Starlink is leading the race for satellite internet supremacy
The latest internet speed analysis from Ookla showed that SpaceX’s satellite service provides the fastest satellite internet in the world and even provides faster download speeds than fixed broadband in most European countries.
SpaceX’s Starlink subsidiary has launched more than 3,500 satellites into low orbit to provide Starlink residential, RV, and marine broadband service. Other companies have a lot of catching up to do if they are to compete. Some companies and organizations have big plans though and one of them is even bigger than Amazon.
OneWeb and SpaceX have a friendly rivalry. In March 2022, Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, announced it would no longer launch a batch of UK-based OneWeb satellites due to Western sanctions following its invasion of Ukraine. Shortly afterward, SpaceX announced it would step in to launch OneWeb’s satellites.
And things are only getting better. Last June, both firms sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission stating they would collaborate in a spectrum agreement. Both also asked the FCC to drop all past disputes filed against each other.
OneWeb currently has 428 satellites in orbit all sent up aboard Russian Soyuz rockets. OneWeb has pitched its service to businesses and it currently plans to launch a total of 648 satellites. In an April 2021 test, OneWeb recorded download speeds of 165 Mbps, upload speeds of 30 Mbps, and latency of 45 milliseconds.
Viasat and SpaceX’s relationship is a little less friendly. That may be partially due to the fact that Viasat operates at a higher orbit than SpaceX—in an FCC filing last year, Viasat argued that SpaceX’s Starlink mega-constellation is congesting low-Earth orbit which it needs to traverse to launch its own satellites. So far, Viasat has largely failed to slow or interfere with Starlink in its buildup of satellite capacity.
Viasat, Inc. of Carlsbad, California currently operates four large satellites: ViaSat-1, WildBlue1, Anik-F2, and ViaSat-2. These are much larger than SpaceX’s Starlink satellites though the company offers lower download speeds ranging from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps.
Viasat recently announced plans to launch its long-delayed ViaSat-3, a constellation of three additional terabit-class satellites, the first in April of this year. The company currently has two large, high-capacity satellites in high geosynchronous orbit.
At its launch from Kazakhstan in 2011, ViaSat-1 became the highest-capacity satellite in the world. Broadband coverage provided by ViaSat-1 included the continental United States, Hawaii, and Canada. ViaSat-2 rose from French Guiana in 2017 and would double the capacity of ViaSat-1. It isn’t easy to compare the capabilities of the two entirely different broadband systems represented by Viasat and Starlink. Starlink has launched >3,500 of its low-earth orbiters and is rapidly deploying more each week on its way to a deployed array of as many as 42,000.
Viasat Chief Executive Officer Mark Dankberg told a group of Wall Street analysts, “Putting the satellite into service addresses our most immediate challenge which is bandwidth constraints that have caused us to downsize our residential business to support the strong growth we’ve had in in-flight connectivity.” His comment underscored the company’s prioritization of residential and inflight broadband connectivity and mentioned nothing about mobile service.
Starlink’s availability map shows that it currently has no plans to provide its service in China. Internet access in China is only available via state-owned providers. So, barring historic changes to the status quo, government-backed companies will be the ones providing satellite internet to China’s 1.4 billion population. One company that may do just that is Geespace. On June 2, 2022 a Chinese Chang Zheng 2C rocket launched nine satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) for the company which is a subsidiary of Chinese auto giant Geely.
Geespace currently plans to build a constellation of only 240 satellites and these will mainly be used to transmit data for parent company Geely’s autonomous driving program. However, in an interview with Bloomberg, Geespace CEO and Chief Scientist Tony Wang said “Geely’s future collaboration partners will not be limited to Geely’s ecosystems and car brands. We are also building up partnerships with other industries.”
Canadian firm Telesat currently operates 15 geostationary satellites. Much like OneWeb, it is targeting businesses rather than consumers. The company is, however, planning a large new constellation called Lightspeed which will consist of 1,600 LEO satellites.
In a Reuters report in 2021, Telesat said it was planning to launch the first Lightspeed satellites in early 2023 allowing it to provide partial service at higher latitudes that year followed by total global service in 2024. On its website, it says it will deliver “gigabits per second” speeds and latency “on par with fiber networks.”
Amazon is without a doubt the private company best positioned to rival Starlink on a global level. In its own words, the company recently penned “the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history.”
Eighty-three rocket launches carried out by United Launch Alliance, Arianespace, and Blue Origin will send Amazon’s 3,236 Project Kuiper satellites into LEO.
