A sky-high internet network has arrived here in New Zealand. Rolled out by Elon Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX, Starlink is bringing faster broadband internet to rural and remote communities. Spanning a growing ecosystem of low-orbit satellites, Starlink has this year commenced deploying what the provider labels the “world’s most advanced broadband internet system”.
With satellite and internet technologies continuing to evolve, the race is now well and truly on to bring broadband to areas where connectivity has previously presented a challenge. In turn, a new breed of broadband provider, unconstrained by traditional geographic barriers, is emerging. Starlink has emerged as one of the more prominent global players.
Currently in its beta stage, Starlink has become available for order in select areas of New Zealand. Starlink is poised to expand its offerings in the coming years and bring further diversity to the market.
What is Starlink?
Starlink is being launched to provide high-speed, low-latency broadband connectivity across the globe. Starlink aims to cover locations where connectivity has traditionally been limited.
Starlink’s satellites fly at a very low altitude. Compared to other communications satellites, this minimises signal latency between the satellite and the users getting internet service from it.
Starlink launched its first 60 satellites in mid-2019. Since then, subsequent launches have brought the current total to over 1600 satellites. The network is growing, however, and could potentially span tens of thousands of satellites.
As it stands, SpaceX advised in July of this year that Starlink has around 90,000 users across 12 countries worldwide, according to a CNBC report.
What plans is Starlink offering?
At least for now, during its beta stage, there is one Starlink plan available. However, with the satellite infrastructure underpinning the service set to be significantly expanded in the coming years, it’s certainly a case of watch this space.
Starlink says that its service provides:
- Data speeds – during beta, users can expect to see speeds varying from 50-150Mb/s
- Latency – can be expected to vary from 20-40ms
- Data caps – at this time, there are no caps under the beta program
In addition to this, Starlink advises that while Starlink launches more satellites and installs more ground stations there will be brief periods of no connectivity at all. Paired with improved networking software, the data speeds, latency and uptime on offer “will improve dramatically”.
Meanwhile, no contract commitment provides for flexibility if required. However, while the flexibility is a bonus, if you’re prepared to make the initial investment in the hardware (prices are outlined below), chances are that you’re planning on using the service for the long term.
How can you sign up for Starlink and how much does it cost?
Starlink is currently available for a limited number of users per coverage area. Orders are fulfilled on a first-come, first-served basis.
To confirm whether the service is available in your area, you will need to search for your address via the Starlink website. If the service is available, click on your address, and then click “order now”, which will take you to a fresh order screen.
The costs are:
- Hardware – $799
- Service – $159 per month
- Shipping and handling – $114
You will first need to pay a $159 deposit upfront.
Once you have placed your order, you’ll receive a confirmation email. This can also be viewed on your account page. Starlink typically ships its kits within two weeks.
Should you wish to, you can cancel your order at any time via the Customer Account Portal. And, if you decide it’s not for you, you can also return your Starlink kit. As long as it’s within 30 days of shipment, you will get a full hardware payment refund.
What equipment is required and how does Starlink work?
As advised above, when you place an order for Starlink, you will be charged $799 in hardware costs. This is for the Starlink kit, comprising: a Starlink satellite dish, wi-fi router, power supply, cables and a mounting tripod.
The tripod is designed for ground-level installation. If you require a roof install, roof mounts are available by signing into your account.
It’s important to be aware that installation is DIY, with Starlink advising:
- Clear field of view – is needed to connect, and even small obstructions can cause a service interruption. Users should seek to install at the highest elevation possible where safe to do so, enabling a clear view of the sky
- Starlink app – the app assists the installation process, and users can download it (available for Android and iOS devices) to assess the field of view and identify a suitable location
Heavy wind or rain could impact the connection, while Starlink advises that the dish will detect and melt snow that falls directly on it. Accumulating snow around the dish could, however, block the field of view. Install your satellite in a location that avoids build-up.
