Since the first days of the Russian invasion, Starlink satellite communication, quickly unlocked over the territory of Ukraine by the decision of Elon Musk, has been helping our fighters at the front and civilians in areas where traditional means of communication with the internet is damaged. However, there are places where Starlink was relevant even before the war, because there is simply poor 4G coverage.
The house of the author near Kyiv is located in a place like that. During a famous fight near Skybyn the fiber optic cable was damaged and the connection was lost altogether. Of course, after the escape of the Russians from the Kyiv region, the cable was fixed quite quickly, but even before that, the provider was able to urgently restore at least some Internet by connecting through Starlink. It was slow, like dial-up from the 1990s, because one terminal worked for a huge number of consumers, but it was better than nothing at all. This finally showed that it makes sense to purchase Starlink for one’s own needs. And now you can tell what came of it.
What do you need to know about Starlink before ordering?
The authors of Mezha have already tried to prepare two materials that will collectively provide answers to the main questions about Starlink technology, product and its operation, here you can read about SpaceX satellite internet in Ukraine itself, and here there is kit review.
The author recommends reading them before continuing with this text.
Where to buy Starlink?
The answer is very simple – at Starlink.com. There are no problems with absolutely officially ordering a terminal in Ukraine since June 9, 2022.
However, the process takes several months, so those who need it right now can risk looking for private ads for the sale of Starlink available on classifieds platforms. It is not possible to give any recommendations here, except for the classic “caveat emptor” or the popular Ukrainian version of the same expression – “eyes saw what they bought”. After all, buying the system officially from SpaceX itself, you can expect a guaranteed result, but different “schemes” can have unforeseen consequences…
How much does the terminal cost?
At the time of the order by the author – $385 with delivery to Ukraine. It is important that when paying with a Monobank hryvnia card, the official exchange rate of the bank is followed, and not the inflated “commercial” one, so it actually turned out to be slightly less than UAH 15,000 in September 2022. Of this amount, $99 must be paid immediately as a deposit, and the balance – when it’s your turn to receive the terminal (more details will be provided later).
What is the subscription fee per month?
Since August, the subscription fee for Ukraine has been reduced to $60. Similar to the purchase of the terminal, according to the official Monobank exchange rate, UAH 2,277 is obtained for October 2022. The Portability function, which allows you to use the terminal everywhere, and not only at the registered address, is activated with us for free.
Important: SpaceX starts charging from the 15th day after the terminal has been shipped by the delivery company. So it happens that the customer has not even seen the device yet, and the subscription has already been paid…
How to order a terminal from Starlink.com?
It is enough to have a bank card and know the delivery address. In general, the purchase is no different from interacting with any American online store: registered, paid, received. The site is in English, but for whom is this a problem – online translators have been working well enough for a long time to make everything work.
But there are some details.
At first you can only “buy a place in the queue”. For a $99 deposit (which is refundable if you change your mind), Starlink reserves a terminal for the buyer, but the queue to get it is formed on a live basis, so the greater the local demand compared to the quota for the region, the longer the wait.
At this moment, it is necessary to specify the address at which the terminal is planned to be installed. Unfortunately, the map and the form on the site work in a specific way – they do not allow you to choose an arbitrary point or write down an address, but only where the system itself identifies the address. The author had to indicate an apartment in Kyiv, and arrange delivery there. Details are described below.
It seems that the average waiting time for Ukraine is 1 month. When the turn comes, Starlink notifies by email that the buyer has a week to pay the rest of the terminal price. If this is not done, the deposit will be returned, but the place in the queue will be lost and you will have to order again. Letters come several times during the week, so it will be difficult to miss.
Accordingly, you have to pay the balance ($286 at the time of purchase by the author) on the same site and wait for delivery data. SpaceX takes 2 weeks to process the order, after which the cargo should change to “Shipped” status.
