Does satellite internet have any limits?
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk would have you believe the possibilities are endless, allowing instantaneous connection from anywhere in the world.
But it will take time to get there, with Starlink 2.0 launches still awaiting approval, and the service not currently available on the move — though it will be soon if you’re flying Hawaiian Airlines.
Two YouTubers, Melanny Rendon and Evan Hendricks, recently posted a video on their channel, ‘Out of this Van’, showing them testing Starlink RV’s setup, its internet speed, and its capability from the middle of a forest.
“The fact that we can camp somewhere remote and have access to unlimited high-speed internet is a game changer for content creators like ourselves,” Hendricks explained to IE in an interview.
Starlink RV’s ‘quick’ setup is ‘a game changer’
SpaceX recently announced it was expanding its Starlink satellite internet service for RV users, allowing them to pause their internet when on the move to a new location and quickly set it up again once they arrive. The new service comes at an additional cost of $25 per month, taking the total monthly fee to a total of $135.
The setup is “simple and quick,” Hendricks told IE. “It’s still a new process for us and we’re finding new ways to streamline it every day but overall, it’s plug and play. Currently, we pull out our telescoping ladder, plug in the satellite, connect it to the mount, then place it on the roof of our van.”
It’s a setup that works well with their limited space, Hendricks said, as the satellite dish fits in an art portfolio bag that can be strapped to the back of a chair. “This keeps the satellite stored safely out of our way and doesn’t take up crucial space since our van is already at max capacity,” he added.
In their video, posted over the weekend on Out of this Van (viewable above), Hendricks and Rendon show the plug-in process, which takes a couple of minutes for the dish to orient itself facing north, according to Hendricks. Though the video provides a glimpse at the great potential of Starlink for helping to enable envious off-grid lifestyles, Rendon does out that they don’t often get the 150 Mbps advertised.
“The speeds we’ve been getting are more than enough for our typical workflow,” Hendricks told IE. Though he did say that “so far in our experience we haven’t consistently hit 150 Mbps, [though] the speeds are still fast — ranging from 50 to 100 Mbps. This might be because users traveling with Starlink aren’t listed as a priority meaning if there is a lot of network traffic we would be the first impacted.”
While SpaceX hasn’t commented on prioritization when it comes to on-the-move or static Starlink users, it’s worth bearing in mind that additional $25 monthly fee which SpaceX says it charges due to the added resources required for prioritizing new locations.
Does Starlink RV work under trees?
In their overview of life on the road with Starlink RV, Rendon and Hendrick also went off the beaten path to test the satellite internet service’s capability in a forest camping spot. “The trees are the number one complaint we heard about for Starlink prior to testing it out,” Hendricks said. “Ultimately, the trees do present a problem. If you are in a dense forest I could see it becoming unusable.”
During their tests, the Out of this Van YouTubers parked next to a tree in Flagstaff, Arizona. While the service did allow them to send emails, download files, and conduct research for their videos, it “would not work seamlessly for video calls, zoom meetings, gaming, or anything that requires a consistent connection,” Hendricks explained.
That’s because the couple was able to collect data on their Starlink app, showing the extent of connectivity issues in the forest: “in our case, we had about 20-30 interruptions ranging from 3 seconds to 60 seconds while streaming a 1-hour show on Netflix,” he said. Shows on Netflix pre-load as you watch, meaning these interruptions went largely unnoticed, though video calls would likely be greatly affected.
Still, Starlink has great potential when it comes to shared internet in rural and even off-grid areas. One Starlink user, Steve Birch, recently told IE he was considering opening his setup to the public for emergencies in an isolated region near a popular but tough mountain trail at the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. Similarly, Hendricks and Rendon explain in their video that they’d allow nearby campers access for a small daily $3 fee.
Next, the Out of this Van team are traveling to “a wetter and more tree dense climate” in Vancouver Island, Hendricks told IE, and they will continue to test their setup as they head to new locations throughout British Columbia. Overall, they’re happy with the service and Hendricks said they will continue “to rely on Starlink vs other WiFi alternatives.”
“Over the past few years of full-time travel we’ve relied on our phone hotspots and cell phone signal booster,” he said. “Both work great when you’re near a town but we still have to be careful about how often and how much data we use since our hotspots are capped. If we aren’t somewhere with cell service we often have to drive a couple hours from our off-grid camping location before we can find reliable service.”
Though coverage isn’t always perfect — and there have been complaints about Starlink’s adverse effect on the astronomical community — the internet service has so far excelled by allowing users increased freedom, and it has garnered public praise by helping civilians connect in war-torn Ukraine. With rival services such as Amazon’s Project Kuiper in the works, the technology will only become more accessible in the coming years.