What to know about Starlink before you sign up for its testing program.
Published on August 30, 2021
Although Starlink is still in its infancy, Starlink satellite internet is available for testing in limited parts of the US, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and eight other countries. Starlink is currently the only unlimited satellite internet provider in the US, meaning its the only one to offer truly unlimited, full-speed data that isnt throttled once you hit a data cap.
Why do people love Starlink (by SpaceX)?
- Unlimited data.
- Faster speeds than many satellite providers (50–150 Mbps).
- Set monthly fee ($99/mo.).
- No data overage charges.
- Anticipated global coverage sometime in 2021.
But hold on to your hat. . . Starlink is still in beta
Before you cancel your plodding rural ISP and sign up for the latest and greatest satellite system, lets be up front about the fact that Starlink is still in beta. Since the Starlink constellation isnt fully built out yet, that there is limited availability. Also, beta testers may experience slower speeds than Starlink will eventually deliver.
In addition to limited availability, periodic outages are common. Remember—Elon Musk himself calls it the better than nothing beta program. There just aren’t enough Starlink satellites yet to deliver constant connectivity worldwide.
As of July 29, 2021:
- Starlink is available in 14 countries so far.
- SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced that global coverage will be possible by next month.
- 1740 Starlink satellites launched to date.
Although Starlink is launching more satellites at a rapid pace, it’ll take several months or even years until all North Americans can get continuous (uninterrupted) Starlink service.
Can I really get Starlink anywhere?
Although its available in parts of 12 countries so far, Starlink isnt available everywhere yet—and it might never be available in deep canyons or rainforests.
There are some problems Starlink customers have encountered with trees blocking the signal.16 Even the most ardent of Starlink fans may think twice about cutting down all the shade trees in their yards to get internet service. This may also make it difficult to use Starlink’s proposed mobile internet service (expected later this year) while camping or boondocking.
Starlink launch updates
Starlink launches have sped up since December 2021 when Starlink secured $855 million in FCC funding as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. SpaceX launches approximately 120 satellites per month for the Starlink constellation.
How many customers does Starlink have?
Starlink recently announced that the company has orders from 500,000 customers, although there’s no word on how many of those orders have been fulfilled.
Can I become the latest Starlink customer?
To find out if you can get Starlink internet in your area, you’ll need to go to the Starlink website and type in your home and email addresses. You’ll be notified if and the when service is rolled out in your area. We, the writers of SatelliteInternet.com, signed up on the waiting list in March but still havent been issued an invitation, so you may or may not get service as soon as you wish.
Currently, Starlink offers the best service between the latitudes of 45 to 53 degrees (with a few exceptions), which is where the constellation is the most dense.
Where to get satellite internet now
Starlink may not reach your area for several months, and even then it may be overcrowded. So how can you get satellite internet now? Your best shot is with Viasat or HughesNet. Sure, sign up for the Starlink waiting list (if you have $499 to drop), but be aware that it can take six months or longer to get picked to be a Starlink tester.
Our top choice is Viasat’s Platinum Unlimited 100, which gives you 300 GB of data per month at speeds up to 100 Mbps. If you’re just looking for a cost-effective way to connect online periodically from a vacation home, check out HughesNet’s 20 GB plan.
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|12–100 Mbps||50–300 GB/mo.||$30–$150/mo.*||Free||View Plans|
|25 Mbps||10–50 GB/mo.||$59.99–$149.99**||Free||View Plans|
*Promotional price is for the first 3 months. Regular internet rate applies after 3 months. **Service plans require a 24-month commitment.
What is Starlink
Starlink is a satellite internet company developed by SpaceX as a revenue-generating business to fund SpaceX’s plans to colonize Mars. Starlink satellites are in low-Earth orbit, which is much closer than satellite providers generally use. This could enable Starlink to deliver lower latency than you can usually get with satellite service.
As of July 29, 2021, Starlink has launched 1,740 satellites into low-Earth orbit and has over 10,000 active customers.9,11,12,13,14 Of the satellites launched so far, 99 have been deorbited, so Starlink has over 1,600 satellites that are currently in orbit and fully operational.
