Starlink first launched in the United States back in November 2020 and has since taken the world by storm. The service added over one million subscribers in just two years alone.
To many, Starlink represents a vast improvement compared to their previous dial-up and satellite-based options. I’ve personally been using it for over a year and couldn’t be happier!
In this article, I will explain what Starlink does and how it works, what performance users can expect, the hardware it comes with, what it costs, highlight the pros and cons, and so much more.
What Does Starlink Actually Do?
Starlink is an internet service provider (ISP) that is owned and operated by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX.
SpaceX itself was founded by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk back in 2002. The company has since grown into the most potent rocket launch provider that ever existed.
Enter Starlink, which SpaceX began working on in 2014. Starlink is the economic vehicle that will fund the development of the firm’s Starship rocket, which is supposed to take humans to Mars.
The service offers high-speed and low-latency internet connections to those located in rural areas who have traditionally been deprived of viable options.
As a result, users can engage in all kinds of data-intensive activities, ranging from streaming content on Netflix all the way to online video calls.
Getting set up and running with Starlink does often not take more than a few minutes. The kind folks at SpaceX walk you through the whole installation process in the video below:
And because Starlink relies on a constellation of satellites to transmit data signals (more on that in the next chapter), it can be used for all kinds of applications and purposes.
As a result, Starlink offers a total of seven different internet plans aimed at both individual consumers and businesses.
Consumer plans include Residential, Roam, Portability, and Best Effort while B2B tiers are Business, Aviation, and Maritime.
Each of those plans can be canceled at any time. Furthermore, Starlink enables you to test the product for 30 days during which you can return the hardware at no cost (except shipment and handling).
How Does Starlink Work?
Starlink relies on a constellation of thousands of satellites, which roam low-earth orbit (LEO) at a distance of around 550 km (~ 341 miles).
In fact, Starlink has launched over 5,000 satellites into space thus far, with new deployments now happening almost on a weekly basis.
These satellites are then transmitting laser signals between each other and occasionally to ground stations located back on earth.
The ability for satellites to transmit laser signals (SpaceX calls them optical space lasers) to one another is a result of Starlink’s continuous upgrading of its satellites.
Right now, most of its launches, which are solely carried out by its owner SpaceX, contain around 50 or so satellites. These are called Gen1.5 or V1.5 sats. Previous versions of its satellites relied on ground stations as an intermediary.
However, SpaceX has since introduced a more potent version called the Gen 2 Mini, which is a precursor to the even more powerful Gen2 satellites. The larger Gen2 satellites will eventually be transported on SpaceX’s Starship rocket sometime in 2023 or 2024.
While V1.5 satellites can provide around 20 Gbps of bandwidth per satellite, Gen2 Mini’s offer up to 80 Gbps (numbers for the larger-sized Gen2’s have not yet been revealed).
This consequently means that the performance of the overall system improves as more objects are deployed, thus resulting in greater download and upload speeds.
Additionally, the more satellites you have roaming above your head, the lower the potential latency as it takes a shorter time to establish a connection between your hardware and a satellite.
All of this means that Starlink represents a vast improvement over traditional satellite-based ISPs like HughesNet or ViaSat.
Those competitors rely on less than a handful of satellites in geosynchronous (GEO) orbit at a distance of about 35,800 km (~ 22,245 miles).
Customers, due to substantially fewer satellites and them being located much further away from earth, will thus often experience both lower speeds and much greater latency (as it takes a longer time for the signal to travel from and back to earth).
On the other hand, Starlink’s satellites will have to be replaced at a much shorter cadence. While ViaSat and the likes normally operate their satellites for around 15 years, Starlink’s are replaced within 5 to 6 years.
They then reenter earth’s atmosphere in a controlled deorbiting maneuver during which they mostly burn up. You, therefore, don’t need to worry: Starlink and its satellites don’t pose a direct threat to humans on earth (such as being hit by space debris).
SpaceX aims to eventually operate a constellation of up to 40,000 satellites. However, it currently has ‘only’ received FCC approval for the launch of 7,500 Gen2 and 12,000 V1.x satellites.
How Big Is A Starlink Satellite?
