Tesla owner puts SpaceX Starlink to the test in the wild

Reddit user wandering-coder put SpaceX's Starlink Beta internet through its paces in the middle of nowhere, proving that the constellation really can deliver on its promise. (Reddit /u/wandering-coder)

A Tesla owner turned SpaceX Starlink Beta tester has taken their cutting-edge satellite internet system on a road trip, demonstrating that the constellation really will be able to deliver high-quality internet anywhere on Earth.

While SpaceX’s growing network of Starlink satellites are currently only able to offer (mostly) uninterrupted service in upper latitudes, the ~840 functional spacecraft in orbit are just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, in an outcome that seems increasingly likely, SpaceX plans to launch nearly 12,000 Starlink satellites to blanket almost every inch of Earth’s surface with internet likely better than what 90% of the global population has access to.

That means that even people living in remote areas with zero cell coverage and no wired connections for dozens of miles in any direction will still have all but guaranteed access to reliable, high-bandwidth, low-latency internet so long as some kind of power source is available.

Thanks to Reddit user wander-coder’s intrepid testing, we now know that even in its buggy infancy, Starlink is more than capable of realizing that promise. Connected to a large battery pack and sat on the muddy ground in the forests of Hayden, Idaho, the small Starlink antenna was able to deliver download speeds of more than 120 megabits per second (Mbps) and latency under 40 milliseconds tens of miles from any kind of cell service or wired connectivity. While latency did jump to ~140 ms under load, the reality is that in the same location, current satellite providers would be able to offer latency of ~600 milliseconds at best.

/u/wandering-coder’s spartan setup – just a battery bank, a Starlink antenna, and the forests of western Idaho. (Reddit – /u/wandering-coder)
Disclaimer: During the Tesla rooftop test, the Starlink antenna’s line of sight was heavily obstructed by the forest canopy, resulting in (relatively) poor performance and an intermittent connection. Looks cool, though. (Reddit – /u/wandering-coder)

With the arrival of Starlink’s first public beta test and CEO Elon Musk now promising that the service will expand to several thousand more users this week, the sheer number of suffering rural internet users coming out of the woodworks is hard to believe. At least in the US, very few satellite internet options exist for users in truly remote locations and those that do are extremely expensive for what is often an almost unusable experience (>$100, <10 Mbps down, >600 ms ping).

In its beta infancy, Starlink already obliterates those entrenched competitors, offering what amounts to a decent to good fiber internet connection for $500 down and $100 per month with zero data caps. For reference, SpaceX has set those prices prior to realizing inevitable economies-of-scale efficiencies as its Starlink user terminal (satellite dish and router) production ramps from quasi-boutique assembly to what will almost certainly become the largest phased-array antenna factory in the world.

Additionally, /u/wandering-coder’s Tesla Model 3 brings to mind the fact that Teslas currently don’t offer embedded power outlets but have enough battery capacity to power a Starlink user terminal (and provide uninterrupted high-quality internet completely independent of the power grid) for a month or more. Either way, there should be little surprise that the CEO of Tesla is now on the cusp of realizing the dream of delivering ubiquitous, high-quality internet anywhere and everywhere.

Eric Ralph: I write about space, among other things.
Disqus Comments Loading...