4WD MODIFICATIONS - COMMUNICATIONS & NAVIGATION
Elon Musk’s low-earth-orbit satellite internet service is gradually expanding around the globe and now provides mobile, remote-area coverage, but there have been issues.
We installed Starlink at our house in the NSW Southern Highlands, because we became entirely fed up with the lousy NBN service from Telstra. We were without reliable internet connection for three months while they blamed us for its inoperability.
Finally, after my better half read them the riot act, they sent out a technician. Like nearly everyone Down Under, we have Malcolm Turnbull’s el cheapo ‘fibre to the node; copper to the house’ connection and it didn’t take the techo long to find five pairs of incorrect connections.
We figured that next time people were working on that node, they’d bugger-up the connections again, so we checked out the Starlink satellite option. Our mates in Canberra loved theirs, so we bit the bullet.
We forked out $800 for the rooftop dish and modem, and our monthly account is $143. That’s more expensive than Telstra, but boringly reliable and fast. We average downloads in the 150-200Mb/s range and uploads in the 10-20Mb/s range.
Our dish is round – 600mm in diameter – but later models are rectangular – 300mm x 500mm. They weigh around 4kg.
Because it’s a satellite system, we figured it would be handy as a mobile internet service and now that has come to pass. Starlink has around 2000 satellites in place at present and planned to have at least 10,000 in low orbit by end-2023.
From July 2022, reliable, remote-area coverage was available, but could only be accessed from a stationary – camped – position.
As of November 2022 Starlink offered a mobile service that was not, as before, limited to working only when stationary. Said to be ideal for RVs, caravans or 4WDs, it’s even available for some aircraft!
As at mid-2023, the Starlink Roam equipment cost was $450 and the monthly cost was $174. An improved connection plan costs $200 per month.
With that, using a VOIP phone service on SL could make traditional satellite phone redundant.
Taking the home dish – or not
People who don’t need to retain their house dish when travelling may think it’s a good idea to take it with them as a ‘roaming’ dish. Switching to Starlink Roam and taking your house-mounted dish with you can be done through your Starlink account, by simply changing the service type.
That seems fine, but as we read the terms of the Roam account, your dish is now only a ‘best effort’, not ‘priority’ connection, so your connection will be less reliable and so will internet speeds.
Mobile test findings
Starlink claims that almost all of Oz has high capacity coverage and the remainder is low capacity. Certainly, OTA’s testers around Australia report good internet coverage from Starlink’s fixed-installation dishes, but the initial mobile service was far from good.
One of our OTA test teams reported very poor reliability from the mobile dish on an around-Australia trip in early 2023 and said that the following screen photo, indicating no service or unreliable service, was all too common.
We’ll keep monitoring the situation throughout 2023 and update this report.