Important: the terminals are not interchangeable! Most likely, some other mechanism is used for mass deliveries for the needs of the Armed Forces, but for retail civilian customers, each one is sent exactly the same copy that is linked by serial number to the corresponding user account!
How is the delivery to Ukraine?
If the TTN number is available on the website, further movement can be tracked via DHL. But in practice it turned out that the only status is “goods issued”, after which several more steps must be followed until delivery to the address. Ukrainian DHL Express explained to the author that they have nothing to do with this order, because the TTN number does not correspond to “express delivery”, but to “postal services” of DHL.
Three weeks of unpleasant waiting ended with a phone call from a Ukrainian number from a representative of “a company that is a partner of Starlink for delivery to Ukraine”. The terminal has already arrived in the country and further, fortunately, the procedure turned out to be simpler than described on the website – the package was simply sent by Nova Poshta with payment at the sender’s expense.
How quickly will the terminal be delivered?
Generalizing the known experience, we can say that a typical process now takes 2.5 months:
– 1 month of queue waiting,
– 2 weeks of order processing,
– 1 month of delivery to Ukraine.
In the author’s case, the exact chronology is as follows:
the order was placed on July 26
on August 26, it was their turn
the terminal was paid for on September 1
DHL sent the parcel on September 15
on October 7, the local Ukrainian delivery partner got in touch,
on October 14, the terminal arrived by Nova Poshta,was installed and started working.
I have problems with my order, how do I contact Starlink technical support?
No way. The entire Starlink service (i.e. the site, the app, the device itself) is very carefully built for “self-service” in order, payment, delivery, setup and operation. Everything seems intuitive, and there is a large FAQ section for answers to questions. As a last resort, you can search on Google to find the experience of other users. But there are no direct contacts for human technical support as of September 2022!
What is service address and portability?
These two terms are important for understanding how the system will work in Ukraine, especially outside the cities.
The fact is that, according to the instructions on the site, Starlink should work only at the “service address” specified in the user’s profile, that is, the “service provision address”. As described above, it must be specified during the order and the choice in Ukraine is limited to places where the system identifies the postal address. In the case of the author, any address in Kyiv was found without problems, but even the central points in the villages around the area of actual use were not found. Therefore, I had to order at the address of the apartment. But here there is a problem: according to the instructions, Starlink will work only at the service delivery address. In order to move it to another place, you need to change the service address through the user profile to another address that the system will find.
If it is not possible to specify a specific address, as in the case of the author’s site, the only remedy is to enable it on the site in the Account section -> Your Starlinks -> Manage a separate Portability service, i.e. “portability”. It allows you to use the terminal at any point where there is network coverage. This makes it possible not to enter a new service address at all every time you move, but even if the system is stationary in one place without an address in the system, you will have to use Portability.
The limitation is that Starlink prioritizes service to “stationary” users, because this is the expected load on the system in each area. So, in Portability mode, the terminal’s operating speed may be lower if there are many stationary clients nearby. And for turning on “portability” Starlink may charge an additional fee, although in the case of Ukraine it is a free option.
The official algorithm of actions, if you ordered a terminal at a certain address, but you plan to use it in another place where the address cannot be specified in the system, is quite unpleasant:
- Enable Portability mode in user profile
- Install the received terminal at the address specified as service address. Not necessarily the one that was ordered, but necessarily the one that is in the system. That is, you can order in Kyiv to Obolon, then change it to the address in Pechersk and deploy the terminal there. But exactly at the address indicated!
- The terminal must turn on, connect to the network, receive certain settings (including the activation of Portability) and after that it can be turned off, moved to any place and used there, as intended.
So, fortunately, the representative of the company providing delivery to Ukraine explained that this whole procedure is not mandatory! With the Portability mode activated in advance, the terminal can simply be received by Nova Poshta, deployed at the place of use and work. This saved a trip to Kyiv, and saved from the prospect of deploying a system powered by a car in a parking lot to turn it on for the first time in a city where buildings visibly block the sky…
How to start using Starlink in Ukraine?
