Starlink: First Impressions

Starlink

So my Starlink kit is finally here! A number of folks have asked for first impressions so I’m going to break it down. Long story short, it’s a breeze to setup but operationally, definitely a beta service. Let’s explore.

The Unboxing

I was first struck how efficiently everything is packaged. The first thing you see is the 3 panel pictogram of how to set this all up right on top. You know what, it pretty much was this easy. When you lift this page and the top molded plastic panel that holds everything in place up, you get to the goods. The form fitting molded plastic on the top and bottom holds the kit in very snug, it’s really well executed. In the box:

  • Starlink Dish with attached mast
  • Ground base to attached to dish mast
  • Starlink Power over Ethernet (PoE) Injector – Model UTP-201S – Output towards dish maxes out at 90W (x2), output towards router maxes out at 17W. Total wattage this guy can produce is 180W.
  • Starlink Router – Model UTR-201 – PoE input 10W – Has built in 802.11a/b/c/g/ac Wifi over 2.4Ghz & 5Ghz and “AUX” 10/100/1000 Ethernet port.
  • Pre-connected cables, 100 foot black cable for dish to PoE injector, 6 foot white for PoE injector to router. The cables were already plugged in.

The Setup

With everything pre-cabled, assembly really comes down to:

  • Snap the dish and it’s attached mast into the base
  • Plug PoE brick into the wall
  • Connect the pre-terminated and weather proofed black cable from the dish into it’s black color coded port on the PoE brick
  • Plug the white cable already hanging off the included router into it’s color coded port on the PoE brick.

From a physical standpoint, that’s all you really have to do! A lot of time was obviously spent on making this very easy to deploy. Mission accomplished. I literally got everything up and running within 10 minutes. Once plugged in, the dish points straight up at the sky and with it’s built in motors starts to tune it self to receive the strongest signal possible. If you want to see these motors and the guts of the dish, check out engineer Ken Keiter’s tear down. It’s quite impressive, I highly recommend checking it out. The dish iterated through a few positions and it eventually settled on a position somewhere in the sky NNE of my house.

First thing to do after plugging everything in is to get the Starlink app on iOS or Android. All configuration, control and documentation is really within this app so it’s definitely a requirement. This process is relatively straightforward and is a lot like any other consumer IoT devices you may have picked up recently.

The Starlink UTR-201 router comes with a default SSID which is printed right on it by the “AUX” port on the back of the unit.

The iOS/Android app connects to it over Wifi and adopts the router so now you can adjust some basic settings via the app. Not really much you can configure there other than the wireless SSID, more on that later.

The Operation

Here are some notes on what things look like after we get it all plugged in and up and running. I have to say it’s definitely “better than nothing” as they state. That said, there is room for improvement.

  • Once connecting to the Starlink router via Wifi or wired via the AUX port, you will be DHCP’d a 192.168.1.x/24 address. This is not optional and there is no way to reconfigure different addressing or other DHCP options that I can find.
  • There is no management interface to the router and the options are very limited. There is a rather nice statistics dashboard you can see through the app or surfing in your browser to 192.168.100.1 when connected to it.
  • Your DNS server will be the router at 192.168.1.1 and the search domain is just “lan”.
  • There is no configuring port translations but the router is running Universal Plug n Play (UPnP, see below in the next section) so maybe there will be plans for that later?
  • The WAN interface on the router is behind Carrier Grade Network Address Translation (CG-NAT). More on this later, but this will make port forwarding impossible and having a public IP address for specific applications (things like old school IPSEC VPNs or accessing your own server directly) not currently possible.

How’s the latency? Pretty good actually.

jg-mbp:~ jason$ ping 4.2.2.2
PING 4.2.2.2 (4.2.2.2): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_seq=0 ttl=58 time=37.909 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_seq=1 ttl=58 time=43.383 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_seq=2 ttl=58 time=40.946 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_seq=3 ttl=58 time=39.343 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_seq=4 ttl=58 time=37.811 ms
^C
--- 4.2.2.2 ping statistics ---
5 packets transmitted, 5 packets received, 0.0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 37.811/39.878/43.383/2.091 ms

This in the same neighborhood as RTTs over my Spectrum connection which is impressive! This is my Spectrum RTT to the same address.

jason@rtr01-jghome:~$ ping 4.2.2.2
PING 4.2.2.2 (4.2.2.2) 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_req=1 ttl=53 time=34.4 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_req=2 ttl=53 time=32.2 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_req=3 ttl=53 time=31.0 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_req=4 ttl=53 time=29.5 ms
64 bytes from 4.2.2.2: icmp_req=5 ttl=53 time=34.3 ms
^C
--- 4.2.2.2 ping statistics ---
5 packets transmitted, 5 received, 0% packet loss, time 4006ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 29.513/32.314/34.454/1.910 ms

Next question, how much bandwidth are we getting? This is typically in the neighborhood of around 70Mbps down / 10Mbps up. It’s good, but not great. I was most surprised at the upload bandwidth, I wasn’t expecting to get this much.

