LEO satellites – SpaceX Starlink
What is a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellite?
Picture with text. Text reads: LEO satellite connections such as Starlink rely on a ‘constellation’ of satellites which then transmit a signal to your devices.
Low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites are satellites that orbit the Earth at a height of 180–2,000km. This is significantly lower than geostationary orbit (GEO) satellites, which orbit at around 36,000 kilometres from Earth. Because of the lower altitude of LEO satellites, it takes less time for a signal to travel from a device (such as a computer) to the satellite and back (known as latency), allowing for faster transmission of data.
Because of their orbiting height, LEO satellites work differently than geostationary satellites. GEO satellites can cover huge areas with a single satellite due to their height, but LEO satellites are deployed in “constellations” that work together to provide coverage for larger areas.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is the world’s first and largest satellite constellation using a low Earth orbit to deliver broadband internet capable of supporting streaming, online gaming, video calls and more. It was developed by the private space exploration company called SpaceX, which was founded by Elon Musk and is available across Australia. Starlink support is provided by an app via the US headquarters, from where they serve their global customer base.
Upon purchase, Starlink sends a kit for self-installation, including the Starlink dish, WiFi router, cables and mount. It is self-orienting and connects in minutes providing it has a clear, unobstructed view of the sky. These kits can be used in homes, businesses, and RVs (recreational vehicles) and costs apply, depending on the type of kit purchased. Starlink manages their services via a mobile app.
As information changes frequently, you can find out more about Starlink, view any frequently asked questions, check your ability to access Starlink, and access troubleshooting tips for your service at here. The Better Internet for Rural, Regional and Remote Australia (BIRRR) website also has additional information on Starlink, including the pros and cons of the service.
Current Starlink costs (as of 03/03/2023)
- One-off fee of A$450 for Starlink hardware (discount applied, normally $924).
- Standard residential plan is $139/month.
Useful information when ordering Starlink
- Check Starlink’s availability map on their website to see if there is coverage in your specific location.
- If there is no coverage, information on the map shows when it is expected to be activated.
- In some locations the cell for your area may be full, meaning there is a waitlist. It is possible to pay a deposit and receive an estimate on the roll-out window. However, placing a deposit does not guarantee service. Please read Starlink’s Pre-Order agreement here.
- Just like with GEO satellites, a clear line of site to the sky is required (typically due south, unlike GEO Satellites which is estimated to require 100 degrees of the sky).
- When you choose your installation location, remember to look for obstructions, such as trees or other built infrastructure that may impede signal strength.
- Initially powering on can take up to 20 minutes, which includes configuring the wireless details/software updates on the included router.
- Obstruction information in the app can take a minimum of 12 hours to build.
- When purchasing a Starlink service, costs that need to be considered include the Starlink kit, credit card usage, additional equipment (such as ethernet cables), and installation by a registered cabler.
- If you have an issue with your Starlink service, the preferred process is to open a ticket via your account in the Customer Support panel on the mobile app, using ‘consumer complaint’ in the subject line. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1800 954 824, however, it is important to note with any of these methods, the initial lodgement of your complaint is managed through automatic responses which guide you in lodging your complaint, not human interaction. You can find out more about Starlink’s complaint process here.
Tips for signing up to Starlink
- Consider using a mobile number instead of a landline number when signing up with Starlink. This is because Starlink predominantly uses online and text support to resolve troubleshooting issues or problems with your account.
- Use a freely provided email address like @gmail.com or @hotmail.com as your contact email address, as provider-based emails such as from Bigpond may block your confirmation email from Starlink.
- Ensure you have entered the correct spelling of email addresses and correct digits of mobile numbers, as login information after completing signup is sent to the email and it can be challenging to correct once the signup is completed.
- Keep a record of your order number when it is displayed on the screen (once you have signed up), as you may need to provide this if there are problems with your account or service.
- Ensure you only place orders with Starlink directly (starlink.com), as there are currently no resellers in Australia.
- If you cannot log in to your account, visit here and choose one of the options provided.
- Fast download and upload speeds, lower latency
- Currently offer unlimited data plans
- Plans are easy to order and are directly through Starlink.
- Can be relocated (if the new location’s cell isn’t full) and portable (for an additional cost). Self service tools are available on online to assist with this.
- Available in all Australian areas including island locations, under residential, business and RV plans.
- Support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week via the US overseas headquarters (see above for ways to get in touch with Starlink support).
- The Starlink dish is designed to withstand wind speeds of over 200km/h, provided it is securely mounted.
- While the range of coverage is across all of Australia, the number of connections per cell is limited and in some areas are filling up fast.
- SpaceX is an international company, with their support network based in the US. Typically, the way to access support is through the mobile app
- The equipment is not guaranteed to withstand temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius, therefore the dish should be brought inside on extremely hot days. Remember, there can be dangers with interfering with electrical equipment, and you cannot operate the dish once it is inside.
- There is a 12-month warranty on equipment, which excludes damage from weather, human, and animal impact.
- There are currently no Australian suppliers of Starlink services to residential homes.
- Equipment needs to be connected to the network at a minimum of every few months to maintain software updates.
- While speeds are generally fast and latency is low, dropouts can occur when the connection is switching satellites which could impact video conferencing and voice calls.
- Plans, costs, data limits and speeds can be changed without notice.
- Should you need to replace hardware, shipping time takes between 1-2 weeks.
Canstar Blue has also provided a comprehensive review of Starlink here.
Other LEO satellite operators
SpaceX Starlink is currently the only commercially operating LEO satellite service available in Australia. However, the number of providers is expected to grow in the coming 1-3 years. Other LEO satellite service providers that are expected to service Australia, include: