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Starlink in Australia: SpaceX’s satellite internet explained
Whether you love him or hate him, Elon Musk sure puts his money where his mouth is. It’s a big mouth, but then again, he’s got a lot of money.
After successfully burrowing underneath Los Angeles and Las Vegas with his Boring Company’s high-speed tunnels, Musk’s extra-terrestrial venture, SpaceX, set its sights on a satellite internet solution known as Starlink. The goal? Provide satellite internet access to the entire world with thousands of small satellites in Earth’s orbit.
Understandably, many Australians are excited about the prospect of having a more reliable satellite internet solution than what the NBN's Sky Muster system currently offers but it’s still early days for Starlink in Australia and its footprint is quite small.
Still, if all goes to plan, there’s a bright future for regional Australians outside of the fixed-line NBN footprint. In the meantime, here's what to expect from Starlink in Australia and when you can expect it to be available in your area.
Starlink is a growing system of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites launched by SpaceX to provide worldwide internet coverage.
While Starlink is a very different type of satellite and internet connection to NBN’s Sky Muster, the broad principle is generally the same. Starlink satellites in orbit communicate with transceivers on the ground and deliver a wireless signal to a terminal in your home (which plays the same role as a roof-mounted NBN dish).
At the time of writing, there were over 2,400 Starlink satellites in orbit with beta programs available in 33 countries, including Australia and New Zealand.
Australians who rely on satellite internet are particularly excited for Starlink’s rollout because it offers unlimited data and has the potential for much faster speeds than Satellite NBN.
How does Starlink compare to NBN?
If the early reports are any indication of the final product, Starlink in Australia is better than the NBN’s Sky Muster satellite in just about every way.
Plans sold on NBN Sky Muster only advertise speeds of 25Mbps. They do have the potential to boost higher than that but it’s subject to network capacity. On the other hand, Starlink's advertised speeds range between between 100 and 200Mbps.
Then there are the data limitations. Unlike fixed-line NBN, where almost every provider and plan has shifted to unlimited data quotas, most satellite NBN providers offer peak (7 am to 1 am) and off-peak data limits. More data is typically allocated in off-peak times to reduce the amount of congestion on the network during peak hours.
In stark contrast to a convoluted system of on-peak and off-peak data caps, Starlink currently offers unlimited data.
In terms of pricing, Satellite NBN can cost you anywhere from $34.95 per month for Activ8me’s 150GB (15GB peak/135GB off-peak) plan and $199.95 per month for SkyMesh’s Sky Muster Plus 300GB (150GB peak/150GB off-peak).
In comparison, Starlink offers one simple plan at $139 per month. However, there are a few setup and hardware fees involved.
While Starlink can cost a little more than Satellite NBN at a baseline, the unlimited data and speeds involved may mean you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.
It’s been a bit of a raw deal for rural Australians who need to rely on satellite NBN to run a business for some time now, so it's no surprise that many people are itching are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take Starlink for a whirl.
If you're stuck on satellite NBN in the meantime, it's worth revisiting your bill and comparing it against the latest plans and deals. Below are the most popular satellite NBN plans available this week.
When can I get Starlink in Australia?
The public beta for Starlink in Australia went live in April 2021, launching in southern NSW and Victoria in a limited capacity.
You can check if your address has coverage already on the Starlink website.
Even if you’re not eligible for Starlink right now, the website will let you know roughly when it will be available.
You can also pre-order your service before it’s available but you will be charged a $139 deposit upfront. That said, that cost will be placed towards the hardware and setup fees you’ll be charged when it comes time to connect.
Starlink installation fees in Australia
A big part of the appeal of Starlink is the ease of setup. You don't need to pay an installation fee when you can do it yourself. The $924 you pay in hardware fees for a Starlink connection gets you all the equipment you need to do this, including a satellite dish, mounting tripod designed for ground level usage and a Wi-Fi router.
Although many Starlink customers set up their satellite dish at ground level using the aforementioned tripod, higher elevations tend to achieve better results and opt to use a roof-mounted rack instead. This can add to the overall cost of setting up a Starlink connection, though the sum itself isn't particularly significant and usually less than $100 (plus the cost of labor, if you have to get a contractor involved).
Starlink coverage in Australia
There are roughly 400 active Starlink services in Southern NSW and Victoria. To begin with, Starlink is only licensed to operate in low-density (e.g. rural) areas while cities and metropolitan areas are currently out of bounds.
Here’s a map displaying low-density areas in Australia where Starlink is currently licensed to operate.
Note: While Starlink is licensed to operate in these areas, it only services select areas in southern NSW and central Victoria at the time of writing.
