Although Starlink is still in its infancy, Starlink satellite internet is undergoing a public (invitation-only) beta in limited parts of the US, Canada, and the UK. Starlink is currently the only unlimited satellite provider in the US—offering truly unlimited, full-speed data.
But, Starlink has its problems. In addition to limited availability, periodic outages are common. (Remember—Starlink is still in beta.) There just aren’t enough satellites yet to deliver constant connectivity. And although Starlink is launching more satellites at a rapid pace, it’ll take a year or so before all North Americans can get continuous (uninterrupted) Starlink service.
Also, 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 launches seem to have sped up since last December, when Starlink secured $855 million in FCC funding as part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. 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. 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 when service is rolled out in your area. Currently, Starlink is available primarily between the latitudes of 45 to 53 degrees (with a few exceptions).
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 May 17, 2021, Starlink has launched 1,677 satellites into low-Earth orbit and has over 10,000 active customers. Of the satellites launched so far, 99 have been deorbited, so Starlink has 1,578 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. 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, beta testers 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. Starlink tells customers to expect speed variations between 50 to 150 Mbps in the beta testing phase.
Currently, signing up to test Starlink during the beta costs $99 per month, plus an initial $499 equipment cost required at sign up. 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, and then wait for an invitation.
Starlink is also expected to offer mobile satellite internet service, as per a remark made by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
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. 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.
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. 10% of the world’s population live in extreme poverty, which is defined by the UN as living on less than US$1.90 per day, per person. 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).
Where to get rural internet
Starlink is still in its early stages as a satellite provider and isn’t available everywhere yet. 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.
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?
Pros and cons of satellite internet
Availability: Satellite internet is available almost everywhere in the US. That makes it an excellent solution for rural areas.
Speed: Satellite internet is much faster than dial-up internet, even allowing you to stream videos online. Some plans are as fast as DSL or cable internet plans.
Flexibility: Satellite internet may not be good for niche activities like high-speed gaming but it performs well for most day-to-day usage like browsing, sending and checking emails, and even occasional video streaming (just watch that data cap).
Data allowances: Most satellite internet plans come with a limited allotment of data—a benchmark for how much information you can download or upload at the speeds you’re paying for. After you reach that data cap, your internet speed will slow down considerably.
Latency: Sending information to space and back takes a few seconds, making it difficult to play fast-paced online games.
Cost: The average cost of satellite internet (around $100 per month) is higher than other types of internet. Although there are some low priced satellite plans, these options offer very limited data that won’t work for most households.
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.
When Will Starlink Internet Be Available?
Over half a million people have placed orders for Starlink’s beta satellite internet service, but reviews are mixed.
When to sign up for Starlink
Starlink has a mega satellite constellation of over 1,500 satellites thus far, with more launching every month. But there are still thousands more satellite launches to go, so Starlink service is unreliable and inconsistent in many locations.
Should I get Starlink now?
Hold out a bit longer. Starlink service isn’t 100% operational yet. Right now, customers are told to expect periodic outages until the satellite constellation is more fully built out. Reviewers say Starlink is great when it works, but it’s still unreliable.19 If you plan to use Starlink for remote work or school, the frequent disconnections will be frustrating.
How many satellites still need to be launched?
Starlink originally filed for permission to launch 12,000 satellites, and since then the company has filed for permission to launch up to 42,000. This means that the current satellite constellation offers just bare bones connectivity to select areas, and limited capacity.
As gaps in the satellite constellation are filled in over the next 18 months, we’ll start to see more reliable internet service from Starlink and it’ll be capable of supporting more customers. That’s when we recommend signing up for Starlink.
What is the Starlink beta?
Starlink satellite internet service is currently undergoing a public beta—which SpaceX calls a “Better than Nothing Beta” as a reminder that service is still in its infancy. The Starlink beta users are told to expect periodic outages since the satellite constellation is not built out fully.
Why does my Starlink service go out a few times an hour?
Starlink has informed beta testers to experience periodic interruptions in connectivity. Why is this happening? It occurs because the Starlink constellation isn’t fully built out yet. Satellites speed across the sky every 2 to 3 minutes, and when there’s a gap between satellites, you’ll experience an outage. As more satellites are launched over the next few years, outages are expected to occur less frequently.
How well is Starlink performing in beta tests?
In private beta test results, Starlink has shown it can deliver a high-speed satellite internet connection of 100 Mbps or more, which is on par with Viasat’s fastest plan. Starlink service may be able to offer low latency (20–40 milliseconds), which may not be noticeable for activities like video streaming or sending emails but it will be helpful for online gamers.
As the satellite system is built out over the next few years, Starlink plans to expand satellite internet service throughout the world. However, the cost will likely prevent Starlink from “bridging the digital divide” as Starlink once promised. Currently, Starlink beta pricing is $99 per month, with an initial $499 equipment cost required at sign up. That’s a tad more than most were hoping for, and it prices it out of reach for the majority of the world’s unconnected population. Unless Starlink’s pricing changes, the service may end up being used by Tesla owners and wealthy globetrotters.
Where is Starlink beta available?
During the public beta, Starlink is available to customers who live between 45 and 53 degrees latitude. As the satellite constellation is built out further, additional regions will be added until it is available globally. You might be able to sign up on the waiting list for Starlink if you live in the northern US, Canada, or the UK.
If you want to find out when Starlink is available in your area, you can visit the Starlink website and request notifications on when Starlink service will roll out in your area.
Due to satellite capacity limitations, Starlink won’t be a good choice for urban areas. With satellite internet, each geographical area has a finite amount of capacity because all internet traffic has to pass through whatever satellites are closest to that particular area. In rural areas, where the population is spread out, a high percentage of the population could use Starlink and not max out the capacity. But in high-density urban areas, even a relatively low percentage of users will quickly overload the Starlink network. You can learn more about Starlink’s planned network on our Starlink satellite internet information page.
