment itself. They can only pay the monopoly providers to extend infrastructure - there's a 2-year old working group for that with little change.
I make do and even work remotely reasonably well - I don't want to move at all, but I expect I'll have to - I've already been prevented from some jobs because of the lack of broadband infrastructure here.
If you're paying Centurylink $100 for just internet, you're getting screwed and must have ignored the $45 per month for life promotion they ran. Don't know if it's still a plan customers can switch to, but I'm only paying $45 with CTL. I was lucky enough to be able to get bonded DSL for a total of 25-30 down, and maybe 1 up. It's crap with the family has photos syncing up with FB or Google or whatever, but a little shaping helps that. I finally got my order coming for Starlink - probably only about 20 miles closer than Jeff's cousin if his distances are accurate enough - so I'm pretty excited to try it out in my rural neck of the woods. I'll probably keep CTL as well. I'll just have to not tell my wife we'll have 2 internet bills.
I've discussed transferring this with starlink and they not giving me issues on anything I've approached them with. There's no form for this you just have to contact tech support tell him what you want and they give you the procedure on how to do it within 24 hours.
They do not offer Hands-On support when you can pick up the phone and call them you can only communicate by their portal. The power consumption is about the same as a DSL.
CGNAT was a deal breaker for me. I did not understand what that was until I connected the system to my home network and no longer had access to my network. I read about using VNC and vpn to get around but I did not find a clear enough for me explanation of how to implement that. So I returned the system.
Totally agree, if all you have is high orbit satellite, poor 3g/4g or terrible fixed wireless then it's a great improvement , but it is currently unable to deliver on the statements flouted by musk. Tech support might as well be a answering machine with a recorded message and the system is the worst it has been in six months with servers I have used in the past 1 currently 3x the ping of previous 5 months. It is Not suitable for competative online gaming, you can't move the dish, you can't pause the system and currently in Australia you can't sell your hardware. Welcome to being part of paying for elons dream.
After a signing up during beta, we finally revived an invite. We could not get the obstruction app to process (tried with an android and iPhone and boosted the signal, drive to the nearest town and tried again in several locations on top buildings with strong bandwidth and had zero success) so are basically flying blind. We live near the 60th. Winters are cold (weeks of -40 C). I am concerned the system will fail as the recommended operating range is -30. Also we have waited 6 days for a response from support. For $700, excessive power consumption, no tech support and we are on the edge of the network, I am concerned. But I also do not have internet unless I tether LTE and am limited to 20 GB/mth. I somehow managed through remote covid university courses but that was stressful.
Any recommendations on support etc?
Great review! I just got the new Starlink system delivered. Very disappointed before turning it on. I got it sent to my house for my 92 year old dad and they raised the price Tuesday and Wednesday they emailed they wanted the rest of the money at a increased price. Then this is the first chance I could order the mount and ethernet port. Both pad for and the system gets delivered and they start monthly billing but not ethernet adapter or mount so I can't use it yet. Really this is how they roll. Very disappointed and might just go back to cell internet at the new 2 tier system. Cell connection is only 100 a month for faster service. So sad.
So you are paying $100/month for starlink service that you don't use? But it does look as though you have "done your research".
$110/month now—but I'm still hopeful I can get this thing transferred to my cousin, and from what I hear, it's easier to do if you have active service than if you try to re-activate old hardware :(
I too paid the deposit and waited
I paid for the circular dish since it had no router and a longer pole option. The customer service is not there and having failed to reach them several times after they sent me a message my unit the ( at the time more expensive with router) square was coming. The fact that this company is i
on auto pilot makes me disappointed, because I admire Musk. When I finally messaged I was going to cancel my service because of the up coming charges they offered to hold on my billing and send me at no charge add on equipment to meet my needs because they switched the dish. But that was before the 30 return policy. Since then I am being billed for service I don't have because I don't have all the parts they were to send. I am really upset they don't follow thru (pie crust promises.) I hear the equipment is worth several times more than what we paid for it ,so hopefully I can sell it. I don't know,but paying for a service you don't have is something to be reported.I need to know to whom.
TBH, I would just bring it over to your cousin's house and just set it up and see since the Roaming option in Starlink now works and many have been driving around with them in RVs etc as of late!
That's my new plan! I'm going to pick a day and drive it around and see if I can get reception all the way out to her place.
I'm probably only a hop skip and a jump from your cousins place - If I put the clues together well enough. I'm out west on 70 in rural area also. Just got my order put through and I should have my kit soon.
I ordered my starlink in February 2021. Received it April 2022. I sold it on eBay and am trying to transfer service. Starlink support says it's pretty easy. Tell support a few things about the new owner and they'll try to get it transferred.
HOW THE F does one go about contacting starlink?!? I have searched the support page ..my account page, old Reddit posts ...asked on SpaceX Twitter, their FB... IDK what to do. This is some terrible customer support!
you have to actually click on the "thumbs down" on one of the support FAQs or predefined issues they present. Then that takes you to a place where you can write a message. I guess that's the modern way.
Terrible piece, lol.
Because of starlink I can now game in the woods on my own property without listening to busses and screaming crackheads, I also don't have to pay rent as a result. The downtime is pretty well non existent with only one outage booting me from a discord call I was in... over the course of 3 months.
Starlink literally makes all of that possible for me.
Honestly I feel like Starling is a huge scam I bought it because I was in the area where there wasn't Wi-Fi and I get it it was half of average and I moved to an area that there was no single because of buildings in the way and there's no way to pause your subscription or cancel it that just keep charging you every time I try to find a way to cancel the page doesn't load this place does Cam do not buy Starling repeat do not buy