The latest company to enter the ranks of satellite internet providers is Elon Musk and his SpaceX Starlink, but is it a good choice for RVers?
Having reliable internet access when you travel in an RV is always a challenge, so recreational vehicle owners notice and have questions when new options come on the market.
I put all the details in this guide to help you learn about SpaceX Starlink, what it offers, and how it’s different from other satellite internet systems for RV use. I also answer all the frequently asked questions about SpaceX Starlink, so you can decide if this is the ideal solution to every RVers internet access problem!
Talk of Starlink in the RV community grows by the day, as we all are looking for an affordable and reliable way to access the internet while we travel for weekend trips, seasonal stays, or full-time adventures.
While satellite internet service is always best when you’re in a single location for extended periods, Starlink is still an excellent option for motorhome, travel trailer, and fifth wheel owners. The reason is that Starlink will provide service in many parts of the country where land-based towers do not exist, such as in remote regions out west.
When SpaceX deploys the Starlink mobile unit, it will also provide internet while your RV is moving, which other satellite internet companies cannot offer.
Starlink technology differs from RV park Wi-Fi that uses cell towers and routers within the park to transmit data or from your mobile phone that relies on nearby cell towers to move data.
Starlink does not rely on land-based systems and instead puts their “cell tower” in the sky via thousands of small, low-orbiting satellites.
The benefit of this sky-based system is that RVers can now park far from cell towers, and as long as they can set up their receiver dish with a clear shot to the sky, they can connect to the internet at fast speeds.
Another benefit of Starlink is the price. The current Starlink hardware and the monthly fee are affordable, with the mobile version expecting to have a just as reasonable price tag.
The biggest difference in Starlink versus other satellite internet providers is the number and location of orbiting satellites in space.
A traditional communications satellite company will currently have one or two units that circle 23,000 miles above the earth, which provides a wide swath of coverage but is a long distance for signals to travel to and from your RV. However, this distance slows down speeds and causes easier disruption of service.
SpaceX Starlink changes satellite communications work by eventually launching thousands of small satellites only 300-500 miles above the earth. Right now, there are over one thousand satellites in orbit, with more going up every week.
The numerous, much closer, Starlink satellites reduce latency drastically, so signals from your RV have a much faster travel time and less interruption, so your internet is more reliable. Where you’ll really notice the Starlink improvement in service is when you’re gaming, streaming, or having video calls as buffering becomes almost non-existent.
The second beneficial feature of Starlink satellites is they have lasers that can send information between neighboring units, so you receive even faster response times.
Elon Musk has stated his goal is to get Starlink latency time down to 20 milliseconds, which is a massive improvement over the 100-200 milliseconds of most land-based internet carriers, or the 600 milliseconds of a traditional communications satellite.
As of tests done in 2021, the Starlink speed is around 100 Mbps. However, the more satellites SpaceX deploys, the faster your internet will be. So this company plan means that the service will keep improving over the next few years.
Starlink will have a much better bandwidth for processing data. Thousands of satellites orbiting the earth will quickly transmit customer information without getting backed up with traffic as traditional satellites can.
A single large geostationary satellite most carriers use has a wide coverage area. As a result, they need to transmit data for many connections at once, leading to backups that result in slow speeds.
An example is when you’re in a full campground, and your internet is showing a full five bars, but because so many people are trying to use the same cell tower at the same time, it’s taking forever for web pages to load.
So, while the signal is strong, you’re basically waiting in line for your data to process. While in the grand scheme having to wait a few extra seconds for your page to open isn’t the end of the world; we have become very accustomed to instantaneous web browsing. Therefore, any delay in speed is very frustrating, especially if you’re trying to work.
Starlink coverage for each satellite will hit fewer customers in a smaller area, so processing times will be much quicker because there won’t be any traffic jams to delay data transmission.
Once Starlink hits its newly-set goals for 10Gbps performance, you’ll be able to stream movies easily or, better yet, games from your RV without a glitch from just about anywhere in the world, no matter how many others are accessing the satellites!
Starlink has filed with the FCC to get approval for the mobile version of their ground hardware known as Earth Stations in Motion (ESIM). They intend these ESIMs to mount and function on any moving vehicle such as RVs, planes, boats, and trucks.
The hardware for mobile units will be pretty similar to residential or commercial Starlink equipment that includes a satellite receiver dish, router, base, and cables. You can have different mounts for the dish so you can remove or lower it during travel days or have it fixed permanently to the RV roof.
Running the cables and setting up a place for the router will most likely entail some work and a couple of new holes in your camper. Still, once it’s in place, you’ll be ready to connect to the internet anytime the receiver dish has an unobstructed path to the sky.
For RVers, having internet access during travel days is huge, let alone not needing to rely on campground “free Wi-Fi” that is rarely reliable or so slow it’s useless.
SpaceX states they expect you to use professional installers for their mobile Starlink system to ensure the unit is secure to the moving vehicle to prevent accidents. They also plan for Starlink to work as a home-based system that you can transfer to your RV or other vehicles as needed, which is ideal if you don’t want to invest in a secondary system for your recreational vehicle.
You may have heard of people testing the limits of their home’s Starlink internet service by taking it for a road trip.
While Starlink says they do not geofence their customers in order to stop the movement of the system, they do need to register an address for users in order to place them into a “cell” or geographical area to ensure satellites are in place to transmit to them.
However, some customers find that they can travel 20 to 30 miles from their home and still use their Starlink if they have the power to plug it in. For example, one customer found they could still use their Starlink nearly three hours away from their residence!