Starlink currently operates two different satellites in its constellation, namely the V1.5 sats and V2 Mini sats.
The V1.5 satellite weighs between 260 kg (~ 573 lbs) to 300 kg (~ 661 lbs), has solar arrays with a length of 10 meters, and utilizes Krypton ion thrusters for propulsion.
The V2 mini satellites, despite their counterintuitive name, are actually substantially heavier and bigger.
Gen2 Mini satellites weigh around 800 kg (~ 1,753 lbs) and are powered by two solar arrays that are 12.8 meters long.
SpaceX plans to eventually launch its regular V2 satellites on board of its potent Starship rocket.
Those weigh around 2,000 kg each (~ 4409 lbs), with solar arrays that are 20 meters long.
Feel free to check out our dedicated article on Starlink’s Gen2 satellites, which you can find here.
What Hardware Do You Receive?
Most subscribers, especially those on consumer-focused plans, will receive the standard rectangular dish alongside the base for mounting, the router, and two cables for power.
Here how the hardware that I regularly use looks like:
The rectangular version is 513 mm (20.2 in) tall, 303 mm (11.9 in) wide, weighs 2.9 kg (6.4 lbs) without the ancillary cable, consumes 50 to 75 watts of power, and is 100-240V AC powered.
If you want to purchase additional accessories, such as an Ethernet adapter or different mounts, then you can do that within Starlink’s dedicated online store.
However, the standard dishy, as subscribers lovingly call it, may not be sufficient for some user groups like businesses or those who are constantly on the move.
Those subscribers are best served by Starlink’s High Performance dishy, which either comes in a base-mountable form or as a flat version.
The flat High Performance version boasts a length of 575 mm (22.6 in) and width of 511 mm (20.1 in), uses 110 to 150 watts on average, and also utilizes 100-240V AC power.
Where the two High Performance options differ is in their composition and usage. The regular High Performance dishy weighs about 1 kg (~ 2.2 lbs) more.
Furthermore, the flat High Performance dishy is specifically designed for in-motion usage and can thus be mounted on top of a vehicle, which means its height is also substantially lower (therefore being called flat).
It is also more resilient to extreme environments, which is the reason why you can mount it onto a camper van, RV, or boat.
How Much Does It All Cost?
The price you end up being charged is dependent on your country of residence, the type of plan you’re subscribed to, and the hardware you choose.
Let’s assume, for a second, that you are based in the United States where around 80 percent of all Starlink customers reside.
As a customer of Residential, you’ll be either charged $90 per month (when living in an area with excess capacity) or $110 a month (if you’re located in a limited-capacity area).
On top of that, you will pay a one-time fee of $599 for the hardware, plus around $23 for shipping and handling.
The price of Residential and all other plans differs vastly depending on your country of residence. We keep a detailed and up-to-date overview of all countries Starlink is licensed to operate in and what it charges for its Residential plan here.
Starlink’s other plans are consequently priced differently as well. Roam, for example, either costs $150 per month for the Regional option or $200 for the Global option, thus allowing you to access Starlink everywhere it’s licensed.
Meanwhile, the B2B plans that Starlink offers are substantially more expensive. The namesake Business plan begins at $250 a month for the lowest tier and is as high as $1,500. Maritime starts at $1,000 per month while Aviation costs between $12,500 to $25,000 per month.
Hardware costs can differ, too. Starlink, apart from the regular $599 dish, also sells a High Performance dish for $2,500. The $2,500 needs to be paid for either the flat or standard High Performance version.
Interestingly enough, this isn’t even the costliest hardware Starlink is offering. Aviation customers have to pay $150,000 for the so-called Aero Terminal.
With that being said, most consumers will be fine purchasing the standard rectangular dishy while business customers are the ones resorting to the more expensive versions.
How Fast Is Starlink?
Again, the answer to that question varies based on your chosen plan as well as the location you’re accessing Starlink from.
For example, subscribers located in the United States have noticed lowering speeds as more and more subscribers are joining the service. In 2022 alone, Starlink added over 800,000 subscribers.
Nonetheless, the performance of the overall system simultaneously improves as more satellites and ground stations are being deployed (on top of optimizing both the hardware and software).
And as previously mentioned, SpaceX is also introducing a set of new Gen2 satellites (both Mini’s and larger ones), which provide substantially more bandwidth per satellite.
Until then there’s only so much that can be done. For example, I am based in Germany where I regularly see download speeds above 200 Mbps.
For those located in congested cells and reliant on the best possible speeds, it is advised to remain on the Residential plan as network resources are prioritized. The same applies if you’re subscribed to the Business, Maritime, and Aviation tiers.
Consequently, subscribers of the Roam, Best Effort, and Portability plans will have to grapple with deprioritized access for the time being. At least those on the Best Effort plan can expect to eventually be upgraded to Residential.
So, what does all of that mean in terms of actual speeds? Starlink initially promised download speeds of up to 350 Mbps but has since revised the performance Residential users can expect around 100 Mbps for downloads and 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps for uploads.
Meanwhile, B2B customers will experience substantially higher speeds at around 220 Mbps to 250 Mbps (download).
This leaves out the third group, namely those subscribed to Roam, Best Effort, and Portability, who can collectively expect download speeds of up to 50 Mbps (download) and 10 Mbps (upload).
Lastly, the latency, namely the time it takes for the signal to be transmitted from the satellite to the ground and back, ranges between 25 ms to 50 ms.
Is Starlink Internet Unlimited?
Yes, Starlink provides users with unlimited internet. There are no hard data caps, meaning your connection will not be cut off once you exceed a certain threshold.
However, Starlink introduced a soft data cap in April 2023 (which we covered here) as part of its Fair Use Policy.
Subscribers of Priority and Mobile Priority, according to the policy, will be given 1 terabyte of prioritized data access.
Business customers can purchase other tiers where they receive 2 TB and 6 TB worth of prioritized access, respectively.
For those who need additional data, there’s the option to purchase extra capacity at $0.5 per GB for Priority and $2/GB for Mobile Priority users.
With that being said, once you surpass the cap, you will simply be deprioritized to Standard speeds, which, depending on your cell, can still mean that your connection is fast enough.
How Long Does It Take To Get Starlink?
If you reside in an area with excess capacity, then you can expect that the hardware is going to arrive at your home within 2 weeks of placing the order.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the case for everyone. If you live in a location of limited capacity, then Starlink will put you on a waitlist.
Some customers have reported waiting for more than 2 years and still being waitlisted.
Luckily, there are a few options to skip the waitlist entirely, which we detailed in a separate article that you can find here. In summary, your best bet is to either subscribe to Roam or Best Effort.
How Many Devices Can Connect To Starlink?
A total of 128 devices can connect to the Starlink router according to documentation provided by the company.
Furthermore, the router can support up to 30 simultaneous connections, which can be extended if you use a third-party router (as they can potentially offer more data throughput).
Keep in mind that the speed of each device connected to Starlink’s router will diminish with each active device as bandwidth is shared among users.
Lastly, you can get rid of the router’s saved devices simply by resetting it. We walk you through the whole process in the following article.
Where Is Starlink Available?
Starlink is currently licensed to operate and available in 55 countries across the world after first being introduced in the United States back in November 2020.
Ever since, Starlink expanded alongside its ever-growing satellite constellation. In 2022 alone, the service launched in over 25 markets.
You can quickly find out where Starlink is available by checking out its availability map, which you can access here.
Starlink continues to launch in new markets at a rapid pace. Throughout 2023, it will likely expand into countries like Angola, Ecuador, Malaysia, Indonesia, Oman, Zambia, and many more.
Keep in mind that new countries being added do not negatively affect the performance of existing markets.
Each Starlink satellite covers a specific region on Earth, and its coverage is limited to that region. The satellites are in constant motion, orbiting the Earth, and the system works by establishing a connection to the user terminal within the cell it is covering at any given moment.
When a user in Nigeria (example) consumes bandwidth, they are doing so within their local cell, which is served by one or more satellites that happen to be overhead at the time.
Similarly, a user in the United States would be connected to a different set of satellites that are covering their local cell.
How Many Users Per Cell Can Starlink Handle?