Additionally, keep in mind that the service is only approved for use at the service address you provide on sign-up. If you need to change this address, you can check to see if the service is available at the new address via your account page. If it is, you can arrange to use the dish at the new location.
How does Starlink compare to other internet services?
Of course, when exploring your internet options, you should weigh up the full scope of services available in your area. Be it via fibre, fixed wireless (4G/5G), copper (ADSL/VDSL) or satellite broadband connection.
If you’re currently relying on internet over an old copper-wire connection, your internet will be crawling. Currently, the average ADSL and VDSL speeds in NZ are:
ADSL 2+: 10Mbps upload and 0.8Mbps download
VDSL:2 5-60Mbps upload and 10Mbps download
And the more remote your location, the slower these speeds will be. So Starlink’s promise of 50-150Mb/s could be really tempting. Especially since some early users in NZ have reported speeds of 259Mbps down and 41Mbps up.
So if fibre and fixed wireless services are unavailable in your area, you may find that satellite is your best option. Besides Starlink, there are a number of services to choose from. As with any internet service, you should research the offerings available from different providers.
Starlink states that its satellites are over 60 times closer to Earth than traditional satellites. This results “in lower latency and the ability to support services typically not possible with traditional satellite internet”.
Certainly, the advertised speeds and latency on offer from Starlink compare favourably with other satellite offerings and ADSL/VDSL services. However, installing ADSL/VDSL is significantly cheaper, as are the typical plan costs.
In addition to this, the unlimited data available under the Starlink beta program paves the way for a range of online services. It’s important to weigh up both your data and speed requirements in terms of your monthly budget.
Meanwhile, with regard to customer support, including phone and online support, along with technical and installation assistance, you should also consider how important this is.
Other factors to keep in mind
As with any internet provider, there is a range of factors that you should weigh up before signing up with Starlink.
In regards to Starlink, keep in mind that it is in its beta stage. The service will evolve over time. For instance, with regard to data caps, Starlink advises that there are no caps under the beta program “at this time”.
In assessing Starlink’s pros and cons, it is certainly worthwhile doing your research online. This may include reading about customer experiences with the service (especially locally) and reading customer reviews.
As noted above, there is no contract commitment. However, the initial cost of the hardware represents a commitment in itself. You should be comfortable with all aspects of the service offering before signing up.
Compare broadband with Canstar Blue
If you’re not satisfied with your internet connection, it pays to look at your options. Different providers not only have a variety of plans and pricing on offer, but the coverage and type of broadband on offer can vary too. Where one provider may not be able to offer you the coverage you want, another may.
To help you get a clearer picture of broadband providers in NZ, Canstar Blue rates all the big providers annually. We survey thousands of broadband customers and ask them to score their providers across categories including Value for Money, Network Performance and Customer Service.
Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ internet providers compares NOW, 2degrees, Bigpipe, Contact, MyRepublic, Nova Energy, Orcon, Slingshot, Spark, Stuff Fibre, Trustpower and Vodafone, and awards the best our 5 Star rating:
^ By clicking on a brand or 'details' button, you will leave Canstar Blue and be taken to either a product provider website or a Canstar Blue NZ brand page. You agree that Canstar Blue NZ’s terms and conditions apply (without limitation) to your use of this service,to any referral to a product provider from our website, and any transaction that follows. Canstar Blue may receive a fee for referring you to a product provider. See How we are funded for further details.
Canstar Blue NZ Research finalised in March 2020, published in April 2020.
See Our Ratings Methodology
The table above is an abridged version of our full research, so to find out more about NZ’s best broadband providers, just click on the big button at the bottom of this story.
About the author of this page
This report was written by Canstar author Martin Kovacs. Martin is a freelance writer with experience covering the business, consumer technology and utilities sectors. Martin has written about a wide range of topics across both print and digital publications, including the manner in which industry continues to adapt and evolve amid the rollout of new technologies