How to Get Starlink Satellite Internet and Set It Up the Right Way | PCMag

2022-06-18 18:57:30 By : Ms. Mandee Liu

The satellite-based Starlink internet service unlocks excellent speeds pretty much anywhere. Here’s what you need to know and how to get started.

If you live in rural America, you know firsthand that millions of people don't have cable or fiber internet options, let alone access to the gigabit offerings available in some parts of the country. As a result, many people are stuck with a connection between 25 and 40Mbps through DSL or a similar service.

Even President Joe Biden has remarked(Opens in a new window) on the fact that 35% of Americans in rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet. And according to the US Census(Opens in a new window) , more than a quarter-million Americans still use a dial-up connection. Even worse, 13 million people don’t have internet access at all.

Although 25Mbps is fine for one or two people to check email and social media, it’s not sufficient for online gaming or 4K video streaming. And what if more than two people in your household want to get online? Well, it’s not that different from the old days when you had to yell at your siblings to get off the phone to use your dial-up modem.

When I moved recently from a well-connected Utah city to a far more rural area in Idaho, I faced this exact problem. But there was another wrinkle: My job—remotely working for one of the leading tech review sites in the world—places higher demands on my home connectivity than simply checking email or streaming the occasional YouTube video. For instance, the process of testing laptops often involves downloading as much as 70GB of data in a day! Obviously, the 40Mbps speeds (at best) that local DSL providers in southeast Idaho quoted me wasn’t going to cut it.

Thankfully, there’s a new alternative on the market: Starlink, the satellite-based internet service from Elon Musk’s SpaceX. With promises of 150Mbps speeds and dead-simple installation, it has been an essential part of taking my tech-heavy lifestyle out of the city and into the country.

Getting Starlink for your home isn’t difficult. It’s simply a matter of visiting in a new window) and confirming that your location is covered by Starlink’s service area—as easy as plugging your address into the SpaceX coverage map—and then signing up for the service.

The initial signup takes moments; you only need to provide your physical address and credit card information. As part of signing up you’ll find out whether you can expect your Starlink kit within the usual 2-week window of time, or if you’ll be placed on a waitlist for an unspecified amount of time.

When I signed up, I fully expected to be waitlisted, since I had seen other Idaho users online talking about waiting weeks or months for their Starlink kit. I never experienced those delays, though, and received my kit a short two weeks after signing up.

And getting the kit is the hardest part of the whole process. Monthly billing is straightforward and handled online; it’s an automatic payment, so you can set it and forget it after the initial sign up. And whenever you’re ready to stop service, you can handle that through the same web portal, with no early termination fees or cancellation penalties.

When you sign up for Starlink, you don’t sign an equipment rental agreement the way you would with, say, a cable company. Instead, you buy the Starlink hardware upfront. It’s relatively expensive ($599, plus a $50 handling fee), but there is no recurring equipment expense. Service then costs $110 per month for as long as you want the service. There is no long-term contract and you can stop and start as you need.

The Starlink kit(Opens in a new window) comes with everything you need to get going: one Starlink dish, a dish mount, and a Wi-Fi router base unit. It also includes a power cable for the base unit and a 75-foot cable for connecting the router to the dish.

Additional accessories are available through Starlink(Opens in a new window) , including longer cables, additional mounting hardware, and adapters for connecting other equipment over standard Ethernet.

The box includes a fairly simple instruction sheet with illustrations and no text (except the URL to Starlink support). But this page doesn't show you some of the fine details. For example, the dish mast clicks into place in the mounting tripod, but you must first thread the cable through the tripod and plug it into the dish mast. The cable has two ends, both with the same connector type, but with differently shaped plugs. This makes it fairly simple to keep straight which end goes into the dish and which end goes into the base unit. All the plugs have moisture-resistant seals and should withstand inclement weather.

The setup process is pretty quick (it doesn't take long to get a live connection after you open the box), but fine-tuning the dish position for optimal performance may take longer.

When you open the aforementioned Starlink kit box, you should see a few things inside: the setup instructions, the Starlink receiver dish, a mounting base, the Wi-Fi router, and a 75-foot cable to connect the dish and router. 

I received the current kit version: The second-generation dish has a rectangular shape, whereas the original was round.

The router comes with a power cable, but the dish doesn’t need one—it uses the single connector cable to provide both power and data.

The Starlink Wi-Fi router is the key to your new speedy internet connection and serves as the base unit for filling your home with Starlink internet. You should find a good spot for the router by following the same guidance for placing standard Wi-Fi routers.

On the bottom are two connections: one for power and the other for connecting to your Starlink dish. There are no Ethernet ports for wired connections. And instead of the multiple glowing indicators you see on a standard cable modem, the Starlink unit has just one that shows you whether the router is on. And it’s not even visible on the front of the unit—it’s on the bottom, next to the cable connection. If you want to check that your Starlink system is online, you need to use the accompanying smartphone app (available for Android and iOS).

