Elon Musk's Starlink satellite broadband service now covers our entire country and is delivering a reliable service. Paul Budde reports.
MY COLLEAGUE, Robert Smallwood in Geraldton, WA at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (WA Government), has been testing Starlink now since March 2022 and he reports on his experience and in general, provides updates about Starlink and its mother company, SpaceX. He allowed me to use his report to write this article.
He reports that the service has been reliable and fast, with most outages lasting only a few seconds at a time, with one notable exception on 30 August where there was an outage of at least 1.5 hours (apparently a system-wide network outage). Teams and Zoom conferences over Starlink have been without issue and the relatively high latency of around 75ms (due to all traffic being routed via Sydney Point of Presence (PoP) has not had a noticeable impact on real-time conversations.
Robert's Starlink unit was previously installed on a ground mount, with approximately 5% of the required field of view obstructed by nearby trees. Since the last report, the dish has been mounted atop a two-storey roof, with zero obstructions in the field of view. This shift in dish location has made a notable difference in dropouts. Since shifting the dish to the roof, dropouts due to obstructions have been almost nil.
This is his performance information over the period of March - October 2022:
- Average download: 162.5mbs Range - 14.4-319.4.
- Average upload: 22.6mbs Range - 5.5-89.45.
Maximum download and upload speeds have been variable from the beginning but have not noticeably changed over time, however recently (the past 30 days), download speeds have become somewhat more consistent. This can likely be attributed to Starlink's close management of subscriber numbers being permitted to join the network, based on the available capacity from existing satellites. As additional satellites are launched, speeds have increased but modulated as more subscribers are connected.
The latest updates from Starlink include:
- SpaceX began launching Starlink satellites in 2019. As of September 2022, more than 3,000 satellites have now been placed into low-Earth orbit (LEO);
- the service focuses primarily on delivering high-speed, low-latency broadband internet in remote and rural locations. As of September 2022, standard services cost US$110 (AU$166.28) per month with a one-time hardware cost of US$599 (AU$905.48). The cost of terminal equipment in Australia has increased from US$795 (AU$1,201.64) to US$924 (AU$1,396.51). Monthly costs in Australia remain at AU$139.00 for the fixed service;
- in mid-September, it announced an increase of approximately 20% in its Australian coverage, compared to the coverage that was available in March 2022. Additional increases were announced in October and November 2022;
- 100% of Australia is now covered by Starlink, barring an area in Western Australia where the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope is located;
- as of late October 2022, Starlink is available in the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Australia and New Zealand. Italy, Poland, Spain and Chile are set to follow soon;
- information from the company in June 2022 indicates more than 500,000 subscribers globally, up from 250,000 in Feb 2022. No information on how many customers are on its network in Australia. As of September 2022, the service is now available on all seven continents in 41 countries; and
- even if you have no plans to use Starlink as your home internet provider, you will soon be able to use the service's satellites with your smartphone (initially, only in the USA), beginning first with text messages while calls and internet service will come later.
Meanwhile, there are broader issues and implications. Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland has recently announced that the Commonwealth will establish an LEO working group to help inform the Government about how this emerging capability might play a role in future telecommunications policy.
Also, the large number of satellites employed by Starlink may create a long-term danger of space debris resulting from placing thousands of satellites in orbit and the risk of causing a satellite collision, potentially triggering a phenomenon known as Kessler syndrome.
Paul Budde is an Independent Australia columnist and managing director of Paul Budde Consulting, an independent telecommunications research and consultancy organisation. You can follow Paul on Twitter @PaulBudde.