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February 23, 2021

Starlink or Your Local WISP for Broadband Service

A tale of two dishes.

Dishy
Starlink dish
Globalnetdish
GlobalNet dish

Last week someone on our local online Front Porch Forum asked advice on whether they should use Starlink, Elon Musk’s new low earth orbit satellite (LEOS) service, or GlobalNet, a local wireless ISP (WISP). I have experience with both so answered. This specific answer applies directly to people in Stowe, VT and to GlobalNet, but it may be of interest to you if you also have a choice between a local WISP and Starlink. If Starlink is your only option for broadband and you can afford it, you should order it ASAP.

I said that I would recommend either one of them over DSL from Consolidated (our local telco), which I am about to cancel. Our DSL can’t handle even 2Mbps on upload or get better than 20Mbp on download. Many peoples DSL is even worse because they are further from where the copper meets the fiber. Like many Vermonters, I cannot get cable or fiber to the home right now.

Location:

To use GlobalNet from Stowe, you need to be able to see their transmitter on top of Mt. Mansfield.

To use Starlink from around here, you need a view of the northwest sky.

This may be all you need to know to choose between them.

Availability:

GlobalNet will install within weeks of getting an order.

There is a wait for Starlink. Someone I know in Morrisville has been told by Starlink that it will be summer at the earliest before they can get service, but this may be different in Stowe. You can find out your wait time on the Starlink site if you try to order.

Price and speed:

GlobalNet has plans ranging from $29.95/mo to $84.95/mo. The low end is extremely slow but 30Mbps down and about 15Mbps up is $59.95. There is a $149 install fee and a one-year minimum contract required for the first year. No penalty for discontinuing after the first year. GlobalNet owns the dish and radio and you must give them back at the end of your contract (no reason why you would want to keep them). GlobalNet does not supply a router, so you need to buy your own. About $50 for the simplest.

Starlink is $99/mo for a plan that provides speeds between 50-150Mbps down and 20-40Mbps up with higher speeds promised. Initial equipment costs $499 (almost $600 with tax and shipping). In this case you are buying the equipment which you will have no use for if you later switch to another service. It does come with a very simple router which you will want to replace if you’re a nerd like me who wants to do complicated stuff. There is no contract and there is a 30-day no fault return policy.

Neither service currently limits the amount of data you can transfer. Latency is not a problem for either one. Both are more than suitable for multiple video stream, VoIP, Zooming, and most gaming.

Reliability:

 GlobalNet is affected by very heavy rain or wet snow. There was a period last month when service was degraded for a couple of days by ice on their antenna. Sometimes quality seems to dip for a while but those have been getting much less frequent.

Starlink is still building and testing their service. I am using it for lots of Zoom calls but there are short intervals - 5-15 seconds once or twice an hour - when I freeze. These could be due to a branch in the field of view of my dish or the service itself. There have been a few longer outages as they predicted during their beta test, but the beta test is now over. The service has not been affected by weather and the dish is heated so it sheds snow.

Installation:

GlobalNet does this for you including running wire into your house and connecting a router.

Starlink is "self-installing". The dish does aim itself, but you've got to figure a way to get the wire through your wall. You can see the dish aiming itself at the right part of the sky in this video.

Service:

You can call GlobalNet and a knowledgeable person in Vermont answers during business hours. They usually return messages left in off hours. GlobalNet service techs who do installation and fix onsite problems are courteous and competent.

You can file an online ticket with Starlink. They respond but right now are only helping with installation problems. They have no techs making service calls. There is an active Starlink community on Reddit and you can find answers for some questions there.

Other:

GlobalNet is a Vermont small business.  They’ve been around since the dialup days and have steadily improved. I like to deal with local businesses.

Starlink is a service of SpaceX, one of Elon Musk’s companies. There is a technology excitement about his products, even the ones without wheels.

Both services are less likely to be knocked out in a storm than anything on telephone poles. That only helps, of course, if you have standby power. GlobalNet is vulnerable to a power failure on Mt. Mansfield but there are backup generators there. Starlink would keep operating even if there were no power anywhere in Vermont. Its fleet of over 1000 satellites, with about 60 new ones added each two weeks, is highly redundant and not affected by terrestrial disasters.

See also:

Starlink Broadband Access: Game-Changer for Rural Broadband

Starlink Broadband Service - More on the Beta plus Exciting Video

Starlink Broadband Passes “Better Than Nothing” Beta Test

WCAX video on Starlink

VPR audio on Starlink

Seven Days on Starlink

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