Now as far as stability goes, that’s all over the board. Here’s a My Traceroute (MTR) which trace routes the path then pings the hops repeatedly. I let it cycle through 100 times here.

Oof. That’s not pretty. Standard deviation is up there, there’s 3% packet loss all the way through and we are getting upwards of 300ms RTTs right out of the gate. More detail will be below in the next section after I plug it into my VMware SD-WAN appliance.

The Geekier Stuff

The previous sections were the basics that most people want to see. This section will be more of the fun details I observed while playing around.

One thing that I thought was interesting was the router’s hostname resolved via DNS off itself.

jg-mbp:~ jason$ host 192.168.1.1
1.1.168.192.in-addr.arpa domain name pointer OpenWrt.lan.

So it looks like it’s based on OpenWRT. To be honest, this is not uncommon and I know of many other commercial products based on this as well.

I tried to see if there is a web management interface on the router but no such luck. Here’s what a port scan looks like.

Starting Nmap 7.91 ( https://nmap.org ) at 2021-02-28 11:33 EST
Nmap scan report for 192.168.1.1
Host is up (0.24s latency).
Not shown: 994 closed ports
PORT     STATE SERVICE
22/tcp   open  ssh
53/tcp   open  domain
80/tcp   open  http
5000/tcp open  upnp
9000/tcp open  cslistener
9001/tcp open  tor-orport

When you go to port 80 on it, it just redirects you to https://www.starlink.com. Boring!

The router is listening for DNS queries on port 53 and answering them pretty quickly. It appears to be proxying and caching DNS entries which certainly helps speed things up. It’s all about optimizing performance where you can when delivering internet from space and I think this was a smart way to go. Here’s a dig query against the router for a cached entry vs against an internet name server. 2ms vs 63ms is a big improvement!

jg-mbp:~ jason$ dig google.com @192.168.1.1

; <<>> DiG 9.10.6 <<>> google.com @192.168.1.1
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 9561
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 1

;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:
; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 4096
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;google.com.			IN	A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
google.com.		212	IN	A	142.250.64.110

;; Query time: 2 msec
;; SERVER: 192.168.1.1#53(192.168.1.1)
;; WHEN: Mon Mar 01 20:40:03 EST 2021
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 55

jg-mbp:~ jason$ dig google.com @8.8.8.8

; <<>> DiG 9.10.6 <<>> google.com @8.8.8.8
;; global options: +cmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 41035
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 1, AUTHORITY: 0, ADDITIONAL: 1

;; OPT PSEUDOSECTION:
; EDNS: version: 0, flags:; udp: 512
;; QUESTION SECTION:
;google.com.			IN	A

;; ANSWER SECTION:
google.com.		117	IN	A	142.250.64.110

;; Query time: 63 msec
;; SERVER: 8.8.8.8#53(8.8.8.8)
;; WHEN: Mon Mar 01 20:40:10 EST 2021
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 55

TCP/22 aka SSH is open! But good luck getting in there. Their SSH server uses key based instead of user based authentication which I have to say is refreshing! Definitely a step in the right direction when it comes to IoT device security.

jg-mbp:~ jason$ ssh admin@192.168.1.1
The authenticity of host '192.168.1.1 (192.168.1.1)' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is SHA256:owxzwYXb/xsrqqDmR1YkIaAIR6AS1t+iwE0mMvoymYM.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no/[fingerprint])? yes
Warning: Permanently added '192.168.1.1' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
admin@192.168.1.1: Permission denied (publickey).

Universal Plug n Play (UPnP) is running on TCP/5000. Perhaps this is for future application? If you think you know what this is for outside of the standard UPnP application, let me know. Seems weird to have it when there’s another layer of CG-NAT beyond it. Also curious about TCP/9000 and TCP/9001. The most common uses for these are PHP-FPM and The Onion Router (ToR) but I doubt that’s what they’re for. If anyone has ideas I’m all ears.

I wanted to see what happens when you bypass the Starlink router and plug the dish right into a different device instead. It turns out, this works! You get an RFC6598 IP address which is what you do for CG-NAT. Makes sense when you are working with very little IPv4 space and you need to conserve as much as you can.

While in the SD-WAN Platform, let’s check out how well it thinks Starlink would do for real time applications like voice compared to my Spectrum circuit.

Hmmm… have a little ways to go there it seems. There are a lot of instances of packet loss, jitter, high latency and just plain no connection.

How about IPv6? Turns out, not ready yet.

One thing I really love is the support section. It has some really great insights and commonly asked questions like this one in it.

So that’s it for now! As mentioned before, an amazingly simple setup experience and it really is a remarkable offering considering they are blazing new territory here. I think the services will only improve over time and you will see greater stability and performance with each software update/improvement SpaceX makes. That said, this is usable and much better than many of the alternatives those in the boonies suffer today. If you would like to read my thoughts on why I think LEO satellite internet access is more significant in rural areas than 5G, check that out here.