That sounds like a big number. And it is—Starlink has long been the world’s largest satellite constellation.15 But that doesn’t mean that Starlink is ready to offer full-fledged satellite internet service yet. Starlink will need to have up to 42,000 satellites in its constellation—which means it’s still a long road ahead for Starlink. Thus far, only 12,000 Starlink satellites have been approved by both the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) and the ITU (International Telecommunication Union).
Because Starlink’s satellite constellation is not fully filled out, testing customers experience periodic outages. As more satellites are launched, Starlink expects that outages will eventually not be a problem.
In private beta test results, Starlink has shown it can deliver a high-speed satellite internet connection of 100 Mbps or more with an extremely low latency of 20 milliseconds.1,2,3 Starlink tells customers to expect speed variations between 50 to 150 Mbps in the beta testing phase.
Currently, signing up for Starlink costs $99 per month, plus an initial $499 equipment cost required at sign up.7 There’s no word so far on how much Starlink will cost once it’s fully launched (although we expect it could be higher). The one-time equipment fee of $499 includes the Starlink dish receiver (what Elon Musk calls “a UFO on a stick”), a mounting tripod, and a Starlink modem.
To join the waitlist for the Starlink beta, you have to go to Starlink’s main website and enter your address and email, pay $499 up front for equipment, and then wait for an invitation.
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How Starlink is different
Thanks to reusable launch rockets, Starlink’s low-orbit satellites cost a fraction of the price of typical satellite launches, making it easier and more affordable to launch satellites at scale. In May 2021, Starlink reached a new record in rocket reusability with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that successfully launched its tenth batch of Starlink satellites.17 This concept of reusable rockets decreases the cost of launching satellites exponentially.
In the last year, Starlink has hit a steady stride, producing and launching around 120 satellites per month. The satellite constellation is being built out more heavily in some areas first, so beta service varies by location. Service was first available in the northern United States and lower Canada.
Within the next few years, Starlink expects to offer satellite internet to the entire planet, including remote locations where internet isn’t currently available. The plan involves launching a vast constellation of mass-produced satellites into low-altitude orbit. The satellites will transmit internet signals to Earth-based hubs, delivering superfast connection speeds.
For now, Starlink service is designed for stationary use, tied to a specific service address (although there have been some successful Starlink tests in the wild). But Elon Musk has said that eventually, he plans to make Starlink portable and usable in-motion, so customers can take their receiver anywhere and receive service.8 This would allow Starlink to provide internet service to individual customers in RVs, but also to trains, planes, buses, and ships.
Starlink is currently developing a mobile antenna for large trucks and RVs. If you’re wondering when you can get Starlink for your RV, Musk recently tweeted that the mobile service is expected to begin by the end of 2021.
Can you get internet in the North Pole?
Historically, it’s been difficult to get reliable high-speed internet service in the polar regions. Geostationary satellites that work for most countries are too far away from polar regions. Starting in January 2021, Starlink satellites began launching satellites into the polar orbits, which will eventually bring reliable internet service to these isolated regions.
How much will Starlink internet cost?
During the current public beta, Starlink internet costs $99 per month. There are no pricing details on how much Starlink will cost after the beta. But the biggest sticker shock for would-be-Starlink-testers is the equipment cost. You have to invest $499 up front for a Starlink satellite dish, modem, and other required hardware. Ouch, right? We can’t help but wonder what will happen if/when this equipment gets redesigned (will eBay get slammed with vintage Starlink satellite dishes?)
So, even though low-income, underserved, and rural parts of the world could benefit most from Starlink, the cost is a big deterrent for those who need it most. According to World Bank data, 10% of the worlds population lives in extreme poverty. Starlink’s high equipment cost places the service far above the reach of millions around the world who could benefit from internet access.
To be fair, Starlink is aware of the high equipment cost. On November 2, 2020, Elon Musk tweeted, “Lowering terminal equipment cost. . . is actually our most difficult technical challenge.” We hope he finds a solution to this issue.
