I just ordered Starlink, SpaceX's Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite internet service. For the first time, if you live in Canada, the United States, or the United Kingdom, you can too. Alas, that doesn't mean I, or you, will get it anytime soon.
But, with its first-come, first-served approach, at least you'll be on the list. Before this offer arrived, you could apply to be in the Starlink beta test and hope for this best.
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Getting on the Starlink list will cost you a $99 deposit. You can pay for this with a credit card. Sorry, despite what founder Elon Musk has said, paying by Bitcoin isn't an option yet.
In return, you'll get an estimated coverage date of either 2021 or 2022 based on your location. In my case, I live in Asheville, North Carolina, and I have an estimated service date of late 2021.
When, and if, I get the service, Starlink will also charge me $499, plus tax, for the Starlink Kit, which will consist of a small satellite dish with installation gear and a Wi-Fi router. The service itself costs $99 a month. In the fine print, you'll see that the charges for this preorder are fully refundable and -- drat it -- "placing a deposit does not guarantee service."
Is it worth it? I'm getting it not because I need it -- Charter/Spectrum does well enough for me -- but because I cover the Internet Service Providers (ISP) and networking, I need to exactly how it works and how well it works.
Starlink is really meant for people who can't get conventional broadband. It's not meant as a replacement for people who can already get broadband via cable or fiber but rather, it's for people whose "broadband" choices are otherwise DSL, conventional satellite internet, or even dial-up modems. If that's you then you'll want to check out Starlink.
According to independent third-party tests, such as TestMy.Net, Starlink provides an average download speed of 55.59 Megabits per second (Mbps), with a top speed of 194.44Mbps. Fast compared to gigabit fiber? No. Fast compared to its competitors in the backwoods? Oh yes.
Another plus is that Starlink has a relatively low latency of 20 to 40 milliseconds. Again, a gamer might sneer at that, but compared to the hundreds of milliseconds of old-style satellite internet, it's an order of magnitude better.
There's already pent-up demand for Starlink's internet. SpaceX has applied for an FCC license to roll out five million "UFO on a stick" end-user terminals over its original request for a million terminals. This came after 700,000 US residents signed up to be updated about the service's availability. As of January 2021, however, Starlink only has 10,000 beta testers.
Add it all up and I'm hoping, but not expecting, to see a Starlink antenna on my roof this year. There needs to be a lot more Starlink kits produced and Starlink satellites launched to deliver the internet goodies to 5 million users. Still, you can now start making plans for Starlink to be your internet connection sooner rather than later.