According to what is written above, there are two real options for action after the parcel arrives in the country.
A. If the system will be used at the specified service address, then it is necessary:
- Get the terminal from Nova Poshta in a convenient way
- Deploy the system at the service provision address specified in the user profile
B. If the system will be used NOT at the service delivery address, then you must:
- Get the terminal from Nova Poshta in a convenient way
- Enable Portability mode in user profile
- Deploy the system anywhere you plan to install it
The only downside will be that neighboring terminals without Portability mode (that is, those operating nearby, but at the specified service address, if possible) will receive a higher priority in the system and therefore will work faster.
What’s in the box?
This material is not a detailed technical review of Starlink, because it is already published. But fundamentally, Ukraine is now being supplied with 2nd generation (Gen 2) terminals with a rectangular antenna and a modem-router without an Ethernet port.
Unboxing, so to speak…
So the box will contain:
– the antenna itself,
– a leg for its installation on a (near) horizontal surface,
– 23 meter (75 feet) cable between antenna and modem-router
– 1.8-meter power cable,
– assembly instructions in three pictures
Is it difficult to assemble and configure the system?
The words about the instruction in three pictures are not an artistic exaggeration. And indeed, building Starlink takes minutes :
– put the antenna on the leg, before that connect the wire to it with the appropriate end
– place the antenna in the desired place and fix it securely
– place the modem-router in the desired place
– pull the cable from the antenna to the terminal
– connect the power cable to 220 V
– set up a Wi-Fi network through the Starlink application for Android or iOS
– join a new Wi-Fi network, wait about 10-15 minutes the first time and enjoy satellite Internet
If there is a place just on the ground, then the system can be deployed without fasteners at all. But, of course, for constant use it is better to find something more reliable.
In theory, everything is easy (the author did everything the first time in 10 minutes), but there are nuances regarding the “desired places” of the antenna and the router.
Where to place the Starlink antenna?
The system must have direct contact between the antenna and the satellites. Therefore, the more open the sky is at the location of the antenna, the better. The antenna is designed to work 24/7/365, so it is protected from weather conditions and has a built-in heater to combat snow.
Example of operation of the Check for Obstructions tool near the wall and roof of the house – according to the scan result, the application drew a red “blind zone” and issued a warning to find a better place to install the antenna.
The Starlink application has a special Check for Obstructions tool that gives a practical answer to where you can and cannot put the antenna. They can be used even before ordering a terminal to assess the real possibility of communication. Unfortunately, in cities, most likely, only the residents of the upper floors will be able to get enough coverage without installing an antenna on the roof.
Visibility tab with compass. The most observant will find a spot highlighted in red, where the terminal still feels limited access to satellites in its location
The Visibility tab after 6 hours of work in one place produces a detailed coverage map at the location of the antenna. With a built-in compass, this should tell the user where there are satellite visibility issues.
Important: the antenna can move during operation, and is placed almost horizontally, so in any case it cannot be attached close to walls or other structures.
Where to place the router?
The bundled cable is 23 meters (75 feet) long and should probably be enough for most users. If necessary, you can buy an adapter and a second wire of the same length on eBay, which will give up to 46 meters between the antenna and the router. The router is also protected from weather conditions, so the power of the Wi-Fi router will be a bigger issue. It is not bad at Starlink, but it is not exceptional either, so it should be installed so that it is convenient to use it from the devices that are planned.
Speed measurement with the built-in utility in the Advanced tab: in this case, Wi-Fi (476 Mb/s) does not limit the Internet (249 Mb/s).
The mobile application has a speed test utility, which in the Advanced tab shows separately the speed of the Wi-Fi connection and the actual satellite connection. Sometimes, Wi-Fi can be limiting. You can partially solve the problem if you separate the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz networks. Then the first will provide a larger Wi-Fi radius with a lower speed, and the second will provide a higher speed in a smaller radius.
