Recently, the Starlink service was launched by SpaceX in Portugal. So I received a kit for Autel as soon as pre-sales opened. A few weeks ago, the long-awaited and stylish satellite dish arrived. Without delay, together with some developers on my team, we took it out of the box and went to install it in the garden outside the office.
Since that day, we have had the opportunity to use Starlink intensively and test its potential. We’ll get to that later in this article, but start with first impressions.
Starlink unboxing and first impressions
Among the first kits to arrive in Portugal, Netcost-security.fr opened it and showed its first impressions. This subsequent analysis was supported by the Altar.io team.
Inside the box:
- Starlink motorized antenna – connected to a 30 meter (100 ft) Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) cable
- a metal tripod
- an AC adapter
- A small metal Wi-Fi router with its own PoE cable.
The assembly of the equipment is extremely simple. Click the antenna on the tripod stand, connect the PoE cables from the router and antenna to the power adapter, plug it into the wall outlet, download the iOS or Android app, and you’re done.
The hardware is well designed, especially the metal Wi-Fi router, which looks like it was taken from a Cybertruck.
The dish itself is plastic and is mounted on a metal rod. The PoE cable is permanently connected to the antenna. By the way, this last part is important to point out – since there is no way to easily disconnect the PoE cable from the antenna, you may need to replace the entire antenna if the cable is damaged.
To use it outside you need to drill a hole in the wall or leave a window open at all times, as the cable is quite thick (7mm) and includes a thicker ferrite bead (19mm).
The app is also extremely well designed, with a consistent interface as you would expect from a company like SpaceX. Installation continues here without any connection requirements – maintaining the essence of the “plug and play” experience.
Starlink Setup and Internet Test
Long story short, the Starlink service offers a moderately fast (albeit somewhat inconsistent) broadband connection – under the right circumstances. Initially, the Starlink dish was installed in the garden. Although there are no obstructions directly above the apartment, the garden is located in the center of the building and is surrounded on all sides.
This was enough to jam the signal and not allow you to connect to the internet via Starlink (after 30 minutes of adjusting the antenna location). It is important to note that the Starlink proposal is not intended for downtown use. On the contrary, its main objective is to be able to bring broadband Internet to rural areas.
In this way, we refurbished Starlink and went to other more “outdoor” stops.
Initially, we installed Starlink in the garden, 5 meters from the house. Although it was a much more open space than the office, it was still obstructed by the height of the house (~7 meters).
So, after performing all the scheduled tests, we moved Starlink to an open field with no obstructions and re-run the tests. Despite the placement of the plate (garden/obstructed and field/unobstructed), we kept all other aspects of the test setups the same.
Here are the results:
- ISP: SpaceX Services, Inc.
- External IP address: 217.65.138.***.
- Access to 1700 Starlink satellites in orbit at 550 km altitude, operating downlinks between 10.7 GHz and 29.1 GHz.
- Distance between device (Android 11 smartphone) and WiFi hotspot: 2 m
- RSSI: -62dBm (Good)
- Noise: -80 dBm (Good)
- Method used: Ookla SpeedTest via native Android application.
A speed test estimates the available network capacity between the client and the server. The test throughput depends on the distance between the 2 points (round trip time). That way, the closest throughput measurement server will give you the most accurate results – in our case, the server was chosen automatically by the Ookla app.
As recommended by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), we run tests at random times throughout the day (including peak and off-peak times).
Test #1: Flow (Downstream, Upstream)
Using the native Ookla app, we performed 31 measurements at random intervals over two days against the next fastest server (automatically selected by the Ookla app).
Below we can see the flow results for clogged and unobstructed conditions:
After completing the throughput tests, we move on to the latency and timeout test.
Test #2: latency and timeouts
For this test, we performed a continuous measurement for 260 minutes. The objective here was to measure the number of timeouts that occur in the obstructed and unobstructed scenarios. In the obstructed scenario (in the garden, 5 meters from the ~7 meters high house), we observed 576 waiting times in the 260-minute test.
That is, there was the possibility of an interruption every minute:
In contrast, in the unobstructed configuration (open field), we observed 47 timeouts in the 260-minute test.
This time, the interrupt possibility has been reduced to once every 5 minutes:
There are not two interpretations, for an ideal connection the place where the plate is placed is fundamental. So, in a clear scenario, we had no problems working with Starlink. We were able to maintain a database connection most of the time using Spotify, downloading files and browsing the internet.
However, with the landscape obstructed, it was practically unusable for work. There were many interruptions. The connection was dropped quite often, the database connection was unstable, and we often had to refresh the web pages and wait for them to work.
Despite this, for normal smartphone usage, there were no noticeable differences between obstructed and unobstructed scenarios. By “normal smartphone use” we mean streaming music/video and using social media/chat apps).
Regarding power consumption, Starlink consumes around 100W – although this can vary if the satellite engines are active.
We have not seen any overheating or thermal issues with any of the kit parts, and the dish appears to stay at a comfortable temperature of 23°C to 25°C during use.
Is Starlink a true competitor to rural wired broadband?
In rural areas with good internet infrastructure (basic fiber optics, for example), Starlink cannot compete at this time. However, it is in areas where minimal cable broadband connections are shaky that Starlink begins to shine.
Starlink’s other bonus is the fact that it doesn’t have a contract. So if you’re temporarily moving to a rural area (where a 24-month contract isn’t worth it), it might be worth installing a Starlink kit.
After all, the kit is yours as soon as you buy it, and even if you can’t resell it, even if you don’t use it, it can be a beautiful (albeit quite expensive) coffee table.
Starlink is a remarkable engineering project, and SpaceX’s ability to turn it into a consumer product is truly impressive. That said, it’s important to note that Starlink is not going to take down traditional cable companies any time soon.
Firstly, its price is high, as in addition to the equipment that costs €500, there is a monthly service fee of €99 here in Portugal.
It’s still too expensive for what it offers: reasonable bandwidth, which works with inconsistent connectivity and large latency fluctuations. This scenario will likely change as SpaceX launches more satellites. It may work best when surrounded by tall trees or buildings, but this remains to be seen.
However, I think traditional telcos should be on the lookout for Starlink. Product execution, the hustle and bustle of a democratized internet connection, doesn’t bode well for the giants in the industry.
Separation is on the way.