What is Starlink, how does it work, and what does it cost?

(Pocket-lint) – Elon Musk, the billionaire SpaceX and Tesla CEO, has another venture called Starlink that has been launching hundreds of satellites into space, with the goal of offering high-speed broadband internet to subscribers – even while on the go. Here’s what you need to know.

What is Starlink?

Starlink is a six-year-old division within SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company. It has spent three years launching more than 1,000 satellites into orbit, and it recently scored $885.5 million in grant funds from the US Federal Communications Commission. It’s now offering preorders/sign-ups, and in February 2021, Elon Musk disclosed that Starlink now serves more than 10,000 customers.

The idea is Starlink’s satellites can connect you to the internet. Starlink promises to deliver “high-speed broadband internet to locations where access has been unreliable or completely unavailable”. Currently, it only works for homes and isn’t mobile, but that’s coming. There are other satellite internet service providers out there, too, such as HughesNet or Viasat, but Starlink is more well-known because of its connection to Elon Musk and SpaceX.

There are a few components to Starlink: The satellite internet constellation (which is also called Starlink) that beams internet access down to Earth, the ground-based hardware needed to connect to Starlink’s satellite internet service, and the subscription fee that SpaceX charges for you to use its internet.

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How many Starlink satellites are in space?

Starlink’s first prototype satellites launched into orbit in 2018. There have been more than 20 successful launches since then, bringing the total number of satellites launched to nearly 1,300 as of February 2021. SpaceX launched some of the satellites into orbit using the Falcon 9 orbital rocket.

Eventually, Starlink hopes to surround the entire planet with satellites that can beam down a usable, high-speed Wi-Fi signal. Starlink will probably need at least 10,000 satellites in orbit to achieve that goal. SpaceX has suggested it wants as many as 30,000 satellites in the constellation, while Musk has claimed the service should hit worldwide availability sometime in 2022 – if it can successfully complete several more satellite launches.

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What does the Starlink hardware include?

When you subscribe to Starlink, you will get a kit that includes a satellite dish and router.

All you need to do to make the connection is set up the satellite dish at your home. It receives the signal and passes the bandwidth on to your router. There’s a Starlink app for Android and iOS that features augmented reality to help customers pick the best location to place their receivers at home.

How fast is Starlink’s internet service?

Starlink’s website says you can expect to see data speeds “vary from 50 to 150 megabits per second and latency from 20 to 40 milliseconds in most locations over the next several months”. In February 2021, Musk claimed the internet service would double its top speeds (up to 300Mbps) by the end of the year. Either way, as Starlink launches more satellites, your internet connection – including data speed, latency, and uptime – should improve.

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Can you use Starlink in poor weather?

We haven’t had a chance to test Starlink, but weather does appear to be an issue. According to Starlink, the receiver is capable of melting snow that lands on it, but the company recommends installing Starlink in a location that avoids snow build-up and other obstructions from blocking the field of view. It also notes: “Heavy rain or wind can also affect your satellite internet connection, potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage”.

Can you use Starlink while on the go?

Musk revealed on Twitter in April 2021 that the service is ready to go “fully mobile”. Keep in mind, currently, Starlink customers can’t move their existing hardware from address to address. As a beta member, you must submit your location information at checkout and then stay put with the equipment. Musk is admitting that Starlink’s terminals are too big for Tesla’s vehicles, but he said they could work in planes, RVs, trucks, and ships.

The SpaceX CEO later clarified that Starlink “should be fully mobile later this year, so you can move it anywhere or use it on an RV or truck in motion”. However, he said the company still needs a few more “satellite launches to achieve [complete] coverage and some key software upgrades”.

In other words, it sounds like Starlink will be out of beta by the end of the year. Pocket-lint will keep you posted as soon as we know more.

Where is Starlink available?

According to SpaceX, Starlink’s service is “ideally suited for areas of the globe where connectivity has typically been a challenge”. It is currently only available in select parts of the US, Canada, the UK, and other areas, with coverage focused on areas sitting between 45 and 53 degrees North latitude.

Coverage will grow as more satellites are added to the Starlink constellation.

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Who can try Starlink?

Starlink has begun accepting preorders from customers who want to try the company’s “Better Than Nothing” beta program. Starlink says that it’s accepting preorders from customers on a first-come, first-served basis. Some preorders could take up to six months to fulfill.

How much does Starlink cost?

The internet service itself costs $99 per month (plus taxes and fees). It also costs $500 for the mountable satellite dish and router.

Writing by Maggie Tillman.

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