This test means that RVers who love to camp close to home don’t need to wait for SpaceX to roll out their mobile Starlink service. Instead, the customer only needs to pack up the dish and components, stow them in their camper, and set up in an area without trees at their campsite to enjoy a great internet connection at no additional cost.
While the rollout of a mobile version of the Starlink service is in the works, the current cost of residential (stationary) Starlink hardware is $499, and the service fee is $99 a month. Expect prices for the mobile version to be in this range.
To put this into perspective, the cost for a traditional RV satellite dish can cost anywhere from $400-$5,000+, with a compatible internet service plan ranging from $60-$175 monthly depending on how much data you select.
Overall, you’ll pay less for SpaceX Starlink versus traditional RV satellite systems and have the benefits of faster speed and a more reliable connection.
Having a solid internet connection while RVing is actually priceless, especially if you rely on it for work.
The biggest con to SpaceX Starlink is the same issue all internet or television satellite systems have: the need to have no obstacles between the satellite receiver and the sky.
With SpaceX satellites orbiting closer to the globe than other providers, this wedge or window of coverage is even smaller.
What this means for an RVer is that you can’t park on campsites with tree cover or next to sizable natural land formations or tall buildings without issues with the signal.
You may be able to use a portable mount and extra cable to situate your receiver away from your RV and any obstructions, but in cramped campgrounds, this may pose issues with your neighbors.
With each passing month, SpaceX Starlink programmers and technicians work to improve reception issues through software updates and other tweaks to the system in the hopes of finding a final solution so the company can be the first to deliver 100-percent reliable internet to their customers.
The other con of the Starlink for RV installation is keeping power to the system. If you only camp where shore power is available, this isn’t a concern.
While traveling in your RV, you should also not have an issue powering the system, as the alternator and inverter will keep enough electricity flowing.
However, if you love to boondock camp off-grid, you’ll need to ensure you have a generator or enough solar power capability to keep the unit running once you park your camper.
The Starlink system requires 90 to 150 watts of power, along with any devices and appliances inside the RV you plan to use at the same time. In comparison, a standard internet router uses less than 1/10th of the power to operate.
When you want to jump in and out of internet usage during the day, you’ll want to keep the unit up and running. This usage means you’ll need to have to plan for 8 hours or more of extra wattage delivery from your RV generator or RV solar panels, battery, and inverter set up.
While a basic RV solar panel installation can generate 100-200 watts of power, it won’t be enough to run your current RV appliances and devices in addition to the Starlink.
To meet the power demands of Starlink, you’ll need to invest more money to upgrade the number of panels and batteries, which many RVers may not have the budget or room in their camper to do so.
Luckily, the issue of power consumption is another factor the SpaceX team is looking to streamline with the Starlink system.
The techs are looking for ways to have the unit automatically go into deep power-savings mode yet remain connected to the internet. Small changes like this can mean a big difference for an RVer who needs to generate power off-grid.
As of right now, the only real change from their residential Starlink system will be a more rugged version of their Dishy to withstand the vibrations and bumps of road travel.
The good news is that the SpaceX team has been surveying RV-owning customers to get answers to their questions about how RVers currently access the internet while mobile. For example, they want to know what they use the internet for most while on the road, how much speed they think they would need, and even what locations (campground or off-grid) they prefer to camp.
The fact that Starlink is thinking ahead about ways to improve their mobile satellite internet service for RV use shows the attention to detail and awareness that not all mobile customers will have similar needs. Overcoming issues that may arise in a crowded RV park will not be the same as trying to deliver high-speed internet to someone on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
So the answer to this question is “most likely,” as SpaceX Starlink will probably tweak each system to be most suitable for the vehicle on which a customer will use it.
To answer this important question, you first need to look at your current RV internet service and how well it works for your needs. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If you work remotely, have a Mi-Fi hotspot that is very reliable wherever you travel in your RV, and you can afford the monthly fees, then you do not need to invest in the SpaceX Starlink hardware and service fees.
If you find campground Wi-Fi suitable to check emails or other limited web browsing needs during RV trips, then again, you don’t need SpaceX Starlink.
If you don’t want to take the time to find a clearing and set up a satellite dish and other components when you RV, then it’s best to bypass the Starlink.
But, you’ll want to consider SpaceX Starlink for RV life if you have:
- Slow or dropped internet through your mobile hotspot
- Expensive monthly data fees through your cell phone or Mi-Fi
- Current satellite internet company that is unreliable
- Travel plans that put you out in the middle of nowhere
With Elon Musk pushing his companies to always be at the forefront of cutting-edge technology, the prospects of SpaceX Starlink for home and RV use are only going to improve in its service capabilities and become even more affordable.
Elon Musk himself says that Starlink is best for people in medium to low-population areas, as coverage using cell towers in high-density urban areas is more than adequate to handle the load.
Overall, the most intelligent way to approach becoming a Starlink customer is to wait. The longer the company develops its products and has a chance to deploy more satellites, the better the service will be, whether in your home or your RV.
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The average RVer relies on internet access more and more each year, whether it’s through your mobile phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop.
SpaceX Starlink may be just what you need when you want fast, uninterrupted internet to locate campgrounds, find an RV repair shop, order food, stream movies and music, work remotely, or spend time gaming at the campsite or when you’re on the road.
I hope this guide to SpaceX Starlink for RV use is helpful when it’s time for you to select or upgrade your recreational vehicle internet system!
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