Starlink satellite dish setup in the Idaho panhandle's Coeur d'Alene National Forest. Photo by Wandering-coder.

WINTHROP – Beginning October 26th, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) went into a public beta - limited to northern latitudes of the US - with its low-Earth orbit satellite internet service, called Starlink. The hype was that it would be a low latency, high bandwidth, internet service to under-served areas such as the great expanse of rural America where terrain, distance or the plodding of a bureaucratic and outdated telco, prevent any decent connection to the internet, and, in many cases, no connection at all.

Some existing satellite internet service options, such as Viasat and HughesNet, use a handful of geostationary satellites in high earth orbit, approximately 22,000 miles above the earth’s surface. This introduces a significant delay on every data packet transmitted to and received from the satellite. So it is either extremely frustrating to use, or is simply not usable for some applications that require low latency such as voip and video calls, online gaming, and remote terminals. In addition, such satellite service is often very expensive, slow and overloaded, and data caps severely limit usage. Despite the downsides, until now, it's been the only option for those with no other internet choices.

Starlink claimed to be able to surpass all these limitations of existing services, and deliver low latency, high bandwidth connections to the middle of nowhere, including on the open ocean. It was a big claim, and many were skeptical that it could be done. Starlink was intending to meet this challenge with the design of a satellite constellation of up to 12,000 small satellites, later enlarged to 42,000 satellites, in low-Earth orbit only 340 miles high.

I have been experiencing poor or unavailable internet service from my location a few miles from Winthrop, and was willing to experiment with Starlink and see how it lived up to the hype. So of course, I signed up to be a beta tester soon after it was offered earlier this summer. The private beta began in July, and required testers to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) preventing them from discussing their beta experience. An NDA is not required for the current public beta. 

A friend got their public beta invitation first, when the first batches went out on Oct 26th. But they weren’t able to get past the up-front cost of $500 for the satellite equipment kit, plus $50 shipping, and nearly another $50 in sales tax. The ongoing service then costs $99 a month. There were also additional mounting options available for the dish, ranging from $24 to $99. A ground tripod stand is included with the kit. I tried looking through all my emails, and spam folder, to see if I had missed my invitation, but saw nothing.

I finally got my emailed beta invitation 2 days later, on the 28th. And submitted my order as fast as I could type in my payment card information. I required the ridge-line roof mount, an extra $99 with free shipping, but it was well worth it not to put holes in the roof and to be as high up and clear of obstructions as possible. Overall, it was a fairly steep startup cost to be sure, yet it looks really good in comparison when you have no other reasonable options for internet service. But the cost certainly could have been much worse, as SpaceX is likely significantly subsidizing the equipment. SpaceX packed and shipped my order the same day, and sent it via FedEx from their headquarters location in Hawthorne, California.

I received my Starlink internet kit, and the roof mount in a separate package, on Monday, Nov 2nd. Naturally, I got setup to install it immediately. The Starlink app (for Android and Apple), with its augmented reality obstruction viewer feature, will help you find a dish location that is open sky to the satellites, without trees, poles, and other objects that would block the signal.

When inspecting the package, the build quality of the dish and related components appears quite high. It’s packaged very well, and it’s quite simple to follow three steps of instruction and setup the dish. Starlink equipment is intended for consumer self-installs, there’s no need to wait for an installer to come out, and it’s been engineered at every step to require no special skills or knowledge from the user. The roof mount, was also well built, and appeared well-engineered, being foldable with a locking mechanism. It appeared to be made out of a lighter metal than steel, apparently powder-coated aluminum. Which fact I didn’t fully appreciate until I had to haul it up and deploy the mount at the ridgeline of the roof, over my head, while standing on a ladder.

When the satellite dish was hooked up and powered up, it takes only a few minutes to orient itself and connect to a satellite overhead. The Starlink dishes are engineered with a motor inside that moves the dish, which allows them to self-orient and point the dish in the right direction for signal. This is quite unlike your existing satellite TV/Internet dish which requires a technician to come out and orient and adjust to the fixed location of the geostationary satellite.

