SpaceX's Starlink satellite network makes it possible for remote workers to work anywhere -- in a genuine sense. As long as an employee's satellite dish has a view of the northern sky, Starlink can provide access to broadband.
For employers, Starlink's coverage means that remote workers in places like rural Vermont, Louisiana and Pennsylvania can be more resilient than when using wired and wireless internet. As long as Starlink users have a generator, employees can potentially keep working even through power outages.
Starlink said users can expect download speeds between 100 and 200 megabits per second (Mbps), but the speed and quality of the user experience can vary. Some users interviewed for this story said drop-offs or short service degradations can impact Zoom and Teams video calls.
After installing Starlink about 14 months ago at her home in rural Vermont, Christine Hallquist saw 200 Mbps downloads and 80 Mbps uploads. Those speeds have dropped since then as Starlink adds customers. During the day, when using it for work, the data transmission rate is around 30 to 50 Mbps for downloads and 12 Mbps for uploads, she said.
"It's better than nothing, and it does enable remote workers," Hallquist said. She sees it as an interim remedy until internet fiber is widely available, something she is working on as executive director of Vermont Community Broadband Board in Montpelier. The board, which was launched last year, oversees a five-year rollout of fiber to "every address" in Vermont, a billion-dollar investment paid for by state and federal government and telecom firms. The first construction grants for the fiber deployments were issued last month, Hallquist said.
Tom Evslin, who lives in Stowe, Vt., is also a Starlink user. Although he now has access to internet fiber, he keeps Starlink because he's interested in the technology and has blogged about it.
Good enough for remote work
"It's not perfect, but it's certainly enough for remote work," said Evslin, who has a long enterprise technology background, which includes co-founding ITXC Corp., a U.S.-based wholesale provider of voice over IP calls, a NASDAQ-listed firm until it was acquired in 2004. In 2016, he retired as chairman of NG Advantage LLC, a compressed natural gas provider, which he co-founded with his wife.
When the Starlink service gets weak, there's a "very brief point" of signal degradation, Evslin said. He can't see the problem on his end, but "the people I'm talking to tell me that I froze for a moment or dropped out." He said it happens no more than once a half hour or less.
Starlink coverage needs clear northern exposure. Otherwise, trees or other obstructions can interfere with the signal.
Tom EvslinStarlink user
"Even if there are just a few branches in the way, you can count on getting a lot of dropouts," Evslin said.
The problem with tree obstruction is something Glenn O'Donnell, an analyst at Forrester Research, knows from experience. He works in the Pocono Mountains, a rural area, and, despite promises from a cable provider, was unable to get internet cable in Pennsylvania. He's been using Starlink.
Starlink coverage is a "godsend for anyone who wants to go into the boonies and live that quality of life while still connected to the real world," O'Donnell said.
But, he added, "it isn't perfect," noting that he experiences service degradation because of the nearby forest.
O'Donnell said he can experience a complete loss of connection while on video calls. "The outages don't last long enough for something like Zoom or Teams to give up, but it will tell you, 'Hey, you've got a problem here,'" he said. He said it isn't a prolonged disruption, but even a few seconds can affect a call.
Luke Stafford, founder of Mondo Mediaworks, a video production company in Brattleboro, Vt., is an early Starlink adopter. He created a video last year that takes viewers through the unboxing and installation of the product. He continues to use Starlink and reports, in an email, that the service has 'been meeting my expectations, for sure. Not exceeding them -- it still drops out for a few seconds at a time multiple times a day -- but definitely meeting them.'
There are workarounds to improve Starlink. Hallquist's Vermont home also has DSL, but the quality is poor. And Starlink drops off for seconds at a time during video calls. To address the problem, she uses Speedify, a software tool that can combine multiple Wi-Fi connections. She uses Starlink, DSL and cellular wireless connections in concert to balance out any dips in bandwidth. She called it "really marvelous" software.
Speedify is "looking at latency and loss" in the network packets, said Alex Gizis, CEO and co-founder of Connectify Inc., which makes the software. So if the network is detecting latency and is getting, for instance, 2 Mbps from Starlink and 3 Mbps from DSL, it adds the bandwidth from both to create a stronger connection without changing the IP address, he said.
SpaceX, which didn't respond to questions from SearchHRSoftware, recently raised its Starlink service rates from $99 a month to $110 with a one-time hardware cost of $599. Analysts expect continuing improvements as it increases its satellite coverage.
"Seamless connection depends on satellite and bandwidth availability," said Vivek Suresh Prasad, a consultant at Northern Sky Research (NSR), a market research and consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass., focused on the satellite and space sectors.
SpaceX's first phase is to deploy a network of 4,200-plus satellites, a plan approved by the Federal Communications Commission and the International Telecommunication Union. It currently supports more than 2,000 satellites and added nearly 400 satellites in the first quarter of this year.
"More satellites in orbit will translate to improved connection reliability," Prasad said, adding that SpaceX has received FCC approval for 12,000 satellites in the long term.
In its latest VSAT and Broadband Satellite Markets report, NSR estimated that even with advanced fiber connectivity, the number of broadband satellite users in North America could be as high as 12.4 million households.
Starlink draws user in rural Louisiana
State Rep. Mike Johnson, a Republican from rural Pineville, La., announced the coming availability of Starlink last year on his Facebook page. He got more than 100 responses from interested people. He later held a mass video call with SpaceX's Starlink officials, and some 400 people attended, "which is a lot for my area," he said.
Starlink officials didn't want the call recorded, "and they were very careful about what claims they made" about the service, Johnson said.
Starlink became available in his area in October and November last year, he said.
"The ease of setting this up was almost like an Apple product," Johnson said. A user sets it up, plugs it in, gets a clear line of sight, and it finds a satellite, he said.
Johnson has heard from people in his district who have installed Starlink, and "overall, it has been positive," he said.
Personally, Johnson said he hasn't seen a difference between Starlink's network and what he is getting from his cable internet. Louisiana, similar to Vermont, is also rolling out broadband using federal and state funds, but it will take several years, he said.
Johnson said that a service like Starlink is going to impact his district in significant ways, given that some areas in his state don't have good cell phone coverage. Real estate agents have told him that broadband access can raise property values by 25%.
Patrick Thibodeau covers HCM and ERP technologies for TechTarget. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.