REVIEW SpaceX Starlink

Discussion in 'Networking, Telephony & Internet' started by Agg, Oct 10, 2021.

  1. Agg

    Agg Lord of the Pings

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    About 18 years ago my long-term girlfriend and I left suburbia and moved to the country. Not way out into the bush, but a couple of hours south of Sydney. It's a nice rural area with farms and national parks, clean air, less traffic, but still access to the vitals like supermarkets, schools and hospitals. Since then we've married, had two kids, get along with our neighbours, participate in community activities and have no intention to head back to the big smoke.

    view.jpg
    This is the view from our back deck. How's the serenity?​

    The fly in the ointment for all this is internet access. When we first moved here, dialup was our only option. Then ADSL came along, which was eventually upgraded to ADSL2+. Then finally the glorious NBN arrived with much fanfare, and after the mandatory 13 day Telstra outage we were on FTTN. This is "Fibre to the Node", where the high-speed cable stops at a box on the street, and the existing copper telephone line covers the last link into the house. We signed up for a 100Mbps plan in a fit of blinding optimism but found the line would only sync at 27Mbps down and 9Mbps up. Various enquiries with Telstra, NBNco and our ISP led nowhere. Still, from ADSL2+ this was about a 50% increase in download speeds and a substantial bump to upload speeds. It's not great, but hey, we live in the country. It'll do.

    A few years ago I went to Japan, and the free, unsecured wifi in the airport hotel was so fast it was genuinely quicker to just upload all the photos and videos on my phone and sort them out online, than to search through them on my phone for which ones to upload. I uploaded every photo and video on my phone, many gigabytes of data, in the time it took me to have a shower. At home it would have taken literally weeks to upload that much. I had a similar experience on a friend's fibre connection in Estonia. Meanwhile in Australia, our National Broadband Network remains a political quagmire, and we continue to languish ever further down the international broadband rankings. Frankly, it's a little embarrassing. Australia is a highly-developed nation with very high adoption rates for virtually every modern gadget, but political infighting has crippled and delayed our access to high-speed internet.

    Anyway, we've been on the NBN for a few years now, and since then as the bandwidth needs of the household have increased, I've looked into other options. Running fibre to the house would cost us many tens of thousands of dollars. Mobile reception is nonexistant here, so we can't just tether to a mobile. I looked into connecting to a nearby 4G/5G tower but we're on the wrong side of a hill so our antenna would have to be about 5 times as tall as the house. Meanwhile we have regular outages, sometimes restricted to just our property, but often for the entire town. These happen during storms, or when someone crashes their car into a particular pole on the outskirts of town, or when a farmer or wombat digs up a cable. But even just congestion of the link was increasingly becoming an issue. Our house would regularly ring to the cries of "is the internet down? are you downloading something massive? I need to download a big file, is that OK?" We had a 2-day period of outages because my wife was unknowingly working on large files in OneDrive, and whenever she hit save, OneDrive would try to upload several GB, killing our upload bandwidth and making the internet inaccessible for hours at a time. Then COVID arrived and the kids were doing home-schooling for months, while our link groaned under the strain. Never mind if I wanted to take an offsite backup of OCAU, or download the database to test something locally. My son is an avid MineCraft player and wanted to live-stream some of his creations, and during lockdown I was filming HD nature videos on bushwalks and wanting to upload them to YouTube. Both projects basically had to be shelved because we just didn't have enough bandwidth.

    But then on February 9th of this year, something caught my eye. Starlink was available for pre-order in Australia. This is a satellite internet service from SpaceX, brainchild of Elon Musk, of (among other things) Tesla fame. Could it be true? Could our salvation really have arrived in the form of an eccentric American billionaire? Could this be our opportunity to take to the sky on K-band wings and leave all you copper-based losers behind? I had my credit card out and $139 deposit paid as fast as my puny internet connection would allow.

    The next few months were fairly agonising. At the time of writing Starlink is still in Beta, and the website really doesn't have much in the way of info about the progress of availability in your area, your position in the queue, the ETA of your dish arriving, etc. It simply says "mid to late 2021". The months ticked by. I refreshed my order page occasionally. I browsed /r/starlink a lot. Time passed. Then on the 24th of September, an email arrived titled "Your Starlink kit is ready!" I duly paid the remaining $670. My order shipped with an estimated delivery of 11th October, but despite COVID issues it actually arrived on the 6th.