Once pointed in the general direction, the Starlink dish does not further move to track the moving satellites overhead. It is actually a phased array antenna, which electronically steers the signal to track the satellite, and then to complete a switchover to the next satellite moving into position overhead. In low-Earth orbit, satellite windows, the periods when the moving satellite is overhead and visible to a fixed point on the ground, are only about 15 to 20 minutes long.

I plugged the network cable from the Starlink “box” and power supply into my own router and suddenly I had internet access! FAST internet access! As in, I’ve never before had internet access this fast! Various speedtests show that I am getting a fairly consistent maximum connection of between 150 and 180 mbps down, and around 15 mbps up from Starlink. My latency to Seattle servers is between 21 to 24 ms. Those are simply amazing numbers. Especially when one considers that a large portion of my connection to Seattle went through empty space for hundreds of miles above us. 

 

Starlink Speedtest results from Winthrop, WA
Starlink Speedtest results from Winthrop, WA

 

Starlink’s beta service delivers speeds that are much faster than any other internet service available in the Methow Valley, except possibly for some rare fiber-optic connections in the towns of Winthrop and Twisp. During the beta, at least, the service is also uncapped, with no limits on data transfer. Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO, says that latency, speed, uptime, and capacity will only continue to improve over the next few months. They are still waiting for several strings of recently launched satellites to complete their self-lift from the deployment orbit and reach their assigned positions in the constellation. That process should complete over the next few months.

The service is still in beta, and does not represent the intended final quality of the service. I have been pinging my server in Seattle every second while on Starlink service, and those ping graphs had shown connection dropouts of between 1 to 2 minutes long, intermittently but roughly once an hour. There are many smaller dropouts of about 10 to 20 seconds each that tend to occur more frequently. There was also a widespread satellite outage of about 40 minutes last Thursday afternoon, the 5th. That said, in the 2nd week of service, I’ve already noticed significant improvements, and the connection dropouts are now shorter and less frequent. Due to the dropouts, the connection uptime percentage has been from 98.4% the first week, to 99% in the 2nd week, measured every second over an 8 hour period. It varies a bit day to day, and by time of day, but appears to be consistently maintaining uptime of over 98%.

Under normal use, you would rarely notice the connection dropouts, except for sensitive uses such as gaming, voip and video calls, and tunnel/VPN connections. Still, my SSH connections to remote servers only disconnect during the longer connection dropouts of more than a minute.

I haven’t noticed any degrading of connection speed during the foggy, overcast and rainy, and snowy weather that we’ve had in the valley the last couple weeks. That was a big concern since the high frequency signals used in the connection to and from the satellite are severely attenuated by high moisture levels in the atmosphere. At the speeds that we are getting now though, that doesn’t seem to be much of a problem.

There was further concern from potential users about the outdoor dish in snowy weather, and whether snow would build up on the dish and require manual cleaning. That would not be a fun chore for a roof install. Apparently, SpaceX engineers have already considered this very real issue for the northern climes and built small heaters into the dish to warm the surface and melt snow and ice off the dish.

It is unknown when Starlink service will exit beta, and what the various aspects – cost, speed, data transfer cap – will look like when it does. It’s possible that it may become more generally available after February 2021.

In conclusion, the Starlink internet service is, in my opinion, certainly living up to the pre-launch hype, and, along with SpaceX, is an amazing use of private capital in furthering technological engineering in a stagnating industry. It seems positioned to greatly improve the lives of many people in rural America when the service rolls out to general availability. Even if you can't get or afford Starlink service, the increased competition on price, speed, and improved service they bring to the rural internet provider market will soon result in much better internet available for everyone living outside of cities and their nearby suburban areas. Just like SpaceX's space transport improvements and lower launch prices did in shaking up the global space industry.

I’ll take questions in the comments for those that wish to delve deeper here.

