I don’t tend to do product reviews, but it has gotten to the point that when I pray at night, I’ve ended up saying “… and thank you, Lord, for Elon Musk and Starlink.”
I live up on a hill in eastern Tennessee in the middle of a forest. I have trees that grow right up to the house. I end up having to repair my roof every two or three years because of falling limbs. I would cut the trees down, but the estimates I got for tree removal were high enough that it’s cheaper to repair the roof. At least for now.
When I first moved here, there was no internet access. We couldn’t get cable. Wireless service did not even reach us. Eventually, I found a partial solution through Verizon, who sold a rooftop antenna called a “cantenna” that got us around one bar with about 15 GBytes of “high speed” (1 Mbps) data. For five years, we shepherded those 15 G like an 18th century Bedouin shepherding his water supply in the Negev. For most of our TV, we use DirecTV.
Then, finally, ATT ran fiber optic close enough that we were eligible for connection. Except they wouldn’t connect my house. I called the ATT people and they sent a guy out. He said the cable went to my street, but my house was surrounded by asphalt driveway and concrete walkways (because the house is built on a hill, and there’s no natural flat place to walk) and they could not pull a line to the house. If I wanted to get ATT fiber optic, I would have to find a contractor to dig a trench through the driveway and bury a conduit for the cable. The least expensive estimate I got was $6000, which included digging the trench and laying the conduit, but did not include repairing the driveway and walkway. the repairs would cost another $3000-$4000.
By that time the Cantenna was obsolete. It did not work well with Ipv6 protocols and I found that it would not work on my home network natively (though it worked when I used a VPN). I called Verizon and they said that they hadn’t supported the device for a few years. I’d have to get a “MiFi.” I did, and Verizon gave me a deal that provided a total of 60 GBytes of 4G “high speed” data (I can’t get 5G here) for about $30 cheaper a month than I paid with the Cantenna.
But… my connection was still poor. The Cantenna was up on the roof, so it had good exposure. The MiFi is in my bedroom. On good days the “high speed” connection really was 1 Mbps, but a fair bit of the time it was 600-800 Kbps. And, we were doing a lot more streaming, which ate up a lot of the bandwidth. I could struggle through streaming TV, but I really could not cut the cord and get rid of DirecTV.
Then I read about Glenn Reynold’s (of Instapundit fame) experience with Starlink in Knoxville. He was pretty happy with it. I went to the Starlink site and signed up. Unfortunately, there was a waiting list of about a year, but I plonked down my $99 and waited.
A couple of weeks ago, I checked my status and found out that I was elevated to “Best Effort” status, which apparently meant that I could order the equipment and they would try to give me service without a guarantee of any given bandwidth. The equipment cost me $599, but I plonked that down, too.
A few days later, it arrived. The box contained a flat satellite receiver, a four-legged table top stand, 75 feet of cable, and a router. To set it up, you have to use a Starlink app on your phone, but the intructions are easy. First, you wave your phone around to identify where the the receiver should look for satellites, then you set up the receiver. I took the receiver outside and set it on my emergency generator, strung the cable into my garage, and plugged in the router, which also powers the revceiver. The receiver rapidly found the optimum exposure. In a couple of minutes I had “some” connectivity, and in about 30 minutes I was getting download speeds of 96-100 Mbps. Over the course of the next few days, the speed was mostly between 60-120 Mbps, with a few short stretches of 15-20 Mbps.
My placement of the receiver isn’t the best. Since my place is in a forest, the field the receiver views has about 20-30% obstruction. This shows up by signal dropping for a few seconds every once in awhile. I have a call in to a guy who will put the thing on my roof (you normally have to buy the mount for that, but I hope to strap it to the mount that the cantenna is on). I’m 67 years old, weigh 270 lbs, and have bad legs; my days of scrambling around on roofs is over. But I have little doubt that once it’s up there, I’ll have fewer drops, if any.
The drops are barely noticeable. I *have* noticed it — things will stop for a few seconds and pick up again. But since the bandwith is 60-100 times more than I get with my MiFi, I’m a very happy camper. And, as I said, once I mount the receiver properly, I am confident that will get fixed. I’ve been through one major storm since I’ve gotten it. Speed dropped to about 20 – 40 Mbps during the worst of it – which included torrential rain, dense cloud cover, high winds, and trees waving all over the place.
The cost of Starlink is $110/month after the first $599 equipment fee. I think my $99 deposit will be applied to my first month’s bill, but I haven’t gotten it yet.
A couple of days ago, I got an email saying that I had been upgraded from best effort to Residential service. The “best effort” service was about what I was expecting for Residential, so I don’t really expect much difference.
The bottom line, though, is that I now have what “feels” like real high speed bandwidth after seven years of 600 Kbps-1Mbps on a good day.
I’m going to keep MiFi from ATT. It’s not as fast as Starlink, but it’s very portable, and I travel a bit. I like to have my own dependable internet access when I’m on the road. ATT MiFi is dependable, if not as fast, and ATT has served me well (if not cheaply) for seven years. I will likely cut back on the data plans of my other phones, though.
I will probably now drop DirecTV. I don’t have all that much against it, but I resent paying buckets of money for channels I don’t watch. The primary advantage of streaming is that it is about as a la carte as you want to be. With DirectTV, I pay for hundreds of channels I will never watch in order to get four or five that I do watch. Plus, a lot of content I watch simply isn’t available except by streaming. By cutting back on my phone service a bit, dropping DirectTV, and picking up anothing streaming channel, I think I’m going to get a net savings of about $60/month.
The biggest things to me are simply not having to wait for 10-15 seconds to have web pages load, not having videos pause for buffering all the time, and not having to count my bandwidth usage all the time. My brother-in-law lives nearby, and has fiberoptic service for something like $65 a month. He loves it. I probably would, too, if I didn’t have to pay $10,000 to get it.
But for me, Starlink is a delight. It’s cheap compared to my other options. It has worked like a charm for weeks, now. I can now have “real” streaming internet service.
Thank you, Elon Musk and the Starlink/SpaceX team.
It’s been a couple of weeks and Spring has moved into full swing. I haven’t gotten the receiver up on the roof yet. It’s still sitting near the ground on my emergeny generator. As the trees start showing leaves the amount of obstruction is slowly increasing. It’s now well over 30% of the sky.
It’s actually pretty cool. The receiver scans the sky and maps the obstructions, and you can see the map of the sky on the Android app. When I first set it up, you could see exactly where the large trees by the driveway were, and the treeline on the hill beside me. Now as Spring as progressed, I can actually see the branches of the trees fill out as obstructions. Instead of one line of obstruction where a major branch is, there’s now a dense obstruction and feathery obstructions branching off of it. Last night, I had about 10 minutes where it couldn’t find a satelllite. But it finally reconnected and everything was fine. I am confident this will stop once I get the receiver up where it can see more of the sky.
Someone asked me, so I’ll say it here. No, Starlink isn’t paying me anything for this review.