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  • Writer's picturemichaelmarquardt07

Never offline again? Field reports with the STARLINK on the Panamericana

Is it really desirable, at least potentially, to be online all the time when driving "the dream route par excellence"?
What about value for money? Isn't it just too expensive? For whom is STARLINK suitable for?
Does it work as it should? Or did Elon produce too much hot air?
How is the usage in everyday camping?

One thing definitely needs to be said in advance, we will always prefer a multi-day tour in the mountains or by kayak to staying in front of the computer or smartphone. Anything else would be nonsense, we could have stayed at home right away, since it was exactly the monotonous office work that made us travel. It has to be mentioned that we don't work remotely; we both have our projects that we push forward fairly regularly, but there are no real commitments "yet". For me, this is photography, which per se requires a certain data transfer these days. Be it to secure photos or videos against loss or theft or to be able to write blogs. With Marion it is the marketing of our adopted home, Valchiavenna, which is without a doubt the most beautiful region in Italy. So if you don't have a holiday destination for the coming summer yet, feel free to stop by :-)

Now you have to know that we like to travel away from the crowds. We always feel most comfortable when we can be alone in nature somewhere. Therefore, places that are more difficult to access magically attract us. That's exactly why we chose our Toyota Landcruiser, an off-road capable and super self-sufficient expedition vehicle. We've been in Patagonia for almost 5 months now. Before we got our STARLINK, we found ourselves saying things like, "We need to back up our data, do this and that online, call friends or family, etc." To be able to do this, we almost always had to go to urban areas with network coverage, mostly to campsites. We didn't really want to be there that often and it also costs money. Admittedly, the latter is not so dramatic, but it must be taken into account in the cost-benefit calculation of a STARLINK and is even the decisive point for us. 60 € for an internet flat rate seems really expensive at first, but for the promise of being able to access high-speed internet from anywhere, it's quite fair. So if we can save ourselves a campsite for 15 € 4 times a month, which we even don't want to be at....

Peninsula Valdes Argentinien Vanlife Camping frei stehen Offroad Experience
Wild camp in Argentina

Anyone who has only spent time in Germany or Europe so far does not know this issue with network coverage, since these are mostly countries that appear tiny paired with a high level of urbanization. In return - who can blame countries such as the USA, Brazil, Argentina or Chile, which are huge in terms of area, that no transmission mast is set up and maintained for an area of one ranch or a village of 10 people. Clearly not economical. So, satellite internet is the logical consequence. It is not for nothing that other technology giants are already following with their own offerings. And it is a well-known fact that competition pushes business. From my point of view, not everything is great, and it could be a little cheaper - that never hurts :-) But first a few facts to get you started:

  • We had the device delivered to an address we trusted in a small town in southern Chile. The package was lost in the meantime, but long story short, everything went well and even much faster than expected. In retrospect, however, I would recommend receiving the whole thing in a metropolitan area with good logistics.

  • We currently pay 63 € per month for the Chilean STARLINK with mobility/camping option for South America, depending on the exchange rate.

  • The definition of South America according to STARLINK is America ex. Mexico, Canada and the USA. This means that the STARLINK may not work in the entire continent of America at the given time. Potenitally we could be offline with our contract for South America from Mexico on. The good news comes at the end: this type of use is allegedly not yet prevented by SPACEX. Let's see how long it stays like this...

  • Initially, we chose a Resident Chile contract for around 50 € p.m. and gambled that SPACEX wasn't too strict about the place of residence either. During the first change of location, the opposite was already evident. To adjust the place of residence in the system offline didn't work! So we had to add the mobility version.

  • STARLINK also works without problems in countries that are not yet part of the service area, such as Argentina.

Starlink Vulcano Villarrica Vulkan Internet Satelliten Milchstrasse Milkyway
The real highlight of the picture is the STARLINK :-)

When it comes to performance: Not being a tech nerd, I haven't done any advanced data-based power and performance testing either. The speed measurement usually shows something between 70 and 200 MBit in the download, significantly less in the upload. It is important for us that all our use cases can be implemented without any problems. And this is guaranteed. Streaming, video (telephony), data uploads and of course surfing is not an issue. The most important factor for trouble-free operation is a clear view of the sky. Minor interruptions are manageable for surfing or data upload, but when in an important video call, things can be different. With the supplied app, this can easily be checked with a scanner. My recommendation: Don't go crazy right away when the app advises you to search for a new location, for many applications occlusions of e.g. 3% are totally ok, at least in our opinion.

In summary, I can only repeat that the technology has never let us down, whether in the pampas, on the volcano or on isolated islands.

Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda, isoliertes Fischerdorf in Chile
Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda, isolated fishermen village in Chile

In terms of power consumption, we usually measured between 4 and 5 Amp/h in our 12 V system (significantly higher when the bowl is actively heated, e.g. caused by snow). So if the sun doesn't shine for several days and the engine isn't running, this definitely becomes a bottleneck. However, something like this often helps to reduce your time online to the most necessary to-dos.

Fortunately, our biggest point of criticism also contributes to a reduced use of STARLINK - the handling in everyday camping life cannot exactly be described as super practical.

  • The hardware, in particular the bowl, is very bulky and large. So if you are traveling in smaller vehicles and with a lot of other equipment like us, you first have to find a place for it.

  • The supplied cable is over 20m long. On the one hand, this is practical, especially if the parking space does not correspond to the optimal position of the dish. On the other hand, it's usually just annoying when it is supposed to be on the roof and actually only 2m is needed. A standard length and an extension cord as a backup would be nice.

  • The STARLINK cannot be operated directly in the 12 volt system but only with main power via a voltage converter. This and also the next factor prevents a fixed mounting on the camper.

  • The STARLINK cannot really be laid flat and streamlined. Even with the "stow" setting, this is not possible. A lot of the roads we hit are simply not clear enough for this - apart from the Patagonian wind.

P.S.: For (hobby) craftsmen and electricians there are of course YouTube tutorials showing how the STARLINK can also be operated with 12 volts or how the cable can be shortened with a lot of effort and conversion measures. For me personally, it was too complex. I'm waiting for the next development steps of the hardware - also with the competition, which will certainly not take long in coming.

Our conclusion in a nutshell: STARLINK makes total sense for everyone who has to do mobile work and needs stable and, in particular, regular connections. But also for freedom-loving travelers like us, who would rather be in the middle of nowhere than in a campsite close to the city.

And of course last but not least for all those who cannot do without "insignificant" football games at "inhuman times" :-)

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