 

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Court's Avatar
Court replied the topic: #5 1 year 10 months ago
I just became aware that someone else waiting for an invite in the Methow Valley just got their emailed invitation tonight. I think the invites are going out in batches, and the first batch of invites sent expired on Nov 9th. So the next ones should be, or have been, going out this week. So keep an eye on your email if you're waiting for one of these invites!
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Court replied the topic: #6 1 year 10 months ago
A friend asked me about what the cable coming from the dish looked like, and this is my reply:

The dish has 100ft of what I believe might be Cat8 cable, very heavy and obviously shielded. It has some large ferrite beads on it, one is right near the end, so the hole needs to be over 3/4 inch to get it through a wall. The cable is permanently attached to the dish, because it's outdoors and it needs to be weatherproof and standard ethernet connectors are not. You can plug the ethernet connector at the other end directly into the WAN port of your own router (it's not necessary to use the Starlink provided wireless router unless you want to).
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mikeps1 replied the topic: #7 1 year 10 months ago
Nice article Court. I'm on the waiting list since day 2. Folks in poorer locations than I have gotten acceptance already but my (several) have languished. One friend in a crummy location put in a request less than a week ago and got acceptance yesterday. Go figure.

-- Mike, Mazama
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Court replied the topic: #8 1 year 10 months ago
Indeed, Mike. So far, I haven't seen any rhyme or reason as to how invitees are selected. As you say, and I've seen it too, the selection is apparently not by beta signup seniority. I've wondered if they're doing some terrain processing by location addresses, and scoring the signups based on that. But that seems like it would be a fair bit of extra work, and possibly not all that accurate to boot.

I suspect the answer may be something more simple, that they are just selecting via lottery from the current signups in an area, though perhaps filtering by a certain distance from other beta users.

I think there was a good reason that they came back and asked for service street addresses a couple months after starting signups.
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eeholmes replied the topic: #9 1 year 10 months ago
I registered on Thursday and got my invite in a few hours. I am up near Lost River Airport. I put in the order today and it was on it way within 2 hours. Thanks for the review that helped me make up my mind and I downloaded the app to make sure I have good enough sky view. I am curious how it'll do in the snow. I'll put it out in our yard I think for a bit and make sure the heater clears the snow ok. Getting up on a 2 story metal roof..in a snow storm..would not be fun.

I am really hopeful this pans out as our internet up near the LR airport is horrible. We pay $85 a month for 0.5Mbps (yep, less than 1) and 300ms latency DSL. We have to drive into DropZone when we need to do screen-sharing, though amazingly we can do video conferencing even with video on sometimes just can't screenshare. There have been complaints for years about CenturyLink DSL up near the LR airport, but nothing changed except they don't allow any new signups. I hope to get off CenturyLink DSL but I expect I'll pay for both CenturyLink and Starlink for awhile (groan) since if Starlink goes belly-up, CenturyLink won't let us back on.
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Court replied the topic: #10 1 year 10 months ago
eeholmes, You're welcome! I'm glad the article was helpful.

Yes, you do get a lot of snow up there, but I think it'll be fine. Let us know your experience though!

I'm quite familiar with your internet experience in LR as we lived in LRAA for nearly 7 years. I had Centurylink service then, and it was quite horrible. Amazingly, from your description it sounds like it's actually degraded since we lived there. I paid for 1.5 mpbs down/256 kbps up DSL, the maximum that their equipment there will support, and it had around 80ms latency or less. It did get extra slow and frustrating on weekends and holidays when many more people were using it. And yes, I was one of the people there complaining to Centurylink about how much they oversold their service in Mazama. It used to be surprisingly reliable and tolerable for years before that.

Yes, unfortunately, you won't want to kick Centurylink to the curb until at least you find out just what Starlink is going to look like when it exits beta. The good thing is that when more people drop Centurylink in the Mazama area, it will result in improved service for the others left on it.
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pasayten replied the topic: #11 1 year 10 months ago
Saw the article and just signed up Nov 14... Live about 3 miles north of Winthrop on the East Chewack Rd. I would like to participate in the beta. Currently using methownet radio system 7/5 Mbps with a static ip address.
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Court replied the topic: #17 1 year 10 months ago
I've added a poll about Starlink to give us a slightly better idea of the numbers.
I'm sure there must be at least a hundred people with Starlink beta service in the county, and I'm sure there's hundreds more who want the service.

Starlink Service Poll
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Court replied the topic: #18 1 year 10 months ago
Elon Musk has some good news for those who haven't been accepted into the beta program yet!