Amazon claims it will “invest more than $10 billion to build” Project Kuiper and it also says it “will leverage Amazon’s global logistics and operations footprint as well as Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) networking and infrastructure” expertise to make its service more accessible.
The company aims to launch its first two Project Kuiper prototype satellites, KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2, aboard an ABL Space Systems RS-1 rocket later this year. In 2020, Amazon unveiled a small customer terminal capable of reaching speeds of 400 Mbps. On the flipside, the company says some of its launches will take place aboard rockets that have yet to hit the launchpad—including Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket.
Amazon preparing to launch Project Kuiper satellites
Amazon, for its part, has been quietly preparing its subsidiary, Kuiper Systems LLC, to launch a significant Low Earth Orbit (LEO) array. Kuiper Systems has obtained FCC approval to launch 3,236 Project Kuiper broadband satellites. It will begin the project by launching 1,500 satellites over the next five years. Kuiper Systems LLC was formed in 2019. Its CEO is Rajeev Badyal, formerly SpaceX’s Starlink vice president. Badyal was reportedly fired from SpaceX in 2018.
The FCC Order and Authorization approving Project Kuiper’s plans is interesting reading insofar as it discusses in detail the issues surrounding collision avoidance in orbit of thousands of satellites with more being launched every week. The FCC approved Kuiper’s debris mitigation plan and its launch vehicle and orbiter disposal plans.
It is likely that Amazon having invested billions in Project Kuiper and anticipating infusing billions more will offer satellite internet in competition with Starlink at some point. However, that point appears to be years in the future. Kuiper had better accelerate its deployments—the FCC order requires Kuiper to have the first 1,600 of its satellites in orbit by 2026.
The bottom line is that talk of competition with Starlink is, at best, premature, insofar as the first year of meaningful orbital broadband capacity achieved by a prospective competitor is probably 2026. And it is worth noting that Project Kuiper is the only entity with latent potential and announced intentions to compete with Starlink. Yet, do not count Viasat out despite its focus on residential broadband service. It is a compelling, relatively small technology concern with deep ties to military and government information services. Its potential is yet to be realized.
We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.
Starlink is once again shaking things up but not in a good way for most RVers
There are a few options for RVers who need internet on the road. The best tactic is redundancy. Having a couple of options is always better than only having one. Depending on location, one provider might work better than another.
Many RVers use cellular providers to get their internet. T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T offer unlimited plans or data-only plans. Whether through a hot spot or a cell phone, RVers can connect to a device and have internet capabilities to work and stream.
Another option for internet is through a satellite service. Viasat, HughesNet, and Starlink are the most popular options. While Viasat and HughesNet operate mostly in rural communities where cellular service is minimal, Starlink burst onto the scene in May 2022 as a service targeted at RV users and other nomads frequently on the move.
Many RVers have ordered Starlink RV internet and have been using it for months. A few are very positive about the progress and future outlook but most agree that Starlink isn’t going to be replacing other internet providers RVers use any time soon.
And that was before Starlink announced big changes in late February 2023.
All Starlink for RVs service users in the US have received an email alerting them that their monthly service cost is going up $15/month—from $135/month to $150/month. This price change will take effect on April 24, 2023.
The new pricing for RV service is already effective immediately for new customers.
Starlink for RVs was officially launched in May 2022 as a service targeted at RV users and other nomads frequently on the move. The price for this service at the time of launch was $135/month.
Users on the RV plan can expect deprioritized best effort service wherever they used it which can often result in slow speeds in congested markets. But there are benefits including being able to order it anywhere, use it anywhere in your home continent, and pause service when not using it.
The Starlink website describes Starlink for RVs as follows:
Immediately access unlimited high-speed, low-latency internet on an as-needed basis at any destination where Starlink provides active coverage
$150/month with a one-time cost of $599 for portable hardware or $2,500 for in-motion hardware
Starlink for RVs service is available for portable use with the Standard Dish at $599 and also supports official in-motion use with the optional flat HP dish at $2,500
Starlink residential service price is changing based on capacity
Starlink Residential customers also received an email notifying them of a price change that will occur on April 24, 2023 but this time the price could go up or down depending on the network capacity in their service area:
Customers who are in a limited capacity area will see their service increase by $10/month to $120/month
Customers who are in an excess capacity area will see their service decrease by $20/month to $90/month
So depending on the area where your service address is located, you could see a price increase or decrease. While the price decrease will be nice for some customers, it is probably more likely that most residential users are in a limited capacity area and will therefore be seeing a price increase on their service.