    box.jpg instructions.jpg

    The box is surprisingly large. In the photo I've put a normal-size CD on it to give an idea of scale. Inside there is a large simple instruction sheet, the dish itself, a metal tripod stand, a Power-Over-Ethernet injector (the black box), a wifi router (the white/silver box), a cable to connect them and an FCC regulation sheet. The box was shipped as is, with no further packaging around it, but thanks to the chunky plastic formwork inside everything arrived intact after the trip from the USA. The entire system is powered by the POE injector which has a single Australian plug on it. The dish is also larger than I expected, at nearly 60cm across, and pretty heavy to carry around.

    inbox.jpg bits.jpg

    Initial setup is extremely simple. Everything is already cabled together, so for the first test (at night, after work), I simply put the tripod on the lawn, put the dish into the tripod facing roughly South, and plugged in the POE injector's power cord. I had read somewhere that generally in the Southern Hemisphere the dish will face South, and in the Northern Hemisphere, North. The dish is motorised, so it does have the ability to align itself appropriately, but I'm not sure if it can rotate 180 degrees around the stand. Anyway, I powered it on, and within a few seconds it pointed straight up. Then it rotated slightly around the axis of the stand, and lowered itself to point off into the sky perhaps 30 degrees off vertical and towards what appeared to be due South. I used the Starlink app on my phone to configure the wifi router, connected to it, and naturally enough fired off a speed-test. The entire setup process had taken less than 15 minutes.

    app1.jpg app2.jpg app3.jpg

    The first speed-test was "only" about 90Mbps down, but I figured the vagaries of phone wifi might be an issue there, so I hooked up my laptop's Ethernet port to the AUX plug on the Starlink Wifi AP. This time the speed test hit nearly 250Mbps down and 30Mbps up. Not far off 10 times improvement in download speeds and over 3 times improvement in upload. From a satellite dish sitting on my lawn, that I'd set up in 15 minutes. Holy cow. I had a strange sensation of being unplugged from the shackles of copper. All the hassles of random disconnections, of dealing with Telstra and NBNco, all the political infighting stopping the NBN from achieving its potential - all that noise and drama had instantly faded into the background, replaced by a magical beam of connectivity directly between my house and the sky. I ran another speed test on the home network, still on the NBN, to confirm the improvement.

    auxplug.jpg nbn_vs_starlink.jpg

    This weekend I set up "dishy", as they were apparently named internally at SpaceX during development, and continue to be affectionately known on Reddit, in a more permanent mounting position on the roof of our deck, where it has a clear view of the sky. You can get various roof mounts and pole mounts but the included tripod is suitable for our use. The tripod is pretty substantial, made of metal, and has a hole at the ends of the each arm for a decking screw. I screwed two legs into a crossbeam on the deck and attached another piece of wood between the rafters for the third leg. It seems solid enough to survive the sometimes pretty extreme winds we get here. The cabling is waterproof and the entire system is apparently lightning-proof, and it will even heat itself up if it happens to get covered in snow.

    dishy.jpg

    The 100-foot (33M) cable hard-wired to dishy was run around the side of the house, cable-clipped for tidiness using nail-in clips where wood was available and adhesive ones on metal flashing elsewhere, to an unused door to my office which has been sealed up. If the adhesive ones don't last I'll look into something more permanent like mortar plugs etc. The office is a converted double garage and we don't use one of the old doors to the outside world. So I simply drilled a hole through that solid wooden door using a Forstner bit (but a holesaw or spade bit would also work), mounted a junction box on either side of the hole, ran the cable through and fitted the junction box covers for neatness and weatherproofing.

    clips.jpg junction.jpg
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2021
  2. OP
    OP
    Agg

    Agg Lord of the Pings

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    There's a few different ways you could connect Starlink to your home network, but for me the simplest method is to use the aux port from the included Wifi router and connect it to the WAN port on my home NBN Wifi router, which happens to be a TP-Link Archer VR900. Then, to cut the network over to Starlink, I simply log into the Archer, go to the Advanced tab, change the Operating Mode from "DSL Modem Router" to "Wireless Router" and save. The VR900 then gets a DCHP address (in the 192.168.1.x range) from the Starlink POE injector, and shares that internet connection to our home network (on the 192.168.0.x range) as usual. The wired and wireless devices on our network don't need to change any settings or connect to a different WiFi address or anything - it's completely transparent. They just suddenly have a lot more bandwidth available to them. If things go wrong I can change the mode back to "DSL Modem Router" mode and we'll be back on the NBN.

    wanport.jpg mode.jpg

    I could remove the Starlink Wifi router from the chain and simply plug the POE Injector into the WAN port on the Archer, but during this testing phase it's nice to be able to connect to the Starlink Wifi and check on things directly. You can access that info via 192.168.100.1 from the LAN, though, so we really don't have any need for the starlink Wifi access point.

