Starlink testing begins

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Publisher of Panbo.com, passionate marine electronics enthusiast, 100-ton USCG master.

15 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    When can will it be available for international roaming. Start with the Caribbean, but move to the med and beyond. Also, since there are few users in the middle of the atlantic or pacific, and no counties to claim a fee or royalty or tax, when can we see it for trans -continental voyages.

    • Robert Cronin Sullivan says:

      I doubt that international roaming will be available. My starlink from the United States does not work in Mexico due to bureaucratic treaties and whatnot.

  2. Fred Murphy says:

    Interesting , can’t wait to see testing at a mooring with boat moving around or driving across country in an R/V.

  3. Ben-
    I didn’t see any uplink data for your testing. Is it running about 10% of the download rate?

    With regard to mobile operations – very high speed satellite data rates require very high gain antennas with very narrow beamwidths. That implies very accurate pointing angles for the antenna to track the satellite. In a truly mobile application with motion in more than in one plane – such as on a boat at sea, will require exceptionally capable electronic tracking via a true Electronic Phased array antenna. The cost of the later is so significant as to be prohibitive for most users. I was on a design team during the Microsoft Teledesic Internet system that strove to develop low cost phased arrays for users but failed. Many low data rate mobile satellite systems do exist of course – but truly high data rates similar to what you are testing remains unavailable for a host of technical and cost reasons.

    Most satellite based internet systems use two different frequencies for uplink and downlink. Usually the uplink is higher frequency so that the beamwidths of the user antennas on the ground are narrower and less likely to overlap onto adjacent satellites and cause undesired jamming / noise floor increase on the victim satellite(s). Therefore the antenna design becomes more complicated with a dual frequency structure to accomplish both transmit and receive functions.

    If there are many users on mobile systems that are having trouble accurately pointing their transmit beam at a desired satellite these many users will be wildly spraying many satellites with unwanted incoming signals that in the limit could jam the satellite receivers and render throughput useless. Thus I suspect that until low cost electronically scanned arrays become available high speed data on the move will remain elusive. Many are working this problem but it has yet to be solved. The problem has persisted for commercial transport aircraft for the last 25 years. My team provided a receive only system for Paul Allen’s 757 back in the late 90’s that worked very well (DirecTV / DISH), but transmit / uplink would require a second transmit antenna to provide the needed antenna gain and required low sidelobe operation. There are new systems available for commercial transports but they have failed to become ubiquitous. Most systems operate on air to ground for data in flight.

    One other thing to consider is the need for an eventual up / downlink to master ground stations where the connection to the internet is actually made. Over the oceans there are no local up/ downlinks available and thus satellite to satellite linking would be required to bride the gap to the ground. This problem is solved for GEO satellites that have dedicated ground stations and massive antennas servicing up and downlinks to the internet, but moving LEO / MEO satellites pose a bigger challenge as it is just not possible to dedicate shore stations to each moving satellite over the sea(2000 – 42000!!!!). When over continents there are many opportunities for links to terrestrial services for each satellite. So if mobile operations at sea are available they are most likely in littoral regions close to shore but less likely mid ocean. INMARSAT / VIASAT have provided GEO satcom for oceanic crossings for many years but not at the high speed rates being discussed here. Certainly things like MAZU, INREACH and other services provide basic transoceanic services at very low data rates. So the issue at hand here is high speed data that requires considerably more capability to achieve the required Signal to Noise ratios to permit those high speed operations.

    A few Antenna Examples include:
    https://www.ball.com/aerospace/programs/tactical-mission-systems/satcom-antennas
    https://www.aviationtoday.com/2019/05/16/boeing-flat-antenna-satcom-mq-25-stingray/ – Notice the two apertures – separate transmit and receive arrays.
    https://www.microwavejournal.com/events/2138-online-panel-will-flat-panel-beamsteering-arrays-meet-the-satcom-challenge
    https://www.kymetacorp.com/ This is probably the most unique system out there.

    Basically you can see that mobile satellite high speed internet is an exceptionally complicated topic that has been under development for years. It exists at the very high cost end but there are no affordable systems available yet.

  4. Thanks for linking to my article on my testing. I actually have an updated article coming out in a day or two with really great results from testing underway, at anchor, and more.

    My original articles were using the v1 hardware, but I also have the v2 version just like you’re testing as well. I’ve done some weird mounts to try to see how it reacts, and have had some issues with radar interference which I’ll be covering in the article as well.

    So far, it has really surprised me how well it has worked, although there are still some limits. It’s turning out to be a really viable solution even in it’s current revisions as long as you know the limitations.