Satellite-based internet service providers like Starlink use hexagonal cells for coverage.
In the case of Starlink, each side of the hexagon is 15 miles in length, which means a single cell is equal to about 584.3 square miles.
Within that area, Starlink can service around 300 devices sending signals back and forth between its satellites and ground stations.
The number had been provided by Starlink’s customer support team and was consequently shared by a user on Reddit.
Keep in mind that the satellite’s beam does not adhere strictly to one cell; it encompasses multiple cells and typically assumes an elliptical form, which varies as it moves across the area.
This affects the firm’s ability to reuse spectrum and is thus one of the limiting factors for per-cell capacity.
Interestingly enough, Starlink was ‘only’ able to service around 60 users per cell before it exited its beta phase back in October 2021 due to a limited number of deployed satellites.
What Are The Pros And Cons?
While Starlink and the whole constellation and launch capabilities that underpin it are an incredible innovation, it certainly isn’t without its flaws.
First of all, let me point out that Starlink is an amazing innovation that is substantially better than any comparable services out there.
Competitors like HughesNet and ViaSat, both of which rely on GEO satellites, offer substantially slower speeds and much higher latency (due to the larger distance of their satellites to earth).
As I’ve written above, you can expect somewhere between 50 Mbps to 240 Mbps for downloads and 25 ms to 50 ms in latency, depending on where you reside and what plan you’re subscribed to.
This, coupled with the transportability of Starlink hardware, means you can get high-speed and reliable internet basically anywhere in the world (granted Starlink has a license to operate in the country).
And even if you’re not satisfied, you can always return your hardware at no cost within the first 30 days. Starlink has since introduced the ability to temporarily rent its hardware in selected countries like Germany or Ireland (new ones being constantly added).
With that being said, there are a few downsides to being wary of it. The onslaught of new subscribers, especially throughout 2022, led to local network congestion issues and thus decreasing speeds.
Luckily, with the deployment of new satellite groups, those speed issues will be ironed out over time.
Furthermore, users subscribed to Priority and Mobile Priority have to grapple with a 1 TB soft data cap as part of Starlink’s new Fair Use Policy.
Its network isn’t the only aspect that’s being put to the test, though. Customer support, or lack thereof, seems to be another issue for now. Users often report waiting a few days to even weeks for a response.
Lastly, users are mostly left to their own devices when it comes to installing Starlink. In the majority of instances, you’ll be fine setting up Starlink by yourself.
However, some installations may require professional help, for example when mounting Starlink on a pole to avoid obstructions caused by trees.
We at Starlink Insider maintain a dedicated installation directory for that very same reason. Feel free to contact anyone on those lists should you need any help.
Does Weather Affect Starlink?
Certain weather conditions can interfere with the connectivity and reliability of your internet connection.
Starlink is a so-called satellite internet provider. Satellite internet, unlike fiber, which transmits signals through ground-laid cables, sends signals between the dish, ground stations, and satellites in space.
In general, satellite Internet connections utilize microwave radio frequencies, which travel in straight lines and thus cannot move through solid objects. As such, signals can theoretically be blocked by houses or trees.
Objects like homes aren’t the only ones messing with your dishy, though. Water molecules in the air may disrupt those radio waves, too.
As a result, bad weather, including heavy rain or snow, can cause obstructions and thus lead to losses in connectivity.
However, most weather-related outages only last for a few seconds, so you likely won’t notice as long as you don’t rely on a constant connection (like gamers or workers on video calls).
Starlink, to their credit, has also introduced new features to combat some of those potential connectivity issues. For example, the dishy can automatically melt snow laying on it.
One last thing to note is that all satellite-based ISPs, whether that’s Starlink, ViaSat, or HughesNet, will experience those problems during times of extreme weather. The same applies to anyone offering 5G.
Starlink is a groundbreaking innovation that has revolutionized the way people access high-speed internet for those living in rural areas.
With an ever-expanding constellation of satellites and continuous upgrades, the service is poised to improve and expand its global reach.
While there are challenges, such as network congestion and customer support issues, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks for many users. I, myself, have been a happy customer for a long time.
So, what’s your take on Starlink? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences – join the conversation in the comments below.