Big expansion of beta program in 6 to 8 weeks!
-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 14, 2020

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eeholmes replied the topic: #19 1 year 10 months ago
We have had our Starlink internet up and running for about a week now. Set up was easy. Took it out of the box, put dish in yard, put cord through a window (sealed with towels), plugged it in ...and we had 170Mbps internet. Wow. The cord will require a 3/4" hole through the house so we didn't want to do that right off. So for now it's going through a bedroom window that is cracked open but sealed well with towels. For now the dish is just out in the yard on the snow. Eventually I will get it up on a pole. I don't want to put it on the roof since we get so much snow build-up that the dish would not survive the winter.

Service review. It's great. Speed varies between 40 and 170Mbps. Our old service was 0.5Mbps on a fast day. It does drop for 1-5 seconds fairly frequently. So we need to warn people when we are on VOIP calls or video conferencing. So far Zoom and Google Hangouts doesn't drop during that off-time. We just see a spinning wheel and have to wait. Frequently = like 10 times in an hour call I'd say. But the 5 second drops are not that common.

When I say 'plug it in', we just used the equipment supplied with the dish. One is a black box (power??) and the other, a small white triangular box, is the wifi router (?). They come plugged in and didn't take them apart. Literally just plugged into a receptacle. Then STARLINK-#### appeared on the list of wifi networks. A box popped up asking for a password for it, we set one. And that's it.

Oh and fyi, the dish did not come with any instructions except a cartoon which indicated 3 steps: Set out dish, plug in, connect to your new Starlink network. At least that is how we interpreted the cartoon. There are no words on the cartoon. I knew from the article to get the Starlink app on my phone so we could find a good place in the yard for the dish with nothing blocking view of the northern sky. We have trees blocking the bottom of that view but connection still seems fine.
Court's Avatar
Court replied the topic: #22 1 year 9 months ago
A new round of Starlink Beta invites have gone out this afternoon - 12-15-2020! A number of people in the valley who missed previous rounds have received their invites this time.

Check your email!
JIMMYB replied the topic: #23 1 year 9 months ago
I'm in LRAA and have had the Starlink beta since the end of October. I first mounted it in my front yard, but was experiencing intermittent interruptions. I now have it solidly installed 31 feet up on the peak of my roof using the rooftop mount and have no interruptions now. You not only need a clear view looking north, but obstructions east or west need to be 1.5x further away than above the dish. If you have tall trees, get it as high as possible and only use Starlink mounting hardware. The snow mode software is now installed to keep the dish snow free.

Speeds are fantastic. Good bye Century Link and Hughesnet.
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eeholmes replied the topic: #24 1 year 9 months ago
What is your ridgeline like? I am out by LRAA too. Right now I have the dish out in our yard but as you wrote, we too are getting intermittent drops of about 30min every 24 hours. I want to put it up on our roof on the ridgeline but I am afraid of 2 things.
1) We have metal roof and the ridge cap is pretty wide. I'd say at least 8 inches. I fear that the 'feet' on Starlink's ridge adaptor will not go over that ridge. It is a pretty common ridge shape for metal roofs so maybe you have the same one.
2) The snow will get up to 3 feet deep on our roof and then come off one side at a time in a huge avalanche. I fear that it will rip down the satellite when that happens. Thoughts? Our chimney stays up but it is right on the ridge and doesn't have anything for the snow to 'hold' on to.

Maybe I'll get the ridge adaptor and put it up for winter and see if it survives a few big snows and roof avalanches. But I want to be sure that it'll fit over our ridge cap.

Thanks!
JIMMYB replied the topic: #25 1 year 9 months ago
My roof is 7/12 pitch with a 6 inch ridge cap. I bought the ridgetop mount which is like a metal sandwich board. It comes with a rubber mat the sits under the mount. The mount straddles the ridge and locks in place. You place 2 8x16 inch pavers on either side of the mount which holds it down. After mounting it there was no movement of the mount, it was solid. The dish mounts into a tube on the mount and locks into place. I first brushed away any snow from the mounting spot. Last night it snowed a foot and it is working like a charm. If you live in LRAA, you will see my dish on the roof driving up Harris Rd. Securing the cable is also important.

In addition, Starlink confirmed there was 0% obstruction of signal.

Court's Avatar
Court replied the topic: #26 1 year 9 months ago
eeholmes, I think you'll be fine with the Starlink ridgeline mount. I have it too.

