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. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from Starlink in Australia and when you can expect it.
What is Starlink?
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 1,600 Starlink satellites in orbit with beta programs available in 14 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.
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. For example, my address is scheduled for mid-to-late 2021. 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 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
- Wagin, WA
- Pimba, SA
- Broken Hill, NSW
- Boorowa, NSW
- Cobargo, NSW
- Ki Ki, SA
- Torrumbarry, VIC
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, where there are ground stations in Cataby, Merredin and Wagin. After that, the focus will shift to South Australia’s ground stations in Pimba and Ki Ki.
There’s no publicly available timeline or roadmap for connections but we should expect more information on availability by the end of the year.
As of August 2021, SpaceX had launched 1,740 Starlink satellites into orbit. Of those, 1,629 were currently working while 115 had failed or deorbited. Last year in March, 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 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 $700 fee for the hardware and a $100 shipping and handling fee. Considering Starlink is still 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.
How fast are Starlink download speeds?
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 does Starlink compare to NBN?
If the early reports are any indication of the final product, Starlink trumps the NBN’s Sky Muster satellite offer 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. 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.
As for cost, Starlink offers one simple plan at $139 per month (though there are setup and hardware fees, as outlined above). Satellite NBN, on the other hand, can cost you anywhere from $39.95 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). So Starlink can cost a little more than Satellite NBN, or a lot less, but for unlimited data and promising speeds, you’re getting a lot more bang for your buck.
It’s a bit of a raw deal for rural Australians who need to run a business using satellite NBN and it comes as no surprise that many people are eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take Starlink for a whirl.
For a deeper dive on the differences between Sky Muster and SpaceX’s solution head over to our Starlink vs Satellite NBN guide.
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.