In the 21st century, the internet is an integral part of daily life. For many, it’s as necessary for work as a car is. Depending on your type of work, sometimes more so. As Door County residents, we all know that getting reliable, fast internet service can be difficult, particularly if you live outside the County’s “urban” areas—that is, Sturgeon Bay, Baileys Harbor, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, and Sister Bay. Indeed, directly outside of these town centers, and particularly in Northern Door County, internet service can be non-existent.
“It’s not uncommon for me to hear clients complain that, just down the road, people are getting internet speeds of 60–70Mbps, while their internet averages 10Mbps merely because a faster network doesn’t come out to their house,” says Nathan Drager, owner of Quantum Technologies. “It can be very frustrating,” he adds, “and can really limit your ability to connect to the outside world or, in many cases, do business.”
Since the beginning of 2021, Quantum Technologies has been able to offer an excellent solution to the problem of high-speed internet in more rural parts of Door County: Starlink—a satellite internet service offering speeds that often exceed Door County’s cable internet services.
What exactly is high-speed internet?
When we discuss internet speeds, what we’re talking about is tiny units of data being transported across different types of cable or through the air. The amount of data being transmitted is usually measured in megabits—one million bits—per second (Mbps).
High-speed internet, also called broadband, is currently defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as a minimum download speed of 25Mbps and minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps (often abbreviated as 25Mbps/3Mbps or 25/3). However, those standards, which were created in 2015, are now considered outdated, with upload speeds of 100Mbps commonly regarded as “high-speed” in 2022. And, while 25Mbps may technically be the floor for broadband internet, residential internet speeds can in fact be much higher—in particular, fiber internet speeds routinely go as high as 1 Gbps (one gigabit—or, one billion bits—per second) and can even go all the way to 100Gbps.
Internet speeds in rural areas versus urban areas of the United States
According to Ookla’s speedtest.net, which tracks global internet speeds, as of September, 2022, median internet speeds across the US were around 168Mbps/22Mbps. This average shifts on a day-to-day basis, but it is still great(!)—placing the country’s median internet speed at 6th fastest in the world.
Unfortunately, speeds like these are not uniformly distributed. Regionally, the fastest internet speeds are all concentrated on the coasts—the 5 fastest median internet speeds all occurring on the East Coast (New Jersey, 196.14Mbps; Delaware, 181.10Mbps; Rhode Island, 179.14Mbps; Maryland, 178.99Mbps; New York, 177.45Mbps).
The high internet speeds posted by coastal states are pushed northward by their large urban centers—generally speaking, urban areas have the fastest speeds while rural areas tend to have the slowest. Unsurprisingly then, the slowest median internet speeds tend to be found in largely rural/agricultural states (Vermont, 94.12Mbps; New Mexico, 84.05Mbps; Montana, 79.04; Wyoming, 74.21; Alaska, 69.01).
How do internet speeds in Wisconsin and Door County hold up?
Ookla places Wisconsin’s median download speeds at 37th nationwide, and BroadbandNow’s annual rankings of overall internet coverage, speed and availability rank Wisconsin 33rd when compared to the rest of the country—not great.
In Door County, only 70% of residents have access to internet speeds of 25Mbps, while only 55% of peninsula residents have access to true broadband speeds of 100Mbps or higher. Across the county, speeds can be either extremely fast (up to 940Mbps/35Mbps) or extremely slow (as low as 6.0Mbps/1.0Mbps). And, according to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s Broadband Map the extremes in internet speed imitate national trends—the more densely populated the area (Sturgeon Bay, Bailey’s Harbor, Fish Creek, Sister Bay) the more likely the area is to have access to high-speed internet.
A November, 2021 study of Door County broadband internet access commissioned by the Door County Economic Development Corporation described the broadband availability gap as a “story of broadband haves and have-nots, [with] almost nobody in the middle.”
Starlink—a high-speed internet solution for rural Door County
For most Door County residents and businesses, waiting around for new internet infrastructure to be built is not really an option as society and the economy run online now. Luckily, within the last two years an excellent alternative has come along that bypasses the need for a hardwired, high-speed network—satellite internet—and specifically, we’re talking about Starlink, the satellite internet company owned and operated by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.
In the fall of 2020, Starlink chose Door County as one of its beta-testing sites, and since the beginning of 2021, Starlink has provided high-speed, low latency satellite internet service to the peninsula. In fact, PC Magazine has ranked Door County as one of the top 30 best locations nationwide for Starlink.
So, what exactly is Starlink? In technical terms, Starlink is a satellite internet constellation. In layman’s terms, Starlink consists of thousands of satellites that “beam” (from space!) high-speed internet to users of the Starlink service, removing the need for a standard wired service like dial-up, DSL, or cable internet.
How fast is Starlink and how much does it cost?
Starlink advertises download speeds and costs of:
- 50 to 250Mbps for its basic plan: This plan is geared toward residential users and costs $110/month with a one-time hardware cost of $599 (the hardware—aka the “Starlink”—is discussed below).
- 150 to 500Mbps for its premium plan: This plan is geared toward businesses, and with the higher speeds it offers, comes a higher price of $500/month with a one-time hardware cost of $2,500.
- 30 to 50Mbps for its RV plan: This plan is for people who are truly on the move—for those in “RVs” so to speak. The RV plan costs $135/month with a one-time hardware cost of $599, and allows users to access the Starlink network on an “as-needed basis at any destination where Starlink provides active coverage.”
While advertised speeds and reality are two different things, in this case, Drager notes that Starlink holds up its end of the bargain. “Quantum has been using Starlink since beta-testing began,” he says, “and in that time, the average download speed we’ve seen has been around 150Mbps, while upload speeds have averaged 30Mbps and latency times have hovered around 40 milliseconds.”
