SpaceX's Starlink is gaining attention as a potential game-changer in the world of satellite connectivity. The low-latency, low cost, high-speed satellite internet service has been tested in a variety of contexts, but its potential impact on the non-profit and charity sectors was particularly intriguing to us. We’ve had quite a few questions about the technology and it’s use cases, so we decided to purchase the equipment and get it up and running. There is nothing like hands-on experience with technology!
What is Starlink
Starlink is a satellite internet service developed by SpaceX, the private space exploration company founded by Elon Musk. The service aims to provide high-speed, low-latency internet access to users around the world, particularly in remote and underserved areas where traditional internet infrastructure is either unavailable or unreliable. The Starlink network currently consists of over 1,500 satellites in low Earth orbit, with plans to eventually launch tens of thousands more. These satellites communicate with each other and with ground stations, forming a network that can deliver internet access to users on the ground.
How is Starlink different from traditional satellite internet services?
Existing satellite internet services rely on geostationary satellites located much farther from the Earth's surface, whereas Starlink's low Earth orbit satellites are substantially closer.
In practical terms, the key difference lies in the signal’s round-trip time from dish to satellite, known as latency. Measured in milliseconds (ms), low latency connectivity is essential to delivering the instant communications critical to modern business, in particular the rapid data transfer needs driven by video conferencing.
Australian satellite services generally report 400-600ms latency, whereas Starlink can hit between 40-70ms. A substantial improvement that makes many aspects of modern business feasible. That being said, it still falls short of cable NBN, which can hit latency levels as low as 8ms.
Our observations on Starlink
We have been putting Starlink through its paces, and we’re pleased to say it largely lives up to its promises.
Dog and Bone founder Dan McKinley:
Overall, it works really well. I’ve consistently seen download speeds of over 200mbps with 15-40mbps upload, even in remote areas.
Cost of entry has always presented a barrier for traditional satellite services, and on this Dan was pleasantly surprised.
At the time I bought it, the hardware was discounted from A$924 to A$450, and the ongoing A$139 per month is on par with high speed NBN. Even at full price, the entry cost is quite accessible.
On setup and configuration, he found it almost too easy.
The phone app uses augmented reality to show optimal placement as well as the position of satellites in the sky. It didn’t require much technical know-how to get started.
However, variability of service is still affected by weather and other factors.
It’s great, but it’s still satellite. The system relies on some pretty sophisticated tech which can be disrupted by thunderstorms.
The most obvious use case is for regional or outback NFPs, for example, we have several clients who work in remote indigenous communities. They could conduct real-time video calls and have city like internet services which is a came changer.
However, another area that would be valuable is disaster recovery or preparedness. We feel that even for city based organisations, having a high quality low cost service that Is totally Independent of other networks (cable or mobile) would add significantly to clients disaster planning.
Starlink’s portability, especially when combined with basic power generators (and even solar), like Bluetti would deliver our clients and their IT managers, great flexibility in how they respond to disasters. This aspect is important for our client base as many of our clients are directly involved in the nations disaster management plans. However this has wider implications when we consider that with climate change we are facing an ever greater number of natural disasters.
I’ve already used this service twice when the power and NBN were cut to my country town, one time the mobile network was also down for about 6hrs and the other time the mobile network stayed up but was severely slowed with the extra traffic.
Starlink, combined with a battery, solar allowed me to be fully redundant from mainstream networks.
We are currently funding an exciting project in the Solomon Islands, where we are looking to implement a Starlink solution for a local community school. This will be combined with a full solar system and battery, as there is no power on the island.
We’ll have more details on this amazing project in the near future. This will be another great example of how Starlink can be a game changer for our clients working in remote or international environments.
If you’re interested in learning more about our experiences with Starlink, or how it might fit into your tech ecosystem, give us a call on (03) 9403 5700. Alternatively, fill in your details below and we’ll get in touch with you directly.