What is Starlink? Technically speaking, it’s a satellite internet system. But to many web users, it’s a potential godsend.
If you live in a city or a big suburb, you probably enjoy fast internet speeds, maybe at 1Gbps or beyond. But imagine enduring internet speeds at 20Mbps or even as low as 0.8Mbps every day. What’s worse, your home only has one or two internet service providers to choose from leaving you stranded with crummy service.
Unfortunately, people across the US and the globe are stuck in this very situation. Installing fiber in a city and bringing Gigabit broadband to millions of customers is potentially lucrative but not so much in a rural area home to only a few hundred people.
Enter Starlink. The satellite internet system from SpaceX is capable of delivering 150Mbps internet speeds to theoretically any place on the planet. All the customer needs is a clear view of the sky. In fall 2020, the system began serving its first users, many of whom were based in remote or rural regions of America—and the response was enthusiastic to say the least.
Below, I’ll cover basic questions about Starlink.
How does Starlink work?
Satellite internet technology has been around for decades. It involves beaming internet data, not through cables, but via radio signals through the vacuum of space. Ground stations on the planet broadcast the signals to satellites in orbit which can then relay the data back to users on Earth.
One of the main existing providers has been HughesNet which relies on satellites 22,000 miles above the planet. SpaceX’s system improves on the technology in two notable ways:
The company uses low-Earth orbiting satellites that circle the planet at around 300 miles above the surface. The shortened distance can drastically improve the internet speeds while also reducing latency.
Second, SpaceX wants to launch as many as 40,000 satellites in the coming years to power the system ensuring global coverage without service dropouts.
Starlink RV service
Two years later in April 2022 SpaceX gifted a boon (albeit an expensive one) to digital nomads when it launched its Starlink RV service enabling internet connection in the types of remote, primitive spaces where it was definitely lacking.
One of the shortcomings of the service has been that it can only be used while stationary but now SpaceX has solved that issue with the new Flat High Performance Starlink option. With updated hardware, the service supports broadband internet while mobile allowing nomads to more productively use the time they spend commuting in the passenger seat. It could be a game changer for those who want to put in a day’s work without being stuck in one place.
German camper van manufacturer Alphavan was quick to jump on the news and declare itself the first camper company in the world to offer Starlink-ready vans. It will prep its vans for simple, plug-and-play compatibility with Musk’s off-grid internet service.
Ever since its first satellites found their way into space in 2018, Starlink has sounded like a godsend for RVers, particularly those who regularly travel in wilderness areas without mobile coverage and those who rely on mobile internet to work remotely while on the road. But the service didn’t started nearly as RV-friendly as it sounded on paper, requiring users to log in with a specific location, a problem by definition for RVers and others on the move.
The Flat High Performance Starlink service relies on a flatter dish affixed to the vehicle with an included wedge mount. SpaceX says the service has a wide field of view and enhanced GPS capabilities to connect to more satellites at once and maintain a consistent connection on the go. The equipment is designed to hold up to wind and weather. However, SpaceX still advises users to keep the dish clear of snow to ensure the signal quality isn’t disrupted. “Heavy rain or wind can also affect your satellite internet connection, potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage,” the company says in a FAQ. The dishes were designed to operate between -22 degrees Fahrenheit up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit.
Inability to connect while in motion was a major missing piece of Starlink’s RV service. While RVers certainly vary widely in their habits and connectivity needs, being able to connect reliably without having to park in one place seems like it’d be high on the wish list of anyone who moves around a lot but wants to make productive use of downtime in the RV. With the on-the-go Flat HP service, mobile remote workers can, theoretically, pick up and hit the road whenever they want while passengers are still able to log in and get work done without worrying about being offline for the entire ride.
While the Flat High Performance service solves one of the major shortcomings of Starlink for RVs, SpaceX’s untethered satellite internet is still subject to the whims of traffic. The company’s website still includes the disclaimer, “Network resources are always de-prioritized for Starlink for RVs users compared to other Starlink services resulting in degraded service and slower speeds in congested areas and during peak hours. Stated speeds and uninterrupted use of the service are not guaranteed. Service degradation will be most extreme in Waitlist areas on the Starlink Availability Map during peak hours.”
So how well it actually works for those looking to connect on the road remains to be seen.
At US$599, the basic Starlink hardware isn’t inexpensive but the Flat High Performance kit more than quadruples that to $2,500. That’s a steep buy-in but possibly well worth it for those who can now get lucrative work done more efficiently while RVing. The service still costs $135/month and can be activated and paused as needed.
Starlink started shipping its Starlink for RVs flat high performance kit in December 2022 offering high-speed, low-latency internet on an as-needed basis in any destination where Starlink provides active coverage. Its active high capacity coverage promise includes most of the US and Canada although about a quarter of the US from the Great Lakes down to Florida is less than perfect. All of Europe is included as high capacity as is Brazil and Chile, much of Australia, and all of New Zealand.
Starlink says its new Flat High Performance Starlink allows users to enjoy high-speed, low-latency internet while in-motion. With a wide field of view and enhanced GPS capabilities, the Flat High Performance Starlink can connect to more satellites, allowing for consistent connectivity on the go.
SpaceX to integrate Starlink directly on some RVs
Thor Industries says its family of RV companies will be the first RV original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to integrate SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet system. SpaceX plans on bringing its Starlink system directly to recreational vehicles through a partnership with Thor Industries, the world’s largest RV manufacturer.
In a recent release (January 17, 2023) Thor Industries says it’s the first RV provider to work with SpaceX on integrating Starlink’s satellite internet system. The company plans on adopting the high-performance Starlink dish on select RV models offered this year.
Thor oversees 17 RV brands. But for now, only four—Airstream, Entegra Coach, Jayco, and Tiffin—will offer Starlink as an optional add-on.
The partnership with Thor Industries offers a way for SpaceX to sell more Starlink dishes to high-end buyers. Thor RVs can range from $100,000 to around $1 million.
Of course, customers could buy the Starlink access separate from the RVs. But Thor says buyers will have the benefit of their Starlink dish being factory installed while receiving a “one-month service credit” when Starlink RV costs $135 per month for the internet access. In return, Starlink RV users can expect to receive download speeds ranging from 5 to 50Mbps at a time when the satellite internet service is facing congestion woes and SpaceX is preparing to implement a high-speed data cap for the satellite internet service.
The news arrives months after Winegard, a provider of antenna equipment to RV makers, also entered into a partnership with SpaceX to sell flat high-performance Starlink dishes. In addition, cruise line operators and airlines have been adopting Starlink for in-flight and on-ship internet access.
The best solution for RV internet isn’t one solution
Marc and Tricia Leach of Keep Your Daydream have been RVing for years. Their YouTube channel equips new RVers to get on the road while providing travel tips and gear reviews. In their Starlink review video, Marc gives his opinion. Overall, he’s very happy with the product and believes it’s worth the $139/month fee. However, his biggest takeaway is that Starlink isn’t going to replace their other internet providers. Starlink RV internet just isn’t at a place where it can be the sole internet provider for travelers because of the connectivity issues.
We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.