Starlink ground stations in Australia
Currently, Starlink has ground stations in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. Here’s the list of live Starlink ground stations at the time of writing:
- Cataby, WA
- Merredin, WA
- South West of Coolgardia, WA
- Wagin, WA
- Ki Ki, SA
- Pimba, SA
- Broken Hill, NSW
- Boorowa, NSW
- Calrossie, NSW
- Canyonleigh, NSW
- Cobargo, NSW
- Springbrook Creek, NSW
- Tea Gardens, NSW
- Ki Ki, SA
- Anankie, VIC
- Koonwarra, VIC
- Torrumbarry, VIC
- West of Emerald, QLD
- Toonpan, QLD
- Warra, QLD
- Willows, QLD
- Bulla Bulling, WA
Are there plans to expand Starlink coverage in Australia?
City slickers shouldn’t count themselves out just yet.
SpaceX has been working with the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) on a licensing agreement for metropolitan areas. On the 14th of July 2021, the ACMA granted two new licences which allow Starlink to sell its services 'Australia-wide.'
It's good news for Australian city-dwellers eyeing off Starlink but it's not a guarantee all areas will be services, just the license to do so if SpaceX so chooses.
Back in June, Elon Musk tweeted that Starlink will "work best for low-population situations" and the company will no doubt want to put its best foot-forward, servicing those areas first. Still, the plan is to provide worldwide internet coverage eventually so metropolitan users should be eligible sooner or later.
In the meantime, Starlink will slowly roll out to more rural areas where it’s needed most. Next up in the rollout will be areas in South-East Australia. After that, the focus will shift to South Australia's ground stations.
There's no publicly available timeline or roadmap for connections but we should expect more information on availability to come in the following months.
Starlink Australia price: How much does it cost?
Starlink offers a single plan with unlimited downloads for $139 per month.
Once you’re connected, you’ll also have to pay a $924 fee for the hardware plus a $100 shipping and handling fee.
Given that Starlink is still technically in beta, we can’t say for sure whether that monthly price will remain the same after the official launch but that’s what it will cost you if you sign up today.
Best Satellite Internet Plans on the NBN
There are satellite internet plans that have a good mix of value and peak data.
How fast is Starlink in Australia?
Reports across the US, Canada and Australia show that the speeds experienced by Starlink’s beta customers can vary dramatically. According to Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence report in 2021, US users experienced median speeds between 40.36Mbps and 93.09Mbps, while users in Canada experienced median speeds between 53.61Mbps and 80.57Mbps.
Anecdotally, one Australian user from Canberra told the ABC they’d experienced speeds up to 344Mbps while reliably hitting between 150Mbps and 250Mbps throughout the day. Other reports suggest that Starlink upload speeds float around the 20Mbps mark.
As Starlink advertises, its satellites are capable of delivering much higher speeds than its competitors because its satellite system is approximately 65 times closer to Earth’s surface compared to other satellite internet solutions.
Take it with a grain of salt but Elon Musk has also tweeted back in February that Starlink speeds will double to roughly 300Mbps while latency will drop to around 20ms later this year.
How many Starlink satellites are there?
As of May 2022, SpaceX has launched 2,405 Starlink satellites into orbit. Of those, 2,374 were currently working while 29 were in the process of moving in or out of operational orbit.
Back in March 2020, SpaceX claimed they were producing six satellites per day.
The third-party website satellitemap.space is tracking the location and orbit of Starlink satellites (as well as ground transceiver locations). Below is a snapshot from the map but you can see the full interactive version here.
Starlink for Business in Australia
It's not available yet, but Aussies can look forward to Starlink introducing a second tier of service in the future.
Called Starlink for Business, this more expensive alternative to the standard Starlink connection promises faster download speeds of between 150Mbps and 500Mbps and upload speeds of around 40Mpbs.
Like the name suggests, Starlink for Business is positioned as less of a home internet solution and more of an enterprise-grade one. Local pricing and availability for the premium service are yet to be announced. However, if US pricing is any indication, it won't be cheap.
When it launches in Australia, Starlink for Business could cost around $3,500 in setup costs plus an additional $700 or so a month. These numbers come from a straightforward currency conversion of the pricing for the service seen elsewhere, and do not compare favorably to business NBN connections when it comes to cost. That said, the entire appeal of Starlink is that it can reach places that are only or not even covered by Satellite NBN - so it might end up being the best game in town for some, despite the lofty price.
Starlink vs 5G Home Internet
While Starlink is competing against Satellite NBN connections for rural customers, those who aren't so remote might be able to get away with a 5G home internet connection as an alternative.
Like Starlink, 5G speeds vary based on your coverage. However, if you're in an area with good coverage, a typical 5G home internet plan will beat Starlink on both price potential and speeds.
For example, a Telstra 5G Home Internet plan offers average download speeds of around 378Mbps and upload speeds or 46Mbps. Even if Elon Musk's prediction that Starlink speeds will double in the near future proves accurate, 5G still beats it for speed at a lower monthly spend.
Check out the widget below for a round-up of popular 5G home internet plans.