Jennifer and I have been digital nomads, working entirely online, since 2018. One of our biggest challenges has always been finding reliable internet access in some of the most remote areas of North America. This has predominately meant relying on our cell phone companies (Verizon and T-mobile) along with a cellular booster for connectivity. We have had mixed results in the remote areas we prefer to visit. I have been watching and waiting ever since SpaceX started launching Starlink satellites for this technology to be released for mobile use. In May of 2022, SpaceX opened up its portability service naming it Starlink RV for full-time travelers. The question is, “Is this the digital nomads’ holy grail for internet access?”
Is Starlink the Best Internet Access for Digital Nomads?
The short answer to that question for us is an ecstatic, “Yes!” However, it might not be right for every digital nomad depending on your preferred method of travel. Read on to find out.
Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers
- What is Starlink?
- What is Starlink RV?
- The Nomadic Search for Internet
- Obstructions to Starlink
- Monthly Service Fee
- Data Limits
- Data Speeds
- Power Consumption
- Boot-Up Time
- Connectivity and Drops in Service
- Pieces and Weight
- Mounting and Wiring
What is Starlink?
Starlink is a low-earth orbit satellite constellation built by SpaceX to connect the most remote corners of the globe with low latency and high-speed internet access. The constellation is initially intended to have 4,400 microsatellites orbiting the globe but one day may consist of as many as 42,000. Currently, these satellites relay your internet data to base stations on the ground relatively close by connecting you to the world. However, the third-generation satellites will have the ability to communicate with each other via space lasers sending your data around the world before linking up with a ground station. This will not only allow for easier connectivity without the need for so many ground stations but will also speed up international communication.
What is Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers?
Starlink service is predominately intended to connect rural communities and until May of 2022 was geo-fenced to a specific service address. This prevented users from roaming with their Starlink service. Starlink RV is a portable service for full-time travelers (or temporary ones) and has a premium additional cost of $25/month. While it is not geo-fenced, it has the drawback of being speed-throttled. This helps to provide reliable service to those stationary communities not allowing travelers to put too much burden on the local system. We have found this to mean that speeds can vary greatly. Typically they are comparable to or better than the LTE speeds we get through our cellular connections (Verizon & T-mobile).
The Nomadic Search for Internet
As digital nomads, we have spent the last 4 years predominately relying on our cell phones for our internet and ultimately our livelihoods. We have traditionally struggled to balance the desire for remote wilderness places and the cellular service we need to work. I have spent countless hours researching destinations and gathering information on cell service data speeds only to arrive at our locations to find the service is not as good as we were led to believe. This forces us to change our itineraries and seek out a more reliable connection. Now, I do very little research ahead of time because of Starlink RV for full-time travelers. I typically look at photos of campsites online and if there are no tall trees, we are good to go.
Obstructions to Starlink
Starlink RV for full-time travelers has one major kryptonite and it is not a secret. It is trees and other obstructions that block it from having a clear line of sight to the satellites overhead. This isn’t much of an issue in the western United States where wide open spaces are in abundance. However, in dense metropolitan areas and east coast forests using Starlink is much more challenging.
Tip for Avoiding Obstructions
The way the Starlink Constellation operates is a bit confusing. Looking at the Starlink tracker, at any given time satellites appear to be flying all over the globe in nearly every direction. However, a large conglomeration of the satellite constellation orbits near the 53-degree parallel (North and South of the equator). In fact, our dishy always seems to be aimed at the north 53-degree parallel. Knowing this helps to know which way your dish needs to be aimed (which it does automatically). We have found that we do not need 360 degrees of clear skies for a solid connection. We only need a clear line of sight to the 53rd parallel. Having this clear line of sight dictates where we set up at all of our campsites.
Note: The Starlink App will give you a visual report of any obstructions within Dishy’s field of view so you can make adjustments. However, this typically takes nearly 24 hours of operation for the app to create. We never have the dish up for 24 hours straight and we typically only stay in a location for a few days.
Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers – Monthly Service Fee
One of the benefits of Starlink RV for full-time travelers is that you pay monthly and can pause your service at any time. If you know you will be spending a month or more in a wooded area or a spot that has reliable internet available via a cell phone or local wifi you can simply pause your service and you owe nothing for that month. Keep in mind that a month of service is not prorated. Currently, we pay $135/month for Starlink RV for full-time travelers.