There's a rubber mat that goes underneath to protect your roof. Then the ridge mount "leaves" themselves are adjustable, so they can conform to whatever angle your roof is at. There's a locking mechanism so that you can then lock the angle in, which helps secure it further. The roof mount can adjust from a flat roof, to a very steep pitched roof.

The mount at the ridgeline should be just fine despite the snow. Being at the top of the roof, no snow or ice should hit it on the way down. Just make sure there's no roof higher up that might shed anything.

The primary issue that you will have to make sure of is that the cable is not grabbed or hit by snow or ice. I would run the cable along the very top of the roof, and then bring it down into your house on a gable end, so there's no chance it could get jerked or pulled by snow/ice.
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Court replied the topic: #27 1 year 9 months ago
JIMMYB got to it first. I didn't mention the concrete pavers, which you should have on to provide enough weight to keep wind from blowing the dish off.

My roof is very steeply pitched, so I ended up zip-tying the pavers to the mount itself, just to be very sure that there was no way they'd get knocked around by wind gusts and flipped out of the mount.
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Court replied the topic: #40 1 year 8 months ago
As of yesterday, Starlink has now made a more open offer of beta service availability (without the signup and waitlist).

To check availability for your location, visit Starlink.com and re-enter your email and service address. If available, you will be immediately redirected to the Starlink order page.

Availability is limited so orders must be completed within 15 minutes of landing on the order page. If you are not able to order at this time, the Starlink team will continue to send updates as more capacity becomes available.
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pasayten replied the topic: #42 1 year 8 months ago
dang... I apply about every 2 weeks... have not been selected yet. I live about 3 miles north of Winthrop on the East Chewack Rd :-(
Court's Avatar
Court replied the topic: #44 1 year 8 months ago
That's a bummer, pasayten. I know it's frustrating if you don't already have great connectivity.

I don't know how far apart they're keeping service addresses, but I'd say just keep trying back when you think of it, to see if they've opened it up anymore.
Mbarrington replied the topic: #52 1 year 8 months ago
Hello Everyone--Am new to this forum and new to the Methow. Our cabin is in the LRAA. In early December a neighbor mentioned Starlink and how they're rolling it out. I immediately submitted our info. Got the invite Jan. 15, and ordered on the spot. Equipment arrived a few days ago.

We're currently in Seattle, but plan to install on the roof in early March. If appropriate for the forum, can anyone recommend someone to do the install?

Have appreciated reading the posts about your experiences both with CenturyLink (ugh) and with Starlink. Cheers.
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Court replied the topic: #53 1 year 8 months ago
Welcome Mbarrington!

Yes, there's no issues with posting recommendations or commercial posts on this forum.

The required install for Starlink is quite easy, but if you're not comfortable being up on a roof, or a ladder, then maybe Charlie can help you with it. He's at methowvalleyhandyman.com/
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Court replied the topic: #69 1 year 8 months ago
I've been tracking general Starlink performance since acquisition. And for roughly the past 10 days, service was a bit rough in the performance department.

The main issue was that starting on Tuesday, January 26th, Starlink appeared to be testing failover of traffic to ground stations in other geographical regions. Our internet traffic here was apparently no longer routed through a local ground station in Seattle, or even elsewhere in Washington, but instead came out of Starlink's internal network to the internet somewhere in Illinois or Michigan.

This had the effect of greatly increasing ping times - an indication of network latency - to services in Seattle. Instead of a 20 or 30ms latency time, the latency increased to around 140-150ms, as expected for the increased terrestrial distance. Data transfer speeds were also lower.

The region failover test appears to have concluded on Friday, Jan 29th. Though routing had been switched back to Seattle for some hours, once within that time period.

Unfortunately, since about last weekend to earlier today, it seems that speeds have mostly been way down, and connection instability way up. My usual down speeds have dropped from something nearly always over 100 mbps - except in extreme weather, to something over 10 mbps, and usually barely over such as 15 mbps. Upload has been from a stable 15-20 mbps previously, to 1-2 mbps usually, perhaps up to 4 mbps here and there.