Result of the Range tool work
In addition, the Range tab offers the user to build a map of the Wi-Fi network to understand where the areas of good and bad reception are. To improve coverage, there are branded additional Starlink Wi-Fi routers for building a “mesh” network, but at the time of writing, they are not available on the official website, only used devices are available on eBay.
A more radical solution is to buy an Ethernet adapter ($47 from the official site or search on eBay to avoid the frustration of opaque delivery). It will allow Starlink to be integrated into the existing network, whatever it may be. This is especially relevant in offices where the working infrastructure has already been built.
How fast is Starlink?
In the Brovary district, the author typically has 200-250 Mbit/s download, 20-30 Mbit/s upload and ping 35-45 ms. As far as we can judge, this is “slightly above the average” for Ukraine, but we can’t promise anything: depends on your luck.
How much power does Starlink use?
In typical home conditions, this question is irrelevant, but always interesting to those who plan to use Starlink with power from a portable source. And now, when Russian missiles are attacking Ukraine’s power grid, ordinary users need to calculate their consumption.
In the first months of Starlink operation, each terminal consumed more than 100 watts. But engineers are gradually reducing this indicator through software updates. In the fall of 2022, the consensus on the Internet comes to a value of about 50 W.
It is all the more interesting that the real consumption of the test instance, according to the measurement by the RZTK Chic smart socket, in dry weather is about 32-33 Wh on average, and the instantaneous varies between 25 and 39 W. In heavy rain, consumption increases by approximately 25%. In winter, it will be necessary to take into account the operation of the heater, which removes snow. But under normal conditions, Starlink is a very attractive solution for powering from portable sources, which can be very relevant for Ukraine in these months due to damage to the energy infrastructure due to Russian attacks.
Does Starlink really guarantee network access during a power blackout?
Of course, no one will give full guarantees against the apocalypse. But as long as SpaceX satellites operate over Ukraine, the monthly subscription fee is paid, and the terminal has a power source, then the Starlink user will have access to the Internet regardless of the state of electricity supply, cellular communication, leading networks… So the answer is “yes”!
In light of recent news, could Elon Musk shut down Starlink for Ukraine?
In mid-October, there were many tweets from Musk and comments from other people regarding the financing of Ukrainian Starlink. Of course, we all hope for the best solution, and Musk himself eventually said that SpaceX would continue to support work in Ukraine. But it is important to understand that this whole discussion concerns only terminals for military or government use, which are supplied and serviced according to some special agreements between companies and state structures in Ukraine and the USA. Ordinary commercial users who independently purchased the terminal and pay the subscription fee from their own funds should not be affected in any way!
At the same time, SpaceX can turn Starlink support on and off in any region that already has actual satellite coverage. Under normal circumstances, this is done gradually for business reasons, according to the saturation of the sky with satellites, so that the speed of operation meets the expectations of users – for example, the system only recently went live in Japan and is not yet available in 18 of the 50 US states. As for the “abnormal conditions”… Communication over Ukraine was already theoretically available at the beginning of 2022, but in practice access was given in the first days after February 24 not for business reasons, but for humanitarian and political reasons, when Musk supported the Ukrainians in the war. There are now requests to activate Starlink in Iran to help the local opposition coordinate protests against the Ayatollah’s regime. At the same time, the Chinese authorities, on the contrary, for their own reasons, asked SpaceX not to turn on Starlink over their territory and, most likely, the company will fulfill this wish of the Chinese Communist Party…
So, the answer to the question will be this: of course, SpaceX, as an operator, has the technical ability to disable access to Starlink for Ukrainians, but there is neither a business nor a political argument to do so.
Do I need Starlink?
Everyone has to answer for himself here. The author is incredibly satisfied with the purchase, but understands that it is not possible to recommend it to everyone. This material should be of some help in making a decision.