Simply stated, our testing has found that the Starlink internet coverage is everywhere in North America south of Alaska (Alaska is projected to be covered in 2023). For us, this is the major selling point. As of September 2022, we have had Starlink RV for full-time travelers for three months and have set up in a dozen remote mountainous areas where cell signal doesn’t penetrate for dozens of miles. Being able to stay in these beautiful remote places is nomadic living at its best and it is all attributable to Starlink. We love it!
Starlink International Coverage
Our Starlink RV service is linked to North America. This means we can travel the entire continent and be covered (mostly/entirely in 2023). However, Starlink is international and growing quickly. Check out this Starlink Map to see what areas of the globe are covered and what will be soon.
One of my big questions is, “Can I travel with it internationally?” The simple answer is, “yes.” Starlink RV allows you to travel with your service internationally for up to two months. If you stay longer, you will need to switch your service address to a local address. I am currently unsure of how this will work if you switch countries/continents every few months but we may soon find out as we are planning some international trips.
Data Limits on Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers
The second major selling point for Starlink RV is that there are no data limits. This is huge as full-time digital nomads. We have spent the last 4 years monitoring every byte of data that we use. With Starlink RV for full-time travelers, we now consume data with reckless abandon. It is very freeing and has even allowed us to pick up additional work as we no longer need to fret over maxing out our cell phone plans’ hotspot data limits.
Data Speeds on Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers
Data speeds on Starlink RV are throttled to ensure that local communities’ speeds stay fast and are not adversely affected by hordes of travelers. Typically, we have seen download speeds in the 25 – 70 Mbps range. We have had download speeds as low as 9 Mbps and as high as 165 Mbps. A typical upload speed is between 5 and 15 Mbps but we have seen it run into the 50 Mbps range and as low as 1.5 Mbps. The real surprise is the latency. It is consistently between 50 and 80 milliseconds which is better than most cell phone signals. That is truly astonishing given that the signal travels to the edge of space and back.
Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers – Power Consumption
When we decided to purchase Starlink RV for full-time travelers, I had two major concerns, power and weight. We live in a truck camper so both are extremely important. I had read during the early beta testing that Starlink was drawing about 180watts per hour. At that level, our daily power consumption would have doubled. Thankfully, the engineers at SpaceX have been busy and the second-generation square dishy uses a fraction of that amount of power.
Our Tested Power Data
Our testing shows that during the initial boot up the wireless router appears to pull about 13 watts before the dish goes active. The dish startup (with the router) briefly spikes to about 115 watts and then settles in at about 34 watts without any devices attached to the system. The amount of devices attached to the system seems to affect it more than the amount of use (uploads and downloads). During our tests, with one device attached and using any data (either a lot or a little) the power draw consistently fluctuated between 43 watts and 50 watts. When I added three additional devices all streaming shows at the same time, the power draw spiked to 70 watts but mostly ranged from 46 to 57 watts. Through this testing, we predict using about 50 watts/hour on average.
Note: All of our power data has been adjusted to exclude the power that our inverter consumes to convert our 12V system to 120V. This consumption will vary depending on the make and model of your inverter.
Snow Melt Power Consumption
Starlink has a default setting on the dish that heats it for snow removal once the temperature drops below freezing. This has the potential to consume large amounts of energy and is typically not needed for full-time travelers chasing good weather. One of the first things we did when first setting up our dish was to turn this “Snow Melt Configuration” off in the settings menu of the Starlink App (Apple, Google).
Starlink Boot-Up Time
The Starlink boot-up time can vary greatly and is something to consider. Unlike cell phones which connect to the internet almost instantaneously, Starlink has to locate a satellite’s trajectory to initialize the connection. The first time we set up Dishy McFlatFace (that is the official full-length name of the dish) it took nearly 25 minutes to locate a satellite. That is not typical. Since then at each new campsite dishy typically takes about 10 minutes to link up with its celestial counterpart. We have also found that when we boot it up daily in the same spot it can typically connect in less than 5 minutes. This delay in usability is a minor issue for us but it is something to consider especially when you have an early morning meeting.
Starlink RV Connectivity and Drops in Service
Much has been said about the drops in Starlink service while the dish switches between satellites. While we have noticed this occasionally while on video calls (which we do daily) it is typically only a matter of seconds before the call reestablishes itself. We have had more substantial glitches over the years using cell phones. This is also something SpaceX is constantly improving upon with software updates and the addition of satellites.
