Australia is watching closely now that Elon Musk’s SpaceX is testing its Starlink service in some parts of the country.
What do we know so far about Starlink and will it be a silver bullet for all regional Australians?
Whether or not Starlink satellite will be the silver bullet for closing the rural digital divide remains to be seen.
Testing is underway in different parts of the country excluding Queensland and the Northern Territory. Participants have reported high speeds and low latency. For example, Simon Hacket tweeted a download speed of 314 Mbps and a latency of 71 ms.
However, as more and more kits are delivered, SpaceX also warns that speed “will likely be lower than the maximum speeds during peak usage hours” and that “uninterrupted use of Services are not guaranteed”. Hackett hired an electrician to troubleshoot his service and ended up jury-rigging the cabling to get the Starlink kit to work properly.
Some remote areas are expected be to join the testing phase in 2023. Other areas like Norfolk Island were expected to be connected in 2023 but no longer have an ETA. Some areas that were expected to be online this year like Thursday Island and Lord Howe Island have been pushed back until next year.
During testing, SpaceX is limiting the number of Starlink Kits it delivers to each Starlink cell that it chooses to activate during this phase. Silicon shortages are also causing SpaceX production delays, further limiting the number of kits that are available.
Any participants in this initial phase will need to deal with associated service interruptions. Uptime is expected to gradually improve, but the Starlink pre-order agreement does not make any guarantees.
There are no clear details beyond the beta testing phase, on what the future costs, speeds or data limits may be for Starlink services in Australia.
The launch of the reimagined Sky Muster Plus service last year gave far more freedom to regional, rural and remote internet users.
Sky Muster Plus is run by NBN Co which has a Government mandate to ensure that all Australians have access to broadband as soon as possible and at affordable prices.
The nbn™ footprint covers the whole of Australia including remote areas, without limits on how many premises can get installed.
It partners with Australian retail service providers (like SkyMesh) to deliver the customer service, while NBN Co takes care of the satellite network infrastructure.
That includes the provision and installation of the nbn™ connecting equipment for your residence. The connecting equipment, installation and maintenance are free to the customer. Even if your equipment is damaged by an extreme weather event, there are service standards which means that an nbn technician will travel to your property and fix your connection for free.
You know when you sign up to nbn™ Sky Muster Plus that you have no upfront costs and that no matter which plan you choose, you will receive unmetered data by default for everything except video streaming and VPN traffic.
So, the data amount you sign up for is your allocation for video streaming and anything you do over a VPN.
|Sky Muster Plus||Starlink|
|Available right now, right across Australia. No application caps in any area.||Test services only available in limited locations with a limited number of test services in each area.|
|Australian-based customer service, a phone number you can call and an email address you can write to.||SpaceX does not currently offer Australian-based support for its service. Support requests can only be lodged online.|
|There are a variety of affordable plans on offer. All of them include the unmetered data for everything except video streaming and VPN traffic.||There is only one Starlink plan available during testing and that is priced at $139/month.|
|Equipment is FREE as is installation and ongoing maintenance.||You pay $809 for the delivered Starlink Kit, shipped from the United States.|
|nbn™ approved technicians come and neatly install cabling and the dish on your roof. There is no DIY look or jury-rigged.||This is a DIY setup with the dish mounted on the ground and cabling running loosely through your home. Roof mounts are available to buy but a professional installation service is not provided.|
|Sky Muster Plus is moderate with your power consumption.||Starlink is heavy on your power consumption which will add to your monthly costs.|
|It doesn’t cost you anything if you move home. You don’t have to send the equipment back to NBN Co for updating and you don’t need to purchase new equipment.||If you move outside your Starlink cell, you will have to purchase a whole new Starlink Kit for $809. SpaceX does not currently permit using the service outside of the original service address.|
|There are no short-term warranties on the nbn™ connecting equipment that will leave you with the potential for costly repairs.||There is a 12-month warranty on the equipment but after that, you’re on your own.|
|NBN Co has equipment stockpiles in Australia.||If your Starlink equipment develops a fault outside of the warranty, you will either have to purchase another kit or, if it's offered, at your own expense, ship the faulty equipment back to the United States for repairs. SpaceX does not keep any equipment supplies in Australia.|
|Small businesses can use the Sky Muster Plus service.||Business use is currently forbidden by SpaceX. Starlink services are for residential use only.|
|Payments are processed in Australia so there will never be any foreign transaction fees on top of your monthly plan.||Payments are processed in Singapore so you may incur foreign transaction fees on top of your monthly plan.|
*NOTE: The above comparison table is based on information made available as of 01 December 2021 and could change if Starlink evolves its product.
More internet choice is welcomed by SkyMesh for rural Australians and Starlink has helped to significantly raise awareness for satellite internet across Australia in general.
To answer the initial question posed – Is Starlink satellite a silver bullet for regional Australia? – maybe in some respects, but it is potentially cost-prohibitive for many people.
Overall, Sky Muster Plus remains a solid choice for rural Australia.