    stats.jpg
    (higher outage than usual due to thunderstorm and heavy rain)​

    The way the system works is conceptually pretty simple. The satellites are not geostationary, so they whizz by overhead, in orbital planes at 90 degrees to each other. As each satellite comes into range, the dish does not physically move, but uses phased-array technology to aim a beam at the satellite. The signals go from us, to the satellite, then down to a ground station which connects to the internet, and of course the reverse. You can see quite a neat live visualisation of the satellites and ground stations on this map. Bear in mind the satellites are shown on that map thousands of times larger than they are in real life, so it's not quite as crazily crowded as it looks. However, there is some concern from the astronomy community as to the effect so many satellites will have on viewing the sky. That's not exclusively a Starlink problem, but they have a lot of satellites in Low Earth Orbit so it is something they need to consider. They do seem to be taking some steps to address it, but we'll have to see how that pans out.

    Now we have the home LAN connected to Starlink, I can say that the four members of my household, largely addicted to our various screens, are contentedly getting on with accessing the internet without complaint. Mr 14yo spends much of his life in Minecraft while watching YouTube on another monitor, while Ms 13yo is more into music videos and video chatting with her friends. My wife does a lot of online design work and I have a mix of work tasks and some gaming. We all consume media in streaming form or downloaded, and the kids have a few weeks left of home schooling before the COVID restrictions lift. Internet bandwidth is one of those things where, when it works, you don't even really notice it. You only really think about it when there's not enough of it. We don't need to negotiate in advance with each other to coordinate downloads, and we no longer have the accusatory yelling when the link slows for some inexplicable reason, with laggy games and choppy video.

    Beyond that, there's a few things that only make sense now we have the bandwidth to support them. The full-screen previews when you navigate in Netflix or Prime Video used to be an annoying laggy distraction, but now they load instantly and give you the intended glimpse into what to expect from the show. Services like OneDrive and Dropbox are no longer the upload-crushing liability they used to be, but are actually useful ways to back up and distribute files to our various devices. Reading the marketing for the new GoPro 10, I noticed it has the option to automatically upload recordings to the cloud when you plug it in to recharge, and had internally shuddered at how ludicrous that idea was on our connection - but no more. Image-heavy websites like Flickr just load, without lagging the browser out and taking forever to become unblurry. If I want to upload a video to YouTube I don't have to block out the network overnight. We simply have the breathing space to co-exist in this increasingly-connected world.

    Updating my home Linux boxes and watching them download packages at 17MB/s is pretty cool. On the rare chance I get time to play a game, I no longer dread the inevitable huge update that has to be downloaded before I can play.

    starlink_steam.jpg

    Not that I'm a doomsday prepper, but if the NBN has an outage or, as happened not long ago, if the whole town loses power for 3 days, I can just plug the POE injector into the generator that runs our other essential things and we're back on the net again.

    Gaming seems fine - when people think of satellite they may be thinking of oldschool geostationary birds which are at 35,800km, with substantial latency. Starlink's are Low Earth Orbit at only 550km, so the round-trip distance is many times less, with much lower latency. We see anything from high 20's to low 100s depending on the game being played, but I think the average is around 40ms, which feels OK to me and the other gamers of the household. There is some suggestion that LEO satellites with laser interconnects might actually be lower latency than long strings of fibre in future, which is of interest to high-frequency traders. But if you're a competitive twitch-gamer, even LEO satellite might not be for you.

    There are some other drawbacks. Starlink don't currently offer a static IP, which means I have to jump through a couple more hoops when accessing some of my remote servers. They also seem to take their Terms of Service quite seriously, with people reporting that torrenting doesn't work, and certain well-known piracy sites are unavailable. Frankly with streaming media nowadays I think that's less of an issue, but I'm sure any tech-savvy consumer would be able to figure out some workarounds if they were so inclined. Our VoIP service was provided by our NBN ISP, so the landline stopped working - but Wifi Calling works on our mobiles, so we can call and text using those via whatever internet connection we have at the house, so we'll probably just abandon the landline number like so many other people have.

    It's relatively expensive - as well as the $139 deposit and further $670 payment for the dish and shipping, there's a recurring $139 monthly fee for internet access. It's an unlimited plan so we don't need to (within reason) worry about quota, but there is no choice in terms of different speed plans at different price points. During the Beta, Starlink say people can expect between 50Mbps and 150Mbps, but that it will improve over time. Real-world reports have up to 300Mbps in speed tests, but we consistently get about 250 on a clear day. Also, if we were unhappy with our NBN provider, we could switch to another one and use the same modem. If we decide we don't like Starlink, we're out of luck, as the dish can't be used with any other service provider. There is a 30-day no questions asked send-it-back refund period, which is valid even if you just find your site is unsuitable due to the sky being obstructed. But it's a good idea to download the Starlink app and use it to scan the sky in advance of putting any money down.