Starlink Pieces and Weight
Our secondary concern when it came to utilizing Starlink RV for full-time travelers was weight and storage. Thankfully the entire setup (minus the packaging) comes in at only 14lbs. This includes the dishy which measures 20.25” x 12” on the face of the dish and 8” deep via the pole extension. (The pole also extends beyond the edge of the dish making the overall length closer to 20.75″ for storage purposes.) *This is the depth with the attached mounting arm having been placed in “Stow” mode. A setting on the app that allows it to take up the minimum amount of space while being moved. The standard portable x-base stand measures 22 1/8” x 12 7/8” x 4 3/4” deep. The wireless router measures 10” x 7” x 2.5” and the 75′ long data/power wire.
Mounting and Wiring Starlink
While the Starlink system is fairly well thought out for stationary locations, it leaves something to be desired for full-time travelers. First, the wireless router has angled edges on nearly every side making it all but impossible to strap down which is crucial in a rig that spends a lot of time bouncing around off-road. The router also has no power switch so if the power is on, it is on. This is a problem when you need your 120V circuit on but you don’t necessarily need Starlink on. This is easy enough to fix by installing an inline switch. I go over how we went about this in our Starlink RV installation post. I will show you how we mounted our router in that post as well.
The Starlink Cable
The second more challenging and frustrating issue is how to run the proprietary Starlink cable from the router to the dish. This one is a huge frustration even for stationary installations. The proprietary connectors are odd-shaped and Starlink currently doesn’t provide an adapter for RVs.
You are left with a few installation options. First, you can constantly run the wire to the dish outside from the router inside through a hole at least 3/4” in diameter at every new location. This is not ideal for keeping critters out of your rig. Option 2 is to set up the router outside (it has an IP54 water-resistant rating) but not in direct sunlight. The final option is DIYing the cable and cutting into the expensive ($75) and hard-to-acquire cable. Despite the proprietary connectors, the cable is CAT 5 and fairly easy to DIY although very nerve-racking to do. We installed a waterproof port on our camper’s side wall. I go over that in our Starlink RV installation post as well.
The last Starlink Install challenge is an optional one but almost as equally frustrating. You can choose to use the x-base and set up Dishy McFlatface on the ground but it is recommended to elevate dishy so that it gets up above small bushes and trees increasing your line of sight. Dishy is not designed to be permanently mounted to an RV roof which would be ideal for the Starlink RV product but alas it is best to store it safely inside while traveling down the road. Add to this that wilderness critters like to chew on wires strewn across the ground and we knew we would want to pole-mount Dishy almost from the start.
Starlink’s pole-mount adapter (purchased separately) is designed for permanent installations on a heavy pipe and it is a pricey adapter to boot. I wanted something substantially lighter and more snug-fitting. It took several tries but we finally cobbled together a solution that works for us which I will go over in our install post.
In Motion Starlink Dishy
When this post was created (Sept. 2022) the only option for Starlink was what is now referred to as the Standard Dishy. This is what we use and have covered in detail in this post. However, Starlink has now (Nov. 2022) released a Flat High-Performance Dish that is designed for in-motion use. This dish is designed for permanent installation and use on a moving vehicle. This eliminates some of the challenges of owning and operating Starlink RV for full-time travelers. However, it comes with a hefty price tag. Currently, the Standard Dishy hardware will cost you $599 but the new Flat High-Performance Dish will set you back $2,500 (plus tax). The monthly access fee is the same. Regardless of which you choose this development further proves how quickly Starlink is moving to improve what is already an amazing product.
Starlink RV for Full-Time Travelers – Is this the Best Internet Access for Nomads?
The real question for everyone when it comes to Starlink RV is, “Is it right for the way we like to travel?” The answer for us is a resounding, “Yes!” This will not be true for everyone as many RVers prefer to stay in powered sites with full hookups and lots of shady trees. However, for those seeking wilderness locations deep in the mountains or camping out on remote beaches, it doesn’t get any better than the freedom provided by Starlink RV for full-time travelers. We can stay in the most gorgeous wilderness locations and still have the internet we need to get work done. Starlink has set us free to live the digital nomad lifestyle where we want to live it. It is an amazing feeling and one that is well worth the cost of Starlink RV.