However, nothing in life is perfect. “Starlink does have a dip in speed at peak times—usually between 5PM and 7PM, when people are home from work. In those periods,” he continues, “we’re seeing download speeds of 30–50Mbps, which is much lower than what is advertised. But remember,” he adds, “the least densely populated parts of Door County generally see speeds around 10Mbps or less. So, even when you’re getting Slarlink’s slowest speeds, it is still way faster—3 to 5 times faster—than what is currently offered, and still coming in well above the minimum for broadband internet.”
How does Starlink work?
There are three basic component parts to the Starlink network:
- The ground stations: Despite its name, all of Starlink’s magic begins on Earth at a ground station—what SpaceX refers to as a “gateway.” The gateways are connected to an existing fiber-optic infrastructure and positioned in different parts of the world, exchanging information with the satellites via radio signal.
- The satellites: When SpaceX sends one of its Falcon 9 rockets into space, it usually also brings around 60 Starlink satellites with it, which are launched into a low Earth orbit—around 340 miles above the planet. That orbit is what allows for Starlink’s fast internet speeds and low latency. However, the low orbit also limits the range of each satellite. As a way to compensate for the range limitations of each satellite, SpaceX plans to launch 4,425 satellites. The first batch of 60 went up in 2018. As of September of this year (2022), there are over 2,300 functioning satellites.
- The dish: This is the hardware mentioned above. It is referred to as the “Starlink” and is the part that needs to be installed either at the customer’s residential or business location. It looks similar to a cable dish, with Elon Musk describing it as a “UFO on a stick.” The Starlink scans the sky above it, connecting to whichever satellite is closest. As the satellite constellation traverses the sky, the Starlink maintains its connection by smoothly transitioning to a new, closer satellite.
Once Starlink is set up, data is sent back and forth between the dish and the ground station via the satellite constellation, thereby negating the need for a physical, wired infrastructure to be in place before a high-speed internet connection can be maintained.
Installing Starlink with Quantum Technologies
On their website, Starlink outlines 3 easy steps to setting up the antenna and connecting to their network—“Find a clear view of the sky,” “Plug Starlink into power,” “Connect to high-speed Starlink internet from your device!”
In reality, setting Starlink up is more complicated than advertised. “Anyone can set the Starlink equipment on the ground and connect to the internet via the app,” Drager says, adding “I’ve seen many home installs where the dish is simply placed on a deck and the wire runs through the threshold of a patio door, or through an open window.”
Unfortunately, damage to the equipment is not uncommon when people self-install the dish. “The equipment is very fragile,” he comments, “In particular, damage to the end of the Starlink cabling, which causes internal pin damage to the Starlink PoE injector, is a big issue.” And, because it is proprietary, replacing damaged equipment results in setup delays.
However, if one wants to get through the winter without a permanently open window or patio door, having a professional BICSI certified third-party install and custom Starlink integrator—like Quantum technologies—makes a big difference. “The challenge,” Drager says, “is installing the dish in a permanent fashion with good line-of-sight to the satellite constellation, while making it look natural and pleasing on your home—this is very difficult to do alone, and especially without the proper equipment.”
There are several important steps that Quantum Technologies performs when installing Starlink on your home. These include:
- A site survey: Quantum always performs a site survey prior to installation. Starlink requires a clear view of the northern sky to operate effectively. Line-of-sight is measured via the Starlink application, and helps determine the best location for the dish. Additionally, the site survey will help determine whether the Starlink router will be adequate for coverage of the property or whether a Wi-Fi system will be required.
- Positioning the dish: This is perhaps the most difficult part of the installation, and often the most dangerous. Generally, the higher the dish, the better the service, so it is usually installed high—on a roof or tower. Quantum has bucket trucks that can safely reach roofs over 50ft and employs 2 certified tower climbers that can scale a structure of any size.
- Mounting the dish: The Starlink dish is often mounted to the building fascia. Quantum offers a wide variety of mounting options, which include tripod mounts, J-mounts, existing satellite mounts, and towers. If the dish is mounted directly to the roof, Quantum uses a special, non-penetrating roof mount that can be used on cedar shake, metal roofs, or rubber roofs, and can also be moved if necessary without damaging the roof.
- Running the cable: Once the dish is placed, Quantum’s technicians run the Starlink cable down the exterior of the roof, along the gables, under the siding, inside the soffit, or through the attic vents, providing a clean pathway into the home. The exterior of the building is penetrated and the cabling is routed to the final router location.
- Setting up the in-home network: After the Starlink equipment—dish, PoE injector, router—is installed, the dish is powered up and calibrated, the Wi-Fi is programmed and network security is set up. For clients with larger properties, a wireless mesh network is often installed to ensure Wi-Fi coverage over the entire property.
“Safety is a primary concern with climbing around on a roof or a tower,” Drager notes, “as is proper location of the equipment—both router and dish—having the proper equipment is essential.” He continues, “Variables like property size, and taking into account the need for wireless mesh networking or property wide Wi-Fi, make a big difference in the quality of service as well. All of these elements are taken into consideration when we install Starlink, and also provide peace of mind for our clients that the equipment will work well in their particular situation and specific location.”
Because appropriately setting up Starlink is often complicated, an engineer will always perform a site survey for your specific location prior to providing the client with a quote. Quantum is usually available for new Starlink installs within a 5 day window. In most cases, the shipping notice for Starlink is 3 days, which means Quantum can plan to install your equipment the day after it arrives!
To learn more about Starlink, including more information on the Residential, Business, or RV services, to view their coverage map, or to order the service, please visit the Starlink website.
If you’re ready to experience high-speed internet in Door County, call Quantum technologies today to schedule your Starlink site survey at 920-256-1214.