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SpaceX's Starlink: Beta tester reveals more about Elon Musk's internet from space service

Starlink beta tester tests out his user terminal in national forest locations with 300W battery pack.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

An early Starlink public beta tester has shared his experience of taking his new UFO-on-a-stick terminal dish to a remote area to find out whether the satellite service lives up to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's claims. 

Reddit user Wandering-coder shared his account and a series of photos of Starlink in action with a 300W battery power supply while in remote national forest this week. 

Wandering-coder told Ars Technica that the national forest was in Idaho, where he was getting 120Mbps download speeds in a location that Google Fi's T-Mobile- and US Cellular-based service doesn't reach. 

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"Works beautifully," wrote Wondering-coder. "I did a real-time video call and some tests. My power supply is max 300W, and the drain for the whole system while active was around 116W."

Wandering-coder's forest experiments test Musk's statements in July about how easy the end-user terminal dishes are to install and the conditions they needed – a wide view of the sky – to receive internet from Starlink satellites orbiting about 550km, or 342 miles, above Earth.  

"[The] Starlink terminal has motors to self-orient for optimal view angle," wrote Musk. "No expert installer required. Just plug in and give it a clear view of the sky. Can be in garden, on roof, table, pretty much anywhere, so long as it has a wide view of the sky."

Wondering-coder confirmed this requirement after placing the terminal under a heavy tree canopy. 

"It didn't work well with a heavy tree canopy/trees directly in the line of sight, as expected," he wrote. "I would be connected only for about five seconds at a time. Make sure you have as clear a view of the sky as possible!"

The Starlink public beta service as it is today costs $100 a month plus a $499 setup fee for the user terminal, tripod and Wi-Fi router. Wondering-coder was surprised by the low cost of the user terminal given its quality. 

While $499 is high compared with standard equipment for fixed-line broadband end-user equipment, it's possible the terminal in beta is being offered below cost. Musk in May said the biggest challenge is getting the user terminal cost to an affordable level

According to Wondering-coder, Starlink's antenna alone should cost thousands of dollars. 

"Everything is of an extreme build quality, and this works significantly better than I had ever imagined. It feels like it's from the future. Given a top-tier cell phone costs in the $1,000 range, I am completely amazed I have my hands on a setup like this for ~$500, so I am biased positively towards this service," he wrote. 

"The antenna itself seems like it should be many thousands of dollars, so I just want to share how fortunate I feel to have access to this."

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Wondering-coder's experience with Starlink lines up with claims made by the division of SpaceX, as well as with other public beta testers in remote areas who've posted accounts of the service on Reddit. Starlink told users to expected data speeds to vary from 50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms. 

The fastest speed test Wondering-coder obtained during tests was 135Mbps on download, 25Mbps upload speeds, with around 21ms of latency. With "significant obstruction" such as bad weather, treetops, fences or houses, the service delivered 46Mbps down, 15Mbps up, and 41ms latency.   


The beta tester confirmed that the end-user terminal dishes need a wide view of the sky to work well.

Image: Wondering-coder/Imgur

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