Starlink review (hands on): How good is Elon Musk's satellite internet service?

Starlink delivers on a promise that’s been made for decades: getting broadband internet access in rural parts of the country. None has been able to deliver the goods. Until now. Elon Musk's rather audacious proposal to put thousands of satellites in the air to reach remote customers is already paying off according to our tests of the still-in-beta Starlink service.

In our initial Starlink review, we found it simple to set up and faster not only than DSL lines but also quicker than what many basic cable packages are actually able to deliver. Certainly as the only option for sparsely populated areas, Starlink could prove to be a godsend, albeit an expensive one. The basic hardware package is $499, plus $99 a month for service. (Shipping and taxes put the initial total at $581.94).

Based on several weeks of testing, here is what we like about Starlink so far — and what needs improvement.

What is Starlink and how does it work?

So why is Starlink such a savior? Because in many areas of the United States — let alone parts of the developing world — there is either no or very poor high-speed internet options. In our bucolic Vermont testing spot, for example, there is no cell service, no cable service and no optical fiber. And 5G won't help. The towers have to be too numerous to bounce signals around the mountains, and the lower frequency version of 5G that gives you more distance simply isn't fast enough. Enter Starlink's service.

Starlink uses a network of satellites in low earth orbit to bring the signal down to you. As of May 2021, there are more than 1,700 tiny Starlink satellites aloft, but thousands more are needed before the system is complete (each SpaceX Falcon 9 launch carries 60 satellites).

Unlike Dish or DirecTV birds, these are not geosynchronous or geostationary satellites, so the Starlink dish consumers use has to be able to move automatically should it need to realign itself to pick up a new satellite. But the big advantage Starlink has is that the lower earth orbit satellites, which are about 340 miles above the earth, substantially reduce the signal delay or latency, especially compared to DirecTV satellites, which are sitting over 22,000 miles above the planet.

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