We have had some weather events through then, and such things as snow and fog can greatly interfere with the signal to the satellites. No doubt that's part of the performance loss. Also I'm sure that Starlink is still testing and experimenting with aspects of the service.

Still, I do wonder if Starlink's many newly onboarded customers are contributing more load to the network than anticipated and are contributing to the noticeable performance issues lately.

The Starlink service is still in beta, and from what I've seen in these months of service, is that Starlink engineers are obviously experimenting and testing at times, and then things settle down again. So I'm confident that the service comes back to "normal" fairly soon, likely better than it was previously.
JIMMYB replied the topic: #70 1 year 8 months ago
Thanks Court. There also have been a few outages over the last few weeks. Starlink has restored service each time. It seems to coincide with new satellite launches, however not certain. As more satellites are brought online, service interruptions should decrease. It is still far better than anything else in the valley. I also suspect that added users may have affected speeds. Starlink claims that speeds should improve as they make network improvements. My speeds are still in the 60s range on average during the day.

Note to new installs: Elevation of your dish is your best advantage. Obstructions aka trees need to be 1.5 x further away than they are above the dish. Consider the pole mount or volcano mount if you have obstructions. Your last resort might involve a chainsaw
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Court replied the topic: #71 1 year 8 months ago
Yes, the longer outages are mostly between midnight and 5am or so, it seems. Which makes sense to do if they can choose when they happen. But sometimes they might still have one for 15 or 20 minutes during the day, or into the evening. Those don't seem to happen too often though.

Haha, and I know, I'm not complaining (much). I just did a speedtest to Seattle and barely got 45mbps down and about 3.5 up. It's significantly faster still than any of my previous valley services, but just a ways away from what it was in Nov/Dec last year.

I did see that some 60 new satellites were launched yesterday, and a new launch was supposed to happen today with another 60 satellites, but has been delayed to next week. It takes weeks for the satellites to make their way to orbit positions though.

Starlink is targeting 16 to 19 ms latency by the summer, about half of what it usually is currently, so I'm sure they're refining their network and routes all the time through then.

Just this afternoon, I've seen an enormous improvement in uptime percentage. No more tiny connection dropouts every few minutes. Just a few here and there over each hour, minimal. Connection uptime is at 99.6% for the last eight hours. 99.8% for the last hour.
Court's Avatar
Court replied the topic: #144 10 months 4 days ago
It appears that, last week, Starlink notified users who had $100 deposits on orders for equipment and service that their orders were being delayed for up to a year or more. Only days previously, Starlink customers reported from the Starlink account portal homepage that their expected order delivery time was late 2021. Now, it is late 2022 that is being targeted. Some users reported expected order fulfillment dates into 2023.


This is the email that was sent to waitlist customers:

Thank you for being a supporter of Starlink! Over 14 million people have inquired about Starlink service in their area and today Starlink is available in over 20 countries (and counting).

The Starlink team has been working hard to expand service and increase capacity while continuously improving quality of service. We will be able to accommodate more users per area as we increase the number of satellites in orbit.

Check delivery timelines in your account

Silicon shortages over the last 6 months have slowed our expected production rate and impacted our ability to fulfill many Starlink orders this year. We apologize for the delay and are working hard across our engineering, supply chain, and production teams to improve and streamline our product and factory to increase our production rate.

You can check estimated delivery times by logging into your account page on Starlink.com. You will still receive an email from the Starlink team when your order is ready to ship, and you may cancel your order at any time for a full refund of your deposit.

Latest Starlink now in production

We recently released the latest version of Starlink which was designed for high volume manufacturing. The latest version of Starlink has comparable performance to the previous version and will begin to ship globally next year.

Expanding to more countries across the world

Since our October 2020 launch in the United States we have expanded our service to 20 additional countries: Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Switzerland, Portugal, Chile, Poland, Italy, Czech Republic, Mexico, Sweden, and Croatia. Pending regulatory approval, we are planning to launch in an additional 45+ new countries by the end of 2022.

More satellites in orbit with newer technology

We recently completed our 31st Starlink launch with our latest generation of satellites that are equipped with inter-satellite laser links, which enable our satellites to transfer data between each other. Once fully deployed, inter-satellite laser links will make Starlink one of the fastest options available to transfer data around the world.