The majority of the eastern half of the US is a limited capacity area along with large portions of California, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado. The areas of the US with excess capacity are generally lower population areas.
The Starlink FAQ notes that the service plan cost is subject to change dependent on service location. This seems to suggest if customers move their service address to areas with excess or limited capacity, their monthly cost will change accordingly. And if your service area changes from one capacity to the other, you can potentially expect your monthly cost to change also.
Those in excess capacity areas enjoying a price cut now could still see their prices go up if their areas become limited capacity in the future.
This price change also comes with the implementation of the delayed 1TB priority fair use policy data cap on residential service which is now slated to go into effect in April.
Portability for Starlink Residential users is gone
One of the most surprising and disappointing changes in this big shakeup is that portability (the option to roam from your service address) is no longer allowed on US-based Residential Starlink accounts. This wasn’t communicated to users over email but rather updated in the FAQ.
Note: Portability is not available for Residential service in the US. You may change your service address or change your service plan to RV through your Starlink account.
This is a very abrupt and unfavorable policy change.
Many RVers choose the residential service over Starlink for RVs to have priority service at their home service address. This also gave the option to move their service address to open locations they visit to get priority service. But this policy change means that option is no longer available.
Unfortunately, this means many RVers will have to give up their Starlink Residential priority service and change to Starlink for RVs or maintain two lines of service.
Residential users that wish to change to RV service can do so right on their account page. They will have to agree to the policy changes and acknowledge that they can’t go back to Residential service. Returning the Residential service requires new equipment and starting a new plan, assuming there is available capacity.
What if you have portability enabled now?
For current Residential Starlink users traveling with active portability, it’s not quite clear what will happen next for these users. At this time, it appears portability is still working if you were lucky enough to have it enabled before this change took effect. But how long this will last, remains to be seen. Will these users be able to ride out portability indefinitely until they select to remove it or will it stop abruptly before that?
Users with portability are kind of stuck at the moment not knowing what is next for them and parts of Starlink’s FAQ still have outdated information as I write this article. Since this change was not communicated over email, there is limited info on what is next for current users with portability enabled.
Some Starlink customers have already received responses from customer service indicating that they can keep portability turned on until they turn it off. Hopefully, this will continue to be the case.
However, customers should be aware that Starlink could at any point decide to sunset portability on Residential plans and force either changing your service address or switching to Starlink for RVs.
If you don’t want to give up your Starlink Residential plan and service address, you should start figuring out your other options so you are prepared when that change comes.
Portability already gone if not enabled
Some users may opt to have two Starlink lines of service—Starlink for RVs and Starlink Residential.
Residential Starlink Customers who currently have portability turned off might be shocked to notice that the portability option has already been removed from their account page and they can no longer add it. If you were hoping you could slide in under the radar for a grace period, it’s already too late.
This means if you want to travel with your Starlink and can’t move your service address, you have no choice but to convert your existing Starlink to RV service. Which means when you return to your fixed home base location, you’ll still be at best effort service without the ability to switch back to Residential.
If you have a permanent residence where you depend on Starlink residential service and don’t want to be deprioritized on the RV service then your only option is to purchase a second Starlink for RVs kit that you’ll travel with. This option means at times, you’ll be paying for two Starlink services which can get expensive especially with the price increases.
Overall we expect many part-time RVers that depend on Starlink at their residence to find this new policy change a pretty big slap in the face.
Starlink has for the past year made it clear that users who use Starlink at home could enjoy use outside their service address by enabling portability while they were traveling.
They just took that away from every one of these users, with no warning at all.
Starlink should not be your only internet source
As I’ve said before, Starlink should be thought of as a complement to cellular versus a replacement. Starlink is a great option to keep connected where cellular signal doesn’t exist or in places without congestion. And it comes with other downsides like higher power usage and constantly shifting costs and terms.
If mobile internet is an important part of your lifestyle, having multiple options is usually key to a reliable connection. Assembling a solution that combines cellular, Wi-Fi, and cellular has advantages—but certainly has costs and complexities.
Each of us has to determine how much redundancy we need in our setup to meet our unique mobile internet needs.
Hang on to those unlimited cellular data plans
In particular, if you have certain legacy unlimited data plans from the carriers, its worthwhile keeping them in active service. Once you give up those sweet unlimited cellular plans, you can never get them back. Unlike Starlink’s shifts many cellular plans tend to remain grandfathered in as long as you keep paying the bill.
