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Starlink will be a lifeline for left-behind rural broadband

If you are stuck with a slow, unreliable rural fixed wireless connection, Starlink will change your life.

It will make an even bigger difference if you are off the broadband map.

Starlink has great potential as a fail-over service. Companies that can’t afford to be offline even for a few minutes can use it as a backstop.

For everyone else, Starlink’s main impact will be competitive pressure on your monthly internet bill.

Filling the gaps


By the end of 2022 New Zealand’s ultrafast broadband network will reach 87 percent of homes and businesses.

Rural Broadband Initiative services should reach another 10 percent. There are national fixed wireless options from the big mobile carriers. Not all are good.

Wisps offer localised alternatives. They can be brilliant. You can expect a more personal service to go with it.

The last two percent


That leaves about two percent of the population without any locally-supplied, government supported broadband.

If that’s you, Starlink is the most practical option.

A couple of alternative satellite services are due to join Starlink over the next two years.

You won’t be spoiled for choice. But after years of zero choice, you’ll have options.

Fibre is better


As things stand today, Starlink is not the best service for the 87 percent who can get fibre. Fibre is cheaper, faster and more reliable.

On paper it looks like Starlink won’t be the best option for people who can get fixed wireless broadband on urban frequencies. These are people who live close to a cellular tower. If you can see it from your property, you should be good.

Today’s Starlink service may offer similar speeds, but it is more expensive, needs an upfront hardware investment and coverage can be sporadic.

Beta service


At the moment Starlink offers a beta service. When more satellites are launched its performance should improve. There are suggestions it will come down in price.

If that happens you might need to think again. For now, stick with the devil you know.

Those people with poor fixed wireless broadband connections now have an option.

If that’s you, and you need a better connection and can afford the higher asking price, then $160 a month and almost a grand upfront for the receiver, looks like a good deal.

Performance


You may have seen gushing posts about Starlink performance on places like Geekzone. It can be good.

But that’s not always the case.

Remember, like any broadband delivered by radio waves, you share the spectrum with other users. If a lot of people in your neighbourhood are on Starlink at the same time, you can expect performance to drop.

Likewise, Starlink is a line of sight service, if there are hills, buildings or trees between you and the satellite, you’ll run into problems.

Low earth orbit


Keep in mind that Starlink is a low-earth orbit satellite. That means the nearest satellite will often be low in the sky.

None of this is secret. Starlink is refreshingly open about the restrictions on its service. That hasn’t always been the case with over enthusiastic fixed wireless salespeople.

There’s an app which will tell you what to expect in terms of coverage.

There’s another problem that will be a major worry in parts of rural New Zealand. Starlink’s receiver doesn’t like high wind conditions.

Fixed wireless


When 4G fixed wireless broadband started, I spoke to an excited farmer who was getting 85mbps from his local tower.

It was 300m from his house and he was the only user at the time. He may see similar speeds at times now the tower has filled, but it won’t be consistent.

You can expect to have more than enough broadband to watch streaming video services like Netflix. Buffering papers over the cracks in these services. Services like Spark Sport and Sky Go may see more dropouts if you watch live games.

Latency


The biggest drawback is latency. Reports from overseas say it swings from being fibre-like to dropping out. You’ll be able to do Zoom calls, but you may want to warn the people you talk to that your connection can drop at any moment.

Gamers might not like the variable latency. If split-second pixel shooting is that important to you, it’s time to consider moving to the big smoke.

Reading between the lines of overseas coverage, Starlink’s main reason for being is compensates for poor network coverage in countries and parts of countries without competitive broadband. That and more remote rural users who are off the normal networks.

Competition


For New Zealand it will fill the gaps. Competition could give Vodafone and Spark a kick forcing them to improve poor performing RBI services. Or they may pass. If enough people on a poor rural tower defect to Starlink, performance may improve for those who stay.

Let’s repeat. Today Starlink is a beta service. More satellites are coming. That could change everything.

There’s talk that the price may drop as more people get on board. This is a two edged sword. More people can mean more congestion. Either way, it’s going to be worth watching Starlink.

Starlink will be a lifeline for left-behind rural broadband users was first posted at billbennett.co.nz.

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