Starlink satellite launches
Starlink has been launching satellites into orbit since early 2018, with launches expected to continue for years. The first few launches (in 2018 and mid-2019) were test satellites, and those satellites aren’t officially part of the Starlink network since they aren’t fully operational. But by late 2019, Starlink worked out the kinks and satellite launches became a routine occurrence, scheduled in bimonthly batches of about 60 satellites.
Eventually, Starlink plans to have thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites in commission. Starlink’s satellite network resembles a fishnet with the satellites evenly spaced out across the Earth to form a tight-knit weave. As the satellites orbit, they maintain this formation. User terminals on Earth will automatically point and adjust to the satellites closest to them.
Here’s a list of all the SpaceX launches that have deployed Starlink satellites thus far.
SpaceX engineer said that testers have reported download speeds higher than 100 Mbps, which is fast enough for “multiple HD video streams with bandwidth to spare.” During the public beta launch, potential testers were told to expect speeds between 50 and 150 Mbps.
Under 30 ms
It is also reported that testers have experienced “super low latency” that will support fast-action online gaming.
Starlink beta test results showed latency under 30 milliseconds (ms), which is incredible for satellite internet. During the public beta that began in late October, customers were told that latency rates were between 20 ms to 40 ms.
Latency measures the delay or lag you experience when requesting or sending data, and notoriously high latency rates on most forms of satellite internet usually keeps people from gaming. The average satellite internet latency is between 594 milliseconds to 624 milliseconds, so Starlink’s low latency rate will be a boon for rural customers.
At least some of the satellites have the capability to share data with each other via space lasers. In September 2020, two satellites successfully used this feature. As more Starlink satellites begin using “space lasers” to transfer data with each other, speeds and latency are expected to continue to improve.
How does Starlink compare to Viasat and HughesNet?
Starlink download speeds reportedly range from 50–150 Mbps, which puts it in the same general category as Viasat’s 100 Mbps plan (Platinum Unlimited 100). HughesNet tops out at 25 Mbps, which is fast enough for activities like streaming but it may be noticeably slower than Starlink or Viasat. Some satellite providers do have high latency, which is another layer of speed you might not think about. Starlink also has unlimited data, a first for satellite plans, although there is no word on whether this feature will continue after the beta test.
High latency (or lag) means you’ll have a noticeable delay between the time you request information on the internet (such as clicking on a link to request viewing a web page) and the moment that it displays on your computer. This delay is caused by several factors, including the time it takes for your request to travel to servers and satellites orbiting the Earth, and then back to you.
Starlink can offer lower latency than Viasat and HughesNet due to the satellite design and location. Starlink’s satellites are much closer to the Earth than satellite systems used by Viasat or HughesNet. Starlink satellites orbit 550 kilometres (340 miles) from the Earth’s surface, while Viasat and HughesNet satellites are approximately 35,405 kilometres (22,000 miles) away from Earth.
Thanks to their closer proximity, Starlink satellites will deliver broadband internet with lower latency than other satellite providers—simply because data just won’t have to travel as far. Starlink’s lower latency will be helpful in everyday internet usage as well as in online gaming, video conferencing, and other tasks that are done in real time.
Conclusion: Starlink is interesting—but don’t hold your breath
Starlink has a lot of publicity, but it might not be a good solution for everyday Americans for several years. The initial sign up cost of $499 is cost prohibitive for many people, making companies like Viasat or HughesNet (who offer free signup) look more affordable. Plus, it may take a few years before the Starlink constellation is fully built out and available nationwide.
In the meantime, you can find the best internet options for rural areas today in our full review, which includes satellite internet from HughesNet and Viasat and LTE home internet solutions.
Looking ahead, you can expect to see developments from many companies. Viasat is building out a new satellite system—called the ViaSat-3—which is expected to launch later this year. This new satellite system will bring higher volume, more data, and faster speeds to a satellite network that’s been in place for nearly 20 years.
FAQ about Starlink availability
When will Starlink be available?
Starlink isn’t a fully functioning satellite provider yet. Currently, Starlink is available as a public beta to select customers in the northern United States, Canada. Beta testers can expect periodic service outages until the satellite constellation is fully built out and full service can be launched.
Where can I get Starlink internet?
Starlink satellite internet is currently undergoing beta testing in parts of the US, Canada, and the, UK, and Canada to people who live between 44 and 53 degrees latitude. A full launch date of the service has not been announced yet.
How fast is Starlink internet?
Starlink advertises the beta service as having speeds between 50 Mbps and 150 Mbps.15 These speeds are somewhat faster than satellite internet provider HughesNet but about the same as Viasat. If you need satellite service now, you can find out which internet plans are available in your area by entering your zip code below.
Is Starlink reliable enough to work remotely?
No, Starlink currently isn’t reliable enough to work remotely. Starlink service will improve within the next year or two as more satellites are launched. But the satellite constellation isn’t built out enough yet to provide continuous internet service. Starlink internet will blink out for a few minutes here and there throughout the day.
Starlink is still in the beta phase and reviews are mixed. So, if you’re wondering if now is the time to ditch your current provider and go all in with Starlink, we recommend holding back a few more months until Starlink service is more reliable.
Will I be able to use Starlink satellite service on the road?
According to Elon Musk, Starlink will eventually be a mobile solution.18 The company is developing a portable antenna for large trucks and RVs. Musk says that mobile service will be available by the end of 2021. For now, Starlink satellite internet service is tied to your location, so you can’t take it with you in an RV, on a boat, or to a remote worksite.
Will I be able to use Starlink satellite service on the road?
Yes, Starlink is planning to offer a VoIP phone service plan. Starlink will also offer emergency services.