SpaceX’s Starlink project aims to deliver global internet from satellites, with the promise to deliver high-speed broadband to as many as possible. But what is Starlink and how does it work?
Following our latest podcast, where we demonstrated just how easy it was to set up and use a Starlink Satellite, we’ve had lots of clients asking us for more information, so here is everything you need to know!
What is Starlink?
Starlink, developed by the American spacecraft manufacturer and satellite communications firm, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), and founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, is the world’s first largest satellite constellation that aims to deliver global broadband internet. Unlike most of the usual satellite internet services, Starlink can support streaming (yes, you can even watch Netflix), online gaming, video calls and much more with its exceptionally low-latency.
SpaceX began launching the Starlink satellites back in 2019. It is reported that Starlink now comprises of over 3,000 mass-produced small satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO).
The Starlink receiver unit is a small portable dish, that comes with everything you need to get online, including the Starlink, power supply, WiFi router, cables and base. Once you have plugged everything in, you will need to have the Starlink App on your device and Starlink will need a clear view of the sky to connect.
How does Starlink work?
The way Starlink operates is on a satellite internet service technology, which has existed for decades. However, instead of land-based internet services, like cable or DSL which transmit the data through wires, satellite internet beams the internet data through satellites orbiting through space.
Starlink’s goal is to provide a high-speed, low-latency network in space, that facilitates edge computing on Earth. To achieve this, Starlink uses a constellation of low Earth orbits (LEO) which as the name suggests, satellites that orbit around the earth, much closer than the traditional GEO satellites. Starlink orbits at about 550km, which results in lower latency, in comparison to GEO satellites which orbit around 35,786km.
Each satellite features a compact, flat-panel design that minimises volume, allowing for a dense launch stack to take full advantage of the launch capabilities of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
As of October 2022, Starlink is available in 40 different countries, around the world, with more than 400,000 users. As more and more people use the service, we will likely see congestion, with the internet speeds taking a hit, however, the company has plans to launch further Starlink satellites into orbit, to alleviate the congestion.
Using an app, and with the dish directed at a clear sky, you can initiate the Starlink device to seek out a connection to one of the LEO satellites, which can be located across the globe.
Below is a map that states the different countries Starlink is stated to be available in, or listed as ‘coming soon’.
How fast are Starlink’s internet speeds?
As stated on its website, Starlink is currently delivering download speeds of 50 to 200Mbps, upload speeds of 10 to 30Mbps and latency of 20 to 50milliseconds.
Will the weather impact Starlink’s connectivity?
Starlink was designed with rugged weather conditions in mind, as its stated on their website:
“Designed and rigorously tested to handle a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, Starlink is proven to withstand extreme cold and heat, sleet, heavy rain, and gale force winds — and it can even melt snow.”
All satellite internet services require a clear view of the sky, to send signals to satellites in space. This means that traditional satellite internet usually struggles with poor weather.
However, Starlink works in all types of weather, but heavy rain and snow can affect your connection. Whilst it’s rare to lose your connection altogether, you may experience slower internet speeds during heavy rain and snow.
Who is Starlink aimed at?
Starlink will not replace traditional broadband internet, however, it is an ideal solution for anyone who has a remote location, with access to power, but where traditional internet or WiFi services are unreliable or nonexistent. We have seen Starlink successfully working in rural locations with a low-density population that has limited, or no service from traditional fibre, cable, and DSL internet connections. An example of some other use cases where Starlink would be useful; onboard boats, oil rigs, remote mountain ranges, and other rural locations.
We have also seen many businesses and individuals use them as a backup for when their standard internet comms has an unplanned service interruption, with Starlink being incredibly quick and easy to set up, it is being used as a failover for when an internet connection is required but normal services have gone down.
Another way in which the Starlink could be beneficial is for use at short-term, or “pop-up” sites, such as an incident response posts, these short-term connections would usually be dependent on a mobile signal being available, however these can now be connected temporarily using Starlink.
Watch our latest podcast here, where we demo SpaceX’s Starlink and discuss it in detail.