For many vanlifers and digital nomads, securing a reliable, fast internet connection while on the road has historically been one of the biggest challenges of the lifestyle. You might need to hop on a Zoom call for work, upload a banger Instagram reel, research your next destination, or get your gaming fix, which all take substantial amounts of internet juice.
Up until recently, you would either have to use your phone or external hotspot (limited amount of gigs each month and only available where there’s cell service), mooch public wifi (generally slow, not secure, and requires you to sit in a cafe for hours or park reeeeal close to a McDonald’s), or simply… go without.
Of course, I’m oversimplifying here. There are wifi boosters, extenders, repeaters, other satellite systems, etc. etc. But it was virtually impossible to use one single device to achieve seamless, reliable internet connectivity with no usage cap.
That is, until Starlink RV hit the scene.
In this article, we’ll look at what Starlink RV is and how much it costs, answer some FAQs about the service, and—most importantly—weigh in on whether it’s worth it.
Is Starlink RV worth it?
Starlink RV is certainly worth it if you rely on the internet for, well, anything while you travel. Since the launch of the service in 2020, it has improved by leaps and bounds and truly makes connected travel possible.
My partner and I traveled full-time in a self-converted 22-foot skoolie from April 2018 until August 2022, and although we are currently taking a break from road life, I’ve kept my ear to the ground regarding Starlink developments.
We worked as freelancers while traveling to support our lifestyle and I am all too familiar with the compulsive monitoring of remaining hotspot gigs and the joys (ha!) of sitting in a Starbucks for eight hours to download iOS updates, work, upload photos, and so forth.
Somewhat against our initial intentions, our freelancing roles became ever bigger and more time and internet-consuming. It got to the point where we were planning our route and destinations specifically around whether we would have cell service or internet access, which was a major drag and ultimately one of the reasons we decided to take a break and pursue our careers for a bit.
However, if we were to go back on the road tomorrow, I would absolutely invest in Starlink RV. I keep in touch with many friends in the buslife/vanlife/RV community and although initial reviews of beta Starlink were shaky at best, it’s now practically a no-brainer with the specific RV service.
Starlink RV Cost & What’s Included
To access the Starlink network, you’ll need to purchase the portable hardware for $599 and subscribe to the RV service for $135 per month. This hardware includes a router and a rectangular dish with a stand, all of which you’ll need to set up each time you want to access the internet from a new location.
Or, you can upgrade to the Flat High Performance Starlink hardware which costs $2,500, mounts permanently to the roof of your rig, and allows you to use the internet even while in motion.
If you try to get around paying the extra $1,901 by jerry-rigging your portable dish to your rooftop deck, you’ll void the warranty and likely damage the dish. So…probably don’t do that. At least if you do shell out the extra dough for the in-motion system, it’s still the same $135 per month service charge.
The service is billed in one-month increments. Conveniently, you can pause and unpause your service any time you want, which is great if you only travel for part of the year or jump around between continents—Starlink RV works only on the continent where you initially start the service, not worldwide.
Additionally, you can try Starlink RV for 30 days and if you aren’t satisfied, you can return the hardware for a full refund. While the company reserves the right to change the terms and pricing at any point, customers are also allowed to cancel their service at any time for any reason—no 2-year internet contracts here (looking at you, Comcast).
As an interesting sidenote, Starlink dishes have the ability to melt snow (by using extra power, of course) at a rate of up to 1.5 inches of snow per hour. So, even in mild to moderately snowy conditions, you don’t have to worry about suiting up to brush off the dish every couple of hours.
Starlink Residential vs. Starlink RV
As the names imply, Starlink Residential is for sticks-and-bricks homes while Starlink RV is for travelers. The basic hardware kits are identical: for $599, you get the antenna, a stand, and a router.
However, the Residential package is only $110 per month since it does not include the portability feature that enables you to connect to Starlink from any location on your continent. You can add this feature for the additional $25 per month if you wish to take your Residential package on the road in the future.
A few other differences include:
- Priority performance – When at their service address, Residential users will always have bandwidth priority over RV users who are in the area. Residential users have 1 TB of priority data each month after which they are booted to Basic Data, which is deprioritized in the event of heavy network use and congestion. RV users, on the other hand, are always on Basic Data.
- Pausing the service – RV users have the option to pause the service as mentioned above, while Residential users can only cancel (or upgrade to RV service and then pause).
- Availability of used hardware – As a residential user, you can sell your hardware to other people if you decide you are done with the service—or purchase used hardware at the outset to minimize startup costs. However, RV users are not permitted to sell or transfer their hardware, so there’s not a market for used RV setups.
- Availability/waitlist – Oddly, despite the hardware being identical, there is still a waitlist for many people who try to purchase Starlink Residential, while there is not a waitlist for Starlink RV.