No contracts mean things can and will change
While it’s nice in some ways that Starlink doesn’t make you sign a contract, allowing you to stop service when you want, it’s also becoming quite obvious that SpaceX has no loyalty to existing customers.
No contract goes both ways—Starlink can change the terms of its offerings at any time. These latest price changes and plan changes are just more examples of how Starlink has abruptly changed over its rather short two-year run. For those with any history following SpaceX, this should not come as a surprise.
Starlink is proving once again that while it is revolutionary for what it has done for mobile internet, it can and will change at any time.
Option to cancel service if you don’t agree with the changes
In the email customers received notifying them of the price changes which varied based on your plan and location, it was also noted that if you did not want to continue service, you have the option to cancel since there is no contract.
If you were within your original 30 days of purchase, you have the option for a full equipment refund. If you are outside your 30 days, but still within 12 months since you purchased, you can get a partial refund of $250 for your equipment.
Up to this point used dishy terminals were generally bringing more than $250 on the private market but with these new changes there could be a flood of used equipment for sale driving the price down so it’s up to you to decide which path is best for you if you decide to cancel service.
In review, here are the big changes affecting Starlink Residential and Starlink RV Service:
Starlink for RVs monthly charge is going up $15—from $135 to $150/month.
Starlink Residential Service increases $10/month for limited capacity locations but drops $20/month for excess capacity areas. Now it is $90-$120/month, depending on your location.
Portability is removed as an option for Starlink Residential Customers in the US only forcing many nomads to Starlink for RVs Service at the increased price if they regularly travel with their Starlink.
Existing customers won’t see a price change until April 2023 while new customers will see the new price immediately.
Starlink Roam replaces Starlink RV
And then on March 8, 2023, Starlink announced additional changes. Although not all affect RV users directly, I include them below.
The Starlink RV account type has been replaced with Starlink Roam. This subtle account name change comes with a couple updates to cover their services more broadly. They now offer Starlink Roam Regional which is basically the same as Starlink RV was. They now have the option of Starlink Roam Global for use anywhere (instead of use only on the continent of purchase).
Starlink Roam pricing
The Starlink Roam Regional comes in at the recently hiked monthly price tag that Starlink RV was at of $150. This can be used anywhere on land within the continent that you purchased your service in.
The Global option comes in at $200. This can be used anywhere on land that Starlink has regulatory approval to work.
Starlink Roam for Land Use only
One interesting thing that Starlink is being clear on now is that it is intended for land use only. Now that they explicitly state this in their wording on their site and order page, expect them to start geo-locking use on these plans to land only (may be fine close to shore also) at some point soon.
Starlink has put wording in their Terms of Service (TOS) about geofencing now. They state “Regional plans are geo-fenced to work on land within the same continent as the registered Shipping Address while the Global plans work on land anywhere there is active service coverage.” Time will tell if this is being enforced.
For boaters, this will likely mean there will be more Maritime specific plan options at higher rates (probably much higher) than many have been taking advantage of on the RV or Residential with Portability account types.
There are already some third party authorized resellers with some options out there but expect to see more directly from Starlink.
Starlink Terms of Service
As always, Starlink service and policies are evolving so quickly that their TOS don’t get updated quickly enough to keep up with these changes. For a little while, you will probably see conflicting info on their site regarding these changes depending on where you look.
Starlink RV accounts will likely turn into Starlink Roam accounts but for now you will see both names being used in their wording.
Starlink rent option in the UK
Starlink recently emailed potential customers offering a new rental program in the United Kingdom (UK). The new offer would make Starlink Residential service more affordable. The offer allows Starlink customers in the UK to rent the dish and router for £15 per month versus the full purchase price of £460 (High Performance Starlink hardware costs £2,410) with a one-time activation of £99. Buying outright works out better if you keep the service for more than two and a half years. While not available in North America at time of writing, a rental program may be offered in the coming days.
I dislike sharing big negative changes like this with my readers especially for full-time RVers using Starlink Residential with portability and part-time RVers that depend on Starlink at their residence but still travel with it occasionally.
I know this is a huge disappointment.
Your Starlink terms of service are not locked in. With such a young company with lots of demand offering a niche service not offered by any other company and their business growing at an incredible rate what you have today may look drastically different tomorrow.
RVers depending on mobile internet should always have redundancy in their arsenal of internet tools and Starlink is proving that for us once again.
With two price increases in less than a year, what is the next big change that Starlink will surprise us with?
Unfortunately, we will have to wait and see.
Check back for updates as this big change plays out!
We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.