How Starlink works
Images of the Starlink satellite constellation look like a fishing net, where thousands of dots are the satellites that rotate in synchronized orbits so that all areas of the globe have satellite coverage. The Starlink satellite network covers the whole globe, although initially certain parts of the constellation will be more fully built out. Satellites will eventually communicate with each other via lasers, which reduces lag time and enables a speedier connection with less latency (the two main complaints with satellite internet).
Starlink satellites are in a much lower orbit than other satellites are in. Starlink is the first satellite internet provider to utilize low Earth orbit, targeting all satellites to orbit between 540 km to 1,150 km above the Earth’s surface. Low flying satellites can transmit data more quickly and offer much lower latency (or lag time).18
Where to get rural internet
Starlink is still in its early stages as a satellite provider and isn’t available everywhere yet. Even if there is service in your region, you might live in a place where its oversubscribed for the number of satellites in orbit. If thats the case, youll have to wait for additional Starlink launches to bring more bandwidth to your area.
If you need a satellite connection now, Viasat and HughesNet offer satellite coverage at a good price in all 50 states. It might not be as fast as the futuristic satellite service you’ll someday get from Starlink, but it’ll keep you connected and up on the latest news with its massive coverage area. You can read more about Viasat, HughesNet, and the best rural internet options on our site.
Can’t wait for Starlink? See what internet you can get now.
What people really know about SpaceX, Starlink, and Elon Musk
With so much speculation out there about what Elon Musk is up to, we decided to find out what people actually know about his ambitious plan for Starlink to bring superfast, affordable satellite internet to the world (and to provide a source of funding for SpaceX).
We polled hundreds of Americans on what they know about SpaceX, Starlink, and Elon Musk, and the results show that Musk still has work to do before Starlink becomes a household name at the same level that he’s achieved with SpaceX.
Here are some of our key findings:
- 61% have heard of SpaceX, but only 30% have heard of Starlink.
- 45% think Starlink will be available only to people in off-grid areas. (It will be available nationwide.)
- 23% said they would leave their current ISP for Starlink while 77% said they wouldn’t.
- 45% believe Starlink won’t be cheaper than current satellite internet options.
- 54% don’t believe Starlink will be any safer than other types of internet.
Additionally, over 70% of those surveyed underestimated Musk’s net worth. Nearly a third of those surveyed said they believed Musk’s net worth is as low as $3 billion, rather than his actual net worth of nearly $37 billion (and counting).
If Starlink lives up to everything it promises, it has the potential to be a game changer in bridging the digital divide across the world. But the question is, will it deliver?
The team at SatelliteInternet.com surveyed hundreds of people within the US, asking them the most frequently asked questions about Starlink satellite internet, according to Google search volume. We analyzed the results and compiled this report.
Starlink might help bridge the digital divide
The United Nations reports that internet access helps reduce poverty, improves economic opportunity and access to healthcare in the least developed countries. The problem is getting it to people at a price they can afford.
As of 2018, only 51.2% of the world’s population was using the internet, according to the latest report from the International Telecommunications Union. Availability differs by country, with the most underdeveloped countries often having the worst access. The World Bank reports that in populations of developing countries, only 35% have internet access. And as the rest of the world moves ahead technologically, the wealth gap between those with and without internet is expected to widen. Starlink plans to bridge that gap.
Solving availability issues
Building out traditional internet infrastructure is costly because it involves installing thousands of miles of buried cables. But that’s not the only thing keeping people around the world from connecting online.
Sometimes internet is available, but it’s just too expensive. In some places, an internet connection is so expensive that only the wealthiest can afford it. For instance, in Zimbabwe, the average price for 1 GB of mobile internet data is more than five times as much as it is in the US.
The United Nations has set an affordability standard for internet service. In order to be considered affordable, 1 GB of mobile internet data needs to be priced at less than 2% of the average monthly salary. SpaceX has stated that it plans to offer affordable satellite internet to underserved countries at a price that’s easier to pay, although the current beta test (which requires a $499 up front equipment purchase) is above the affordability standard. Elon Musk has stated that the biggest challenge Starlink currently faces is getting the equipment cost down.9
When can I sign up for Starlink internet?