3 Biggest Disadvantages of Starlink RV
There are three main factors that can thwart Starlink RV’s effectiveness: trees, crowds, and electricity consumption.
1. Unobstructed Line Required
Due to the satellite-based nature of Starlink internet, it requires an unobstructed line from the dish on the ground to the satellites in space. Obstructions like trees, mountains, storms, and tall buildings can affect the quality of your connection.
However, while the tree issue used to be a substantial negative especially for RVers who wanted to camp anywhere other than the desert, user reports now indicate that it’s less of a problem.
Of course, there are also new Starlink satellites launched regularly, which only helps improve coverage. And, conveniently, if you don’t have a great connection due to nearby trees or obstructions, you can simply drive to a better spot if you really need internet.
2. Diminished Speeds In Heavily Populated Areas
You also might face diminished speeds if you are in a heavily populated area with a lot of Starlink Residential users, or at an event with tons of other Starlink RV users. This can be an inconvenience for sure, but at least you are still connected.
3. Energy Requirements
Finally, Starlink RV does require some energy, which is nearly always at a premium for travelers unless you are staying in an RV park with full hookups. The company estimates that the system consumes 48-74 watts while in use and 20 watts while idle. While some users have reported lower energy consumption, this is still something to consider if you are relying on an off-grid system like solar energy or a generator.
Are these factors enough to turn me off Starlink RV?
Probably not. I’ve already faced all of these issues in various ways with either cell phone hotspots (which diminish in efficacy if it’s stormy, there’s a huge crowd trying to use one cell tower, or you are in a forested or mountainous area) and the WeBoost signal booster (which draws a substantial amount of energy and only works if there’s an actual signal to boost).
Current Starlink RV Coverage Map
As the current coverage map (as of January 2023) indicates, the vast majority of North America is covered with either high or low-capacity Starlink internet service. There are only a few specks on the map representing areas that do not have coverage at all.
Australia, parts of South America, and many areas in Western Europe also enjoy high-capacity coverage. If you were hoping to travel to Antarctica with Starlink coverage… well, you’re out of luck—at least for now.
On Starlink’s website, it lists the expected speeds for RV service as 5-50 mbps for downloading and 2-10 mbps for uploading with 25-50 ms latency. This is substantially slower than their Residential package, which lists 20-100 mbps downloads and 5-15 mbps uploads with the same latency.
However, there are heavy caveats included on the same page regarding speed and access, based on all of the disadvantages listed above. On the other hand, RV users have reported substantially faster speeds for both uploads and downloads in the field. Honestly, it’s smart of Starlink to under-promise and over-deliver in this regard.
Installing Your Starlink RV System
Starlink RV is meant to be very easy to install. Essentially, you set up the dish and router, connect them to a power source, and wait a few minutes for the dish to find a nearby satellite.
You don’t have to go crazy wiring the whole system into your electrical grid. Although those who wish to do so may be disappointed to find out that you can only plug these elements into AC power, so you’ll have to have your inverter on to use the system—and deal with the extra power draw that entails. Everything comes at a price though!
We’ll wrap it up by succinctly answering some FAQs regarding Starlink RV:
Does Starlink RV work anywhere, including at sea?
It doesn’t work absolutely everywhere (see coverage map above), but it does work at sea. However, Starlink Maritime will set you back a pretty penny—$5,000 for the hardware and a whopping $5,000 per month for service. So, you’d better either be filthy rich or have a darn good reason for needing internet access at sea.
How many devices can connect to Starlink RV?
Supposedly, the Starlink router can handle up to 128 devices at a time. This is truly excessive for most people, but you could sell internet access at Skooliepalooza I suppose? Of course, your connection quality will diminish the more devices that are connected.
How fast is Starlink RV internet speed?
As outlined above, you can expect 5-50 mbps for downloading and 2-10 mbps for uploading with 25-50 ms latency when using Starlink RV. However, the true speeds will be affected by where you are, whether there are obstructions around, how many other users are nearby, whether it’s stormy, etc. etc.
Is Starlink RV unlimited data or capped?
It is truly unlimited, although the company warns against abusing this cap-free service. If you had the maximum 128 devices sucking resources for a full month, chances are Starlink would notice and there would be consequences. But, for the normal RV user, it is actually unlimited! Though, speed throttling may occur depending on your location and who else is around.
Is Starlink RV slower than Residential?
It is indeed slower than Residential, which makes sense. Residential users will expect internet that is fast, consistent, and reliable. On the other hand, RVers will generally be satisfied with a serviceable connection and no data caps. Plus, you have the ability to travel virtually anywhere within your continent and still watch Netflix to unwind at night.
Does Starlink RV need power?
Yes. If you plan to add Starlink RV to your arsenal, you’ll need to ensure that you have enough power to sustainably run the system. This might mean adding another solar panel or lithium battery to your off-grid power system, or spending more money on fuel for the generator.
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(featured image: starlink.com)
Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!