I’m going to write a follow up but wanted to get something out for folks to check out. Please do contact me for things you would like for me to try or tell you about! I would absolutely love to share my experiences and learn more by answering your questions.

Starlink Experiment Underway!

Ohio Starlink beta signups, check your inbox! I signed up for it last spring and have been anxiously anticipating the email inviting me in. Well today is the day and shortly, I’ll be enjoying my internet access from space. I’m super excited to test this out and add more resilience and capacity to my access. I’ll definitely post updates detailing the experiment.

The signup was very straightforward, an email arrived at 4:50p today inviting me to check availability. I clicked on the link, put in my email and physical address that confirmed availability. I was then taken to a page to put in my personal info, a credit card number and clicked submit. A confirmation email arrived for my payment and had a link to sign into the account. I’m now able to log in to track the status of my order.

Looks like it’s going to be about 2-4 weeks before the kit arrives. I’ve downloaded the app which you can use to check for obstructions in the place where you would like to install the dish but it’s dark now so I’ll check that out tomorrow. There is also a step by step guided installation portion of the app that I’ll hold off on until the dish comes.

So I guess, now we wait! I’ll have more updates as they become available. Definitely excited to test out what I really feel will be the future of connectivity!

Starlink vs. 5G

Starlink > 5G

There has been a lot of interesting developments in the mobile/wireless connectivity world as of late. Despite being told for many years 5G will change our lives (seriously, for a really long time now), as it finally comes to market it seems there are other technologies that might steal a little bit of that 5G thunder. The more I read about SpaceX’s Starlink or the other low earth orbit (LEO) satellite services like OneWeb, Telesat & Amazon, the more they seem to have the potential to make a bigger impact than 5G. Low earth orbit satellite connectivity solutions appear to be solving what seem like more pressing remote and limited connectivity problems. Don’t get me wrong, 5G will likely be a great incremental step forward in the places where we already have 4G/LTE connectivity today but it really won’t do much to help those who are so far off the beaten path that they don’t have good access. Being subscribed to the Reddit group /r/starlink, you see some pretty amazing reviews from people who up until now, haven’t had many options for connectivity. In particular, if you live in remote parts of the world which Starlink is currently servicing, there are now some pretty amazing connectivity you never had before.

Living and Working in the Boonies

There are a lot of niceities to living in very rural areas for those that enjoy the country life. Large plots of land, lots of privacy, no hustle, nor bustle. That said, ease of access to high speed internet access is not a benefit you often enjoy in the sticks. If you are fortunate enough to have high speed access in very rural areas, options are limited to one or two overpriced providers that have a monopoly. These providers also a lot of infrastructure costs to cover for relative few addressable customers which goes for remote residential and business customers as well. There usually is little in the way of good wireless 4G/LTE coverage for the same reasons as the wireline guys because it just doesn’t pay to put the kind of dollars into building the infrastructure and backhauling fiber from towers which will reach only a handful homes and businesses. With that, there are huge swaths of extremely rural areas with little to no access at all that would potentially never make financial sense to reach with terrestrial options. For some, getting away from Internet access may be by design but for others it’s never ending disappointment of crappy, overpriced connectivity options. Low earth orbit satellite services can cover these areas very well and provide connectivity to areas which would never be on terrestrial wireline or wireless carriers otherwise. There are countless people and organizations that can finally know the convenience of effective, low latency (~50ms) & broadband access at 50-200Mbps speeds in these areas. But are the speeds and performance of low earth orbit access enough compared to the speeds of 5G?

How Much Bandwidth is Enough?

Maybe I’m getting too old to carry a geek card but but I often wonder, how fast does Internet access really need to be? Sure, faster is always better but how much bandwidth does one need before there is no real discernible difference between a few hundred megabits per second and getting up into multi-gigabits per second? It’s kind of like going from HD resolutions at 1080P up to Ultra HD resolutions at 4K or even 8K. I personally can’t tell the difference on the size TVs that I buy, which are around 50” or so. Another analogy might be in computing such as the difference between a 3.3Ghz six core or 3.8Ghz eight core processor. I understand there’s a difference but do the applications I use day in, day out really show a significant performance increase? Will multi-gigabit speeds really make a noticeable difference for me or the average user? For the enthusiast and those living on the cutting edge of technology, sure, they’ll bust out their benchmarking tools to compare and find ways to use all of that throughput. Most users like myself are perfectly content with around 100-250Mbps of bandwidth.

What Connectivity Problems Need Solving?

Once Starlink and other low earth orbit satellite services like it really start chugging, they will solve connectivity issues for many of the underserved. Contrast that with 5G as an incremental performance increase for those who already have 4G/LTE access today, which is great but in my mind, less significant. Connecting the unconnected or ”underconnected” with more bandwidth is far more interesting than just souping up existing connectivity that is pretty darn good as it is. I am certainly long on the promise low earth orbit access brings for global connectivity landscape and think this will be a hugely disruptive. I only wish I could buy stock in Space X to support and share in the success of their mission!

What do you think?