  5. Bob Smith says:

    Ben, you said: “After my successful on-dock test, the dish has been moved to Have Another Day’s hardtop. So far, at least while tied to the dock, I’ve had no troubles with obstructions.”

    Okay, but what about signal loss as the boat rocks?

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      The boat hasn’t left the slip since I installed Starlink over the weekend. So far, I’ve seen no impact from minor rocking in the slip. But, I wouldn’t have expected I would. In fact, I’d think it was pretty concerning if I was seeing any change from a few degrees of rocking.

      -Ben S.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Ya that picture really screams Rural area in dire need of internet connection.

    You sure are bridging the divide starlink. Like making the one between the poor and the rich even wider maybe.

    Amazing how my elderly parents in the middle of nowhere rural WI have been on the list for over a year and service still not available, which is BS.

    Anyone who understands how it works would look at the map of coverage and say…well it’s avaliable 20 miles to the north, south, east and west in highly populated areas near major communications backhauls and they live in the singal highest point in the country so how could it not be available there, its not lineof site, you can see almoat 10 miles tonthe horizon….well it’s mostly because what they are doing is a big marketing scheme and people who can afford a boat like that with a radar worth more than what most in rural american can afford to spend on internet in a few years….

    They spend time making posts like this and most likely rural American will continue to be hosed like they have been for years when big companies promise great things and never fulfill them, why dont thwy…..we’ll there is no money in it. And if it really fixed anything they would all have to stop asking for more money to fix it.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      Anonymous, first, if you came to a boating site looking for pictures of rural areas needing internet connectivity, you’re likely to be disappointed. Second and perhaps more importantly, I’m not seeing the same thing you are with regards to availability. Instead, what I see is almost exactly the opposite. I’ve attached a screenshot of Starlink’s map as of this morning. I see waitlists in nearly every population center and availability in less populated areas.

      Starlink coverage map

      I also think placing the burden on Starlink to resolve a decades old infrastructure problem is likely to lead to frustration. Starlink has spent $10 billion to launch their initial constellation. They’re a business and for that business to survive and thrive they need a volume of subscribers.

      Lastly, Starlink didn’t spend any time making this post. I did. I paid for my Starlink terminal just like everyone else, I pay for my service just like everyone else and I received no special consideration in the waitlist.

      -Ben S.

  7. Bruce says:

    Thanks for this article. We would be very interested to see how this technology progresses and the capability in the near future for our trip to the Bahamas.

  8. A given satellite is only overhead for a couple of minutes, so your service disruptions are probably when there aren’t enough satellites in range, or the active satellite is briefly obstructed. There are some great unofficial maps like https://satellitemap.space/ that show where the satellites are.

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    There’s lots of seemingly valid testing info being shared in the “Starlink On Boats” group on Facebook. The good news I noticed is that it seems to work underway in at least moderate sea conditions. Then again, apparently it also cuts out when you get 12 miles offshore.

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/starlinkonboats

  10. Tom Brady says:

    I’ve been on Starlink at home for nearly 3 months and my experience is summed up by 3 things.

    A. Support. Support is virtually non existent. If you have a hardware failure, plan on a least a month of downtime to get replacement hardware. Currently their support is 99.9% by email through their app with actual response time other than computer generated emails taking 10 days to 2 weeks.
    B. Latency. Latency is all over the map varying from 30ms up to 130 ms. The resulting jitter is not kind to real time applications like Zoom.
    C. Brief outages. I see 1 or 2 up to 10-12 of these in a 12 hour period. These last from 3 to 15 seconds.

    There is very little public information available on how Starlink operates their network. For example are their terminals full duplex or half duplex, probably the later. Do they use regional processing centers that aggregate data from multiple gateways to hand off to the internet? The answer is probably yes since web sites think I am in Seattle based on my IP address. I think many of these small outages are related to satellite handoffs on user terminals and gateways. The data path changes on each handoff. In terms of complexity it is probably the most complex data network put in operation to date. Everything in the network is constantly changing except the user terminal. Put that terminal on a boat and that is yet mother level of complexity.

    I find it a tremendous technical accomplishment to make it work, but it has a ways to go before if is the reliability equal of a terrestrial network.

  11. Tom Brady says:

    Starlink recently signed a contract with Hawaiian Airlines to provide WiFi services on their aircraft. I think that means Starlink will start using their laser crosslinks when that service starts. They have got around 700 or so satellites in the 53.2 degree inclination with laser crosslinks, so they might be getting close to inaugurating service beyond the near shore areas. They do have to get there licensing for ESIM approved.

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