    It is also still a Beta product, and the full constellation of satellites has yet to be launched, so there are occasional dropouts of coverage. During a particularly heavy thunderstorm we were disconnected for a couple of minutes, which caused some angst. If the outage had been longer we could fall back to the NBN, I suppose, but the goal is to be able to cancel that service eventually. I'm not sure what we can reasonably expect Starlink to do when it just plain can't see the satellites because of bad weather. It's often foggy here and during one drizzly foggy afternoon when the sky was a sheet of white we were still getting 208Mbps down, so it seems only intense rain affects the link. When I have a couple of months of reliability info I will be able to make a decision about whether we cut the copper cord completely. It's tempting to set up some multi-home wizardry so we automatically fail over from Starlink to NBN in the meantime.

    foggy1.jpg foggy2.jpg

    One sobering part of this experience was that when I posted the NBN vs Starlink comparison onto social media, I had a lot of people say they wish they had our NBN connection. To my mind it was pretty slow and terrible, but the reality is it worked fine most of the time. I was perhaps a bit naive, but now realise there are a lot of people who have even worse internet connections, in Australia and overseas, including surprisingly a lot of the USA. Many of them have no choice because no other providers service their area. For them, Starlink really will be life changing when it arrives. During the recent severe flooding in Germany, SpaceX set up some Starlink terminals at short notice to help people get online and get access to services they needed. Imagine the effect on education and opportunities that a single Starlink terminal could have in a remote third-world village? In the future, the plan is for Starlink to not be bound to a specific address, but to be mobile, so you can have high-speed internet at home, or take it with you when you go on holidays, or camping, or on a boat.. the future possibilities really are quite incredible.

    So. We've only had Starlink for less than a week, but I am very impressed so far. It's still early days, both in terms of us using it as our primary internet connection, and for the project as a whole. SpaceX have a lot more launches planned with a lot more satellites, plus technical improvements to the satellites themselves, including using lasers to communicate between them. It remains to be seen whether or not we can entirely cut over to Starlink as our only internet connection, and I guess we're in the somewhat luxurious position of being able to keep the NBN connected while we experiment with Starlink. I'm interested to see what upgrades come in the future as the product matures. But for now, it really feels like our horizons have been substantially opened up. We can continue to enjoy the benefits of rural life, while also experiencing the fruits of high-tech, high-speed connectivity. Now, if only Elon Musk could invent a teleporter, and thus eliminate my 1-hour commute each way to work, this country lifestyle would be absolutely perfect.

    I decided to post this review in our forums rather than on the main page, so I can update it with my experiences over time. So, feel free to comment in this thread. If there's anything specific you'd like me to benchmark or try via Starlink, let me know! There is also a general Starlink thread here.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2021
  3. MUTMAN

    MUTMAN Member

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    all thanks to

     
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  4. Nobby6

    Nobby6 Member

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    Nice write up, thanks :)

    The ongoings are pricey, maybe now NBN will pull its fingers out of it arse and do something with its sat service, lots of people been calling for portable sat service, likely not, until star link drop their prices with data capped plans - fraser island campers and grey nomads just want to keepin touch, they dont want all you can eats, when starlink does that, NBN will wake up "oh noo competition" rather than fix their mess they will petition teh govt to make some new laws to stop competition just like they have done with broadband tax on fixed lines.

    (PS yes, my friend who lives on large acreage in rural remote part of U.K. in hte middle of nofreakinwhere, has GB FTTH, no problems, no million dollar or thousand dollar install fee, it was just like when he lived in newcastle (UK that is) call up isp order service, it gets installed. Australia really is a third world when it comes to internet with NBN, and telstra are just as muh to blame, they could have brought in VDSL FTTC anytime in past 15 years but didnt, forcing the govt to do, well, what they did.)
     
  5. Sgt Bilko

    Sgt Bilko Member

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    Great write up and mirrors my own testing/feelings about the tech.
     
  6. BLeR

    BLeR Member

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    Nice!! My wife and I have been debating about moving a bit more rural for some time now. My biggest concern is internet access, as I work from home full time in the media industry and need a fast/steady connection.

    This gets me excited.

    I'll be really keen to see how it is over the next few months, drop-outs, latency etc could still be a problem, but from what I've read so far plus this review, the idea of country life is looking ever so closer to becoming a reality.
     
  7. Unbanable

    Unbanable Member

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    " but a couple of hours south of Sydney. It's a nice rural area with farms and national parks, clean air, less traffic, but still access to the vitals like supermarkets, schools and hospitals. "

    Adopt me please! :D

    Elon is a genius and is 10 years ahead of any other tech company, instead of milking consumers with old tech, he is set to only move forward even if it literally makes him broke!

    Starlink will also make crypto faster with higher txs
     
  8. l_ QuadX_l

    l_ QuadX_l Member

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    [​IMG] When that Satellite makes first contact, let's not send in Samuel L Jackson to negotiate on Earth's behalf.. :lol::thumbup:
     
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  9. AmB

    AmB Member

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    I'm also in rural NSW (5 minutes over the ACT border), my speed test shows

    upload_2021-10-11_7-24-33.png

    rubbish really.
     
  10. MUTMAN

    MUTMAN Member

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    rubbish indeed. 20 years ago on adsl1 was 8 down and 0.3 up

    edit - with a ping of 12 :lol:
     
  11. cvidler

    cvidler Member

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    see if The Signal Co, has coverage for you.

    I'm with them (non-NBN fixed wireless), NBN here (suburban ACT) is not worth having - FTTN (aka failure to the nation).
     
  12. ysu

    ysu Member

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    It does not look half bad for the price. You might think it's expensive, but the speed you're getting can only be had on expensive plans anyway.
    Well, the download speed.

    And that latency is really not that bad.
    Definitely not FTTH range, but for a satellite...
     
  13. Starfire

    Starfire Member

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    Thanks for the review, Agg. It's really not all that expensive compared to a decent 100mbps NBN plan, and imo well worth the speed increase.
     
  14. havabeer

    havabeer Member

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    Would speeds drop once this is fully up and running with ALOT more people using it? Similar to the evening speed congestion the nbn cops (and now has to advertise)
     
  15. cvidler

    cvidler Member

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    that's not a NBN issue (there's rarely any congestion on the NBN network). it's a RSP issue. They're just trying to supply a little bandwidth as possible to reduce costs - because that vast majority of users don't want to pay what it actually costs to provide a congestion free* connection (investigate the price of business plans for what it really costs).

    so yeah, if starlink want to provide a premium experience, they'll ensure there's enough bandwidth. adding to the constellation will help that, they also need to provide sufficient uplink at the ground station(s).


    *no such thing as congestion free, there'll be a bottleneck somewhere between your device and the server you're requesting data from. best you can do is pay your way out of ISP/RSP level congestion.
     
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  16. decryption

    decryption Member

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    Thanks for the write up Agg! Very cool to see it in use in Australia - looks like it'll fill a massive hole for so many people across this country that the NBN failed to deliver on.

    Even some WISPs might have trouble competing, particularly considering the costs of running fibre to a central point in most rural towns in Australia.
     
  17. Insert Gibberish

    Insert Gibberish Member

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    Looks very interesting and is of course far cheaper than the LNPs NBNco disaster. It just has to be 100% reliable and of course beat the current fiasco from Canberra.

    Should be easy, but I'm waiting to see how it gets adopted or whether that American Billionaire decides to axe this tech in the near future. Elon is on record for some weird back-flips and excuses in regard to any of his ventures.

    Today it looks cheap for now, but he could up the rates at any time or even can it altogether.
     
  18. shadowman

    shadowman Member

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    Nice writeup. I've been following Starlink for a long time (just as a general geek). I currently have FTTP and I love it. I had 1Gbps for a couple of months, but in a household of mum and dad, plus two daughters, there wasn't a huge benefit. Downloading a game in 3 minutes rather than 10 minutes didn't bother me that much. But I have been considering a sea change in my future, somewhere rural/regional and I was hesitant, fast internet access was a 'top 3' priority for me. Glad to see how easy and seamless Starlink is and that I should have no reservations moving out of the big smoke. The pricing is decent for what you get, but the tinkerer in me wonders...what about if we bonded multiple Starlink connections together?

    I'm excited about the future of Starlink and similar services. A universal 'internet for all' is exciting.
     
  19. KonMan

    KonMan Member

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    Would you consider helping out your neighbour(s) with your extra, plentiful bandwidth? Im sure they have had the same constraints as you....
    Ie. Appropriate firewall, QoS (priority to you), network segmentation, point to point wireless to their house etc. Quite possibly donate some funds to you - or lots of beer?
    Im not talking about exploiting their situation, more of a helping hand....

    [edit: With the 'NBN phone' it may be possible to port it to a 3rd party VoIP provider?]
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2021
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  20. cvidler

    cvidler Member

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    depending how you do it it'll be against T&C's at best, and illegal at worst.
     

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