Paul Butzi |||

(While not strictly Life in the Forest nor Amateur Radio I’ve tagged this with those tags for want of some better classification.)

For something like 17 years internet service here at our refuge in the forest has been a 2.4 GHz/5Ghz radio link between a dish on the roof of the studio, and a tower on Cougar Mountain, a distance of not quite 14 miles. While the provider has been very diligent, this has required quite a bit of work on our end keeping the line of sight clear (or at least enough of the Fresnel zone clear), as the forest insists on trees getting taller all the time. So when Starlink passed beyond the beta phase and was offered in our area at relatively modest initial cost, we jumped on it so we could evaluate it.

We got the hardware late last fall. I set it up with the Dishy (aka flat panel array antenna) about 3 feet off the ground as a temporary thing to get started evaluating it. The big problem was that the tall trees that surround our homesite screened the sky near the horizon far too much, and we got frequent brief interruptions in connectivity as the satellite the Dishy was tracking got close to the horizon and was screened by the trees. The solution to this is to get the Dishy up considerably higher.

I did a lot of sorting through various options. Generally the system wants coverage down fairly close to the horizon to the north, unlike geostationary satellite systems, which want a view to the south. The best option seemed to be putting the Dishy up on the peak of the roof of the house, which would put it up about 30 feet. So then a lot of puzzling about how to best route the cable into the house, and so on.

Between one thing and another, getting the Dishy mounted up high got deferred into January. Just a few days ago, we finally got the Dishy mounted in the preferred spot.

The results are encouraging. Download speeds are variable between about 30 Ms/s up to about 180 Mb/s as measured from a laptop connected to the Starlink router via 802.11 wifi. Average download speed is about 85 Mb/s. (speeds are higher when you let the Starlink system measure the speed with the router not in the loop). Upload speeds are considerably lower and seem to average about 9 Mb/s.

The big question remaining is reliability. With the dishy mounted about 3 feet above the ground, the trees occluded enough of the sky that we’d get 3-4 second interruptions every half hour or so - enough to be bothersome especially when using a realtime app like Facetime or Zoom. But with the dish up at ~30 AGL, it has essentially a clear view of all of the sky it cares about. The result is that such interruptions are very rare. The Starlink system itself tracks interruptions and can report statistics, and it seems that 2+ second interruptions occur about twice a day. This seems like it must be far more interruptions in service than the microwave service we have been using, but of course I have no data collected that reflects interruptions on that service, certainly not on the scale of the Starlink reporting, which can detect outages as short at .1 second.

And in realistic terms, an outage that lasts 2 seconds is pretty hard to detect unless you’re using facetime/zoom or actually watching for it. For essentially all other internet use a 2 second outage is not noticeable at all.

At this point we have essentially all of our daily internet traffic going over Starlink while we evaluate it. So, more info on all this as the evaluation continues.

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