As of late July 2021, the Starlink beta is limited to select customers in 14 countries, including parts of the United States. Heres a current list of Starlink availability by country.
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
To sign up for service, you’ll need to go to the Starlink website and create an account if you want to join the waiting list in your area.
Where to get rural internet now
If you’re looking for faster internet from space, Starlink isn’t your only option. Viasat is launching its next generation satellite, ViaSat-3 in early 2022, which will deliver global internet service from one provider.19 OneWeb may also be launching satellite internet service within the next few years. And Amazon-funded Project Kuiper and Telesat’s LEO satellite constellation are also in the works, although they are several years away from offering service.
Can’t get Starlink?
If you need a satellite connection now, Viasat is our top pick for satellite internet in all 50 states. Viasat offers comparable speeds to Starlink and generous data allowances. You can read more about Viasat, HughesNet, and other rural internet options on our site.
You can find the best internet provider in your area by entering your zip code below.
Can’t wait for Starlink? See what internet you can get now.
- SpaceX.com, “September 3, 2020 Starlink Mission Launch,” streamed live on September 3, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
- Arevalo, Evelyn, “SpaceX submits FCC requests to operate Starlink ground stations in several U.S. States,” July 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020.
- Grush, Loren, “With latest Starlink launch, SpaceX touts 100 Mbps download speeds and ‘space lasers’,” September 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020.
- Wattles, Jackie, “Here’s what you need to know about SpaceX’s Starlink internet service,” October 2019. Accessed September 4, 2020.
- Henry, Caleb, “Falcon 9 launch adds 60 Starlink satellites to orbit as constellation beta testing continues,” September 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020.
- SpaceX.com, “September 3, 2020 Starlink Mission Launch,” streamed live on September 3, 2020. Accessed September 3, 2020.
- Thompson, Amy, “SpaceX Rocket Launches for Record 7th Time, Nails Landing at Sea in 100th Falcon 9 Mission,” November 2020. Accessed November 24, 2020.
- Tung, Liam, “Elon Musk: Yes, SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Will Even Work on High-Speed Transportation,” October 2020. Accessed November 24, 2020.
- Duffy, Kate, “SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Speeds Are Consistently Topping 150 Mbps — Now Elon Musk Says the Biggest Challenge Is Slashing the $600 Up-Front Cost for Users,” November 2020. Accessed November 24, 2020.
- Grush, Loren, “SpaceX Begins Public Beta Testing of Starlink Constellation at $99 a Month,” October 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020.
- Foust, Jeff, “SpaceX Surpasses 1,000-Satellite Mark in Latest Starlink Launch,” January 2021. Accessed February 2, 2021.
- Clark, Stephen, “SpaceX Launches 25th Mission for Starlink Internet Network,” March 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021.
- Reichert, Corinne, “Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starlink Internet Service Now Has 10,000 Users,” February 2021. Accessed March 29, 2021.
- Foust, Jeff, SpaceX Sets Booster Reuse Milestone on Starlink Launch, May 2021. Accessed May 14, 2021.
- Henry, Caleb, “SpaceX Becomes Operator of World’s Largest Commercial Satellite Constellation with Starlink Launch,” January 2020. Accessed May 14, 2021.
- Patel, Nilay, “Starlink Review: Broadband Dreams Fall to Earth,” May 2021. Accessed May 14, 2021.
- Thompson, Amy, “SpaceX Launches 60 Starlink Satellites in Record 10th Liftoff (and Landing) of Reused Rocket,” May 2021. Accessed May 14, 2021.
- Roulette, Joey, “SpaceX Wins Approval for Lower Starlink Orbits, Overcoming Rival Objections,” April 2021. Accessed May 14, 2021.
- Jewett, Rachel, “Viasat Pushes ViaSat-3 Satellite Launch to 2022,” February 2021. Accessed May 14, 2021.