Starlink: Unobstructed

Published Thursday, May 12, 2022 by Bryan

It has been almost six months since I last wrote about my Starlink experience here. Performance through the winter was pretty smooth. Aside from a couple outages or firmware regressions that people around the world saw, the only time we had trouble was after a couple heavy, wet snowstorms.

The snowstorm issues were partly acute examples of an underlying problem that the summer would have turned chronic. This month is also the one-year anniversary of building a tower for my dish. If you were reading this blog last year, you may recall that the tower reduced, but did not completely remove all tree obstructions. Our growing season has now started again, and the leaves are about to come in.

Tree obstructions beginning to return as summer growth begins.

The Starlink sub-reddit is full of people who got their dishes this winter reporting new obstruction trouble. The conversation there is not productive, because in fact, the leaves are not out yet! It seems, though, that even the buds starting to form adds significant obstruction. I'd bet that it has to do with the water content in the branches. Drier twigs during winter months don't block as much as new, wet stems in the spring and summer. (Unless they're covered in wet snow after a storm.)

But I prepared this year. After checking in with other service providers in the area, and finding no hope of a wired option, I decided it was time to commit to improving my Starlink service properly. In March, I called an arborist who helped me plan the necessary work. After waiting out our road limit season, the team came out on Monday.

Forestry management equipment is amazing.

I was hoping to capture a timelapse of my obstruction view clearing, but a windstorm came that afternoon. The power flickered, which reset the dish and cleared the gathered obstruction data. Maybe that was for the better - I didn't spend the rest of the day and night checking the diagram every 20 minutes, worrying about whether any particular red dot would clear.

Tree obstructions almost entirely removed.

After 48 hours, we've been treated to this, the clearest obstruction diagram we've ever had. That little bit of red on the east side is from one or two trees that will get much less severe trimming this fall. So far, it seems to be such an unimportant area of sky that I'm not noticing any obstruction they're producing. If they do cause issues before trimming, my backup plan is that I've probably gained enough clearance to the north and west that I can nudge the tower a few more feet away from them.

The change in experience has been as dramatic as the change in data. For the past couple of weeks as trees put out buds, video calls have been getting steadily worse. Random skips, robot voice, and even pauses long enough to make Zoom drop us to the menu and then reconnect, have been common. YouTube has occasionally paused to buffer. Even web surfing sometimes hesitated. Since removing the obstructions, surfing is once again smooth. YouTube plays without pause.

Zero outages reported. Coincidence that they also chose 2 seconds as the cutoff for notable duration?

And finally, the thing I've hammered on for our entire Starlink experience, video calling, actually seems ready to go. We learned to live with a couple hiccups per 20-30min call through the winter. My wife hosted over an hour of Zoom meetings today, and reported zero hiccups.

Stump end of a felled oak tree. My amateur ring counting places this tree at 80 or more years old.

This change wasn't an easy decision for me. I liked those trees, and it was not cheap to cut them down. The stability of my connection is taking some of the sting out of it. What's going to salve the rest is the mobile sawyer coming in a few weeks to turn the trunks I saved into boards. I get to feed two birds with one scone: I'll shift the budget line item from internet installation to hobby materials, and also continue enjoying those trees, if in a slightly different form.

This feels like it may be my last Starlink-experience post. The constellation continues to grow, as does the customer base. I hope (and am starting to expect) to be able to treat it just like I would any other modern internet connection from here on out. So, until any major changes make worth writing about it again, thanks for reading!

Categories: Starlink