Once you unpack your Starlink kit, you need to assemble the dish and mounting base. Start by unplugging the connection cable from the dish: It arrives plugged-in and you need to unplug it to seat the dish mast into the mounting base.

Then, insert the dish mast into the mounting base. Take care to line up the groove on the mast with the corresponding rail inside the mount.

Once the mast is in place, you plug in the 75-foot connector cable with the straight plug connector. As mentioned, the two ends of the cable use differently shaped connectors, so it should be simple to determine the correct end.

Be sure to insert the cable connector far enough. You should hear a distinct click when the plug seats properly into the socket.

The entire assembled dish and mount was easy enough for me to carry and move around myself.

The next step is to mount and position the assembled dish for optimal satellite reception.

Find a good position by using the Starlink app; it has an interactive tool that helps you find and validate the proper position for a new dish, but the guidelines are easy enough to understand. You need an unobstructed view of the sky, with at least 100 degrees of obstacle-free space above and around the dish. A large unobstructed swath of sky is necessary because the dish does not maintain a fixed orientation. Although you mount it in one place, the dish has a motor and will readjust to maintain a connection with passing satellites.

Some ideas for mounting locations include an open field, a rooftop, or some other elevated structure (such as a pole) that's above obstructions such as fences, buildings, and trees.

With the Starlink app, you use your phone's camera to scan the viewing area of the dish. The process involves pointing the camera up at the sky, which may require some creative positioning on your part to let you view the screen and move the camera. Ideally, you want the camera in approximately the same position as the dish, which is roughly knee height. I found the easiest way to do this was to lay on the ground and look up at my phone as I scanned the area.

The app walks you through this process, during which you point the camera up at the sky, then sweep around the outer edges of that viewable area. The app places green dots onto the screen to indicate unscanned areas within the dish's field of view and a handy arrow shows you what area to scan next.

Once you scan a sufficient amount of sky, the app takes some time to process the data. After a few moments of number crunching, it tells you whether or not you can get clear reception from that position.

After scanning and validating your position, it's time to mount the dish. For basic installations like mine, that simply entails placing the dish mount on the ground. But you might not have the open space that I do or live in a neighborhood where you feel safe leaving your $600 dish out in the yard.

The mounting base includes holes in all four feet for screwing down securely. You can use these to attach the mount to a roof or a fixed structure, as well as stake it to the ground. The kit does not include screws or stakes, you have to supply those yourself. For alternate mounting options, such as on a pole or a prior satellite dish mounting assembly, you need to obtain an additional adapter.

If you're worried about the weather, specifically ice and snow, the Starlink dish houses an internal heater that senses freezing temperatures and will warm up to melt away any frozen obstructions on the surface.

Once the dish is in position, you need to run the cable to the router. For most users, this means running the cable into your home. For my initial setup, I simply led the cable through an open window: It's a simple (and temporary) solution, but it works fine.

Other options include drilling a hole through an exterior wall. Starlink sells accessories for routing cable through standard walls and another for bypassing masonry or concrete.

Once you get the cable into your home, you need only plug it into the Wi-Fi router.

To do this, use the angular plug connection on the 75-foot connector cable. Once again, this plug connection has a special shape that should help you identify it. It plugs only into the Starlink router and only in the proper orientation.

You also need to plug in the power cable for the router, which powers both the router and the dish.

Once your connection is active and the router is running, return to the Starlink app. There, you can monitor the status of your network connection.

It takes a few moments for the dish to establish a connection to the satellites above, so be patient. It's a quick (but not instantaneous) process. Once the dish establishes a connection, the app informs you that you are online and prompts you to set up your Wi-Fi name and password.

Once you complete all these steps, you should have internet access. Just note that the promised speeds may not be available right away. After the installation process, it may take a full 12 hours for the Starlink system to reach optimal performance. During that period, the system downloads the latest drivers; scans and maps the satellites around the dish; and calculates the optimal positions to communicate with the different satellites above. These connections adjust automatically, so you shouldn't have to worry about constantly tweaking your setup.

In initial use, the Wi-Fi signal has surprisingly far reach, covering my entire five-bedroom house and much of the yard.

I plan to fully review the Starlink internet service after I've had the chance to test it for a few months, so stay turned for a full review. In the meantime, check out our review of T-Mobile's 5G Home Internet service, another alternative to cable and fiber connectivity that might be available where you live.

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If you’re after laptop buying advice, I’m your man. I’ve been reviewing PCs and technology products for more than a decade. I cut my teeth in PC Labs, spending several years with before writing for other outlets, among them and Tom’s Guide. While computers are my main focus, I’ve also written at length about topics ranging from fitness gear and appliances to TV and home theater equipment. If I’ve used it, I have opinions about it, whether somebody’s paying me to write them up or not. is a leading authority on technology, delivering lab-based, independent reviews of the latest products and services. Our expert industry analysis and practical solutions help you make better buying decisions and get more from technology.

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