Launched in Spain in May 2021, the Starlink satellite Internet offer represents an attractive solution for providing a high-speed connection in areas poorly served by fiber or even ADSL. We were able to test it.
Offered for more than 20 years now, satellite Internet has evolved to provide performance corresponding to our increasingly demanding uses of the web, without however really becoming more democratic. It remains penalized by an installation that is not always easy to perform, it is limited in speed, restricted in terms of data volume and above all suffers from very high latency (500 to 700 ms) which limits certain uses such as video games. or even videoconferencing, for example. Satellite Internet access offers thus remain considered as palliative solutions to a poor ADSL connection, or even 4G, to open up certain households. This situation is currently evolving with the deployment of a new type of Internet by satellite, based on constellations of satellites in low orbit. A solution rightly chosen by SpaceX, Elon Musk's company focused on the ultra-atmospheric, for its Starlink offer.
A constellation of satellites in low orbit for better performance
Starlink is thus based not on a single satellite in geostationary orbit (approximately 36 km), unlike the satellite solutions we have known until then, but on a myriad of small satellites (000 kg) deployed in low orbit (in clusters of 260 ). These move at an altitude of around 60 km and communicate with relay stations on the ground, which are responsible for transmitting the data they receive from a fiber link. The connection with the user is only made via a small dish that is automatically oriented towards the Starlink satellites, which makes the system stand-alone and potentially usable in roaming, although Starlink does not - yet - officially foresee this use case.
The Starlink installation kit received by our friend Christophe, whom we thank for letting us discover Starlink in his company.
An installation could not be simpler
Charged € 499 (plus € 59 handling and delivery costs on the order), the Starlink installation kit contains a satellite dish with tripod that just needs to be placed on the ground. It is also possible to install it on a wall or a roof, provided you buy a suitable support or mast, as with any dish.
The app guides us step by step through the installation of the Starlink kit.
It should obviously be placed in a perfectly clear area, without obstruction that would block the signals exchanged with the satellites.
The app detects obstructions that could block the satellite signal.
We are helped for this by the Starlink app for smartphones (iOS and Android) which offers to scan the environment around the installation point to ensure that it is clear enough.
You just have to “scan” the sky with your smartphone at the installation point of the dish.
Then all you have to do is connect the long (20 m) Ethernet PoE (Power over Ethernet) cable to the box including the power adapter and the modem, then connect it to a plug. A small Ethernet cable is then to be connected to a second metallic gray and white box which is none other than a wifi router.
Modern design for Starlink wifi router.
Manual orientation point of the dish to be carried out, in fact, because it is motorized and automatically points in the right direction. As long as care has been taken to limit obstructions as much as possible, the system then operates automatically. We are free to use the router provided to take advantage of Starlink's home interface and the wifi network it offers, or to use our own router to configure the network as we see fit. An auxiliary Ethernet port is also available at the output of the Starlink router to easily distribute the network in the home, with a simple switch, for example.
The application allows you to create a wifi network. All you have to do is connect to it.
It took us less than 30 minutes from the start of the installation to our first flow measurement. This first installation was however only temporary and the time necessary for a final installation, if one wishes to fix the dish more firmly and take care of the passage of its cable, will necessarily be a little more time-consuming. But we especially remember from this experience the simplicity of the implementation and configuration by following the step-by-step guide of the Starlink app.
A little timid speeds during the first tests, but that was only the beginning ...
Performance at the rendezvous
If our first speed tests turned out to be somewhat disappointing, falling within the low range of what Starlink promises (50 to 60 Mb / s approximately), new tests in the days which followed showed that the commitments of Achieving or exceeding 150 Mbits / s was perfectly maintained. Such a speed has even become a low average for this installation since we have repeatedly observed speeds greater than 250 Mb / s. On average over 19 tests carried out at different times of the day and over three days, we calculate approximately 184 Mb / s in downlink. The lowest measured flow still reaches 97 Mb / s and the highest 302 Mb / s. In uplink flow, on the other hand, it is necessary to be satisfied with 17 Mb / s on average. Let us note in passing the fluctuating nature of these tests which can give an excellent flow rate as well as much more modest one after a few minutes.
In any case, we are still far from a good fiber connection which can now exceed 1 Gb / s, but compared to the ADSL connection used until then in this household, the speed has been multiplied by 40 in reception and by 170 in emission! 4G, for its part, reaches around 50 Mb / s here (Orange network), but is constrained by a limited data envelope. The Starlink satellite connection is also less subject to saturation for the moment during periods of high demand on the networks (particularly in the evening), during which 4G connections tend to suffer. It will nevertheless be necessary to be attentive to its behavior when more subscribers will use Starlink at the same time, also knowing that SpaceX is still far from having deployed all the satellites of its constellation (1800 currently out of the 12 planned for 000).
Some flow tests carried out at different times of the day.
As for latency, this time we are in a high range compared to Starlink's promises with an average of 44 ms over the 19 tests carried out. A decent value, but a bit high for those who want to indulge in competitive multiplayer video games.
In terms of connection stability, there are still a few cuts of a handful of seconds on certain days. It should however be remembered that the service is still offered in beta, although it is supposed to exit this testing phase in the coming days (announced for October 2021). Moreover, the impact of bad weather conditions remains fairly moderate. Apart from a stormy day during which the cuts were frequent and longer, the connection remained stable and the speeds little affected by a congested sky.
An offer that would benefit from democratization
This first experience with Starlink teaches us several things. First of all, that the deployed satellite network already ensures sufficient connection quality for domestic use. Installation is also within reach of just about anyone… technically. Because it is at the level of the financial scope that the shoe pinches. At € 558 to order, then € 99 / month, the Starlink satellite Internet access offer is very expensive today, which is intended for the moment for households who can afford this expense, or who do not. have no real alternative. With this price two to three times higher than ADSL, fiber or even 4G, Starlink cannot currently claim to compete with traditional access providers. It nevertheless offers an attractive and life-saving solution for households a little too far from cities, which can not count on ADSL or 4G and may for some still wait a long time for the arrival of fiber (not before 2026 for the home in which we were able to carry out these first tests) or a 4G / 5G antenna. And then, with the economies of scale, we can imagine that SpaceX will reduce its bill as it grows.