Starlink offers two plans that will be of interest to nomads: Residential or Starlink for RV. (There’s also a Business plan, which appears the same as what they originally called Premium, which costs five times as much as either of these, so I won’t go into it here.) It seems obvious that if you’re going to take Starlink on the road, you’ll want Starlink for RV, right? Not necessarily. There are some cases where the Residential plan might actually make more sense for nomads. Here’s how to figure out which plan is best for your particular situation and needs.
This is the original Starlink offering. They envisioned people mounting Dishy permanently in their homes, particularly in rural or remote areas with poor internet infrastructure. Expected data rates are 50-200 Mbps download and 10-20 Mbps upload. The equipment costs $599, and the service costs $110 per month.
In order to deliver these speeds, Starlink splits its coverage area up into “cells,” and only allows a certain number of customers in each cell. This prevents too many users from overloading an area and slowing down service to unacceptable speeds, like what happens to cellular data service in Quartzsite, Arizona during the winter.
This map, as of July 2022, shows areas with availability in light blue, and areas that are full in dark blue. If a cell has already reached its maximum number of customers, people wanting Starlink are put on a waitlist and will be contacted when the Starlink network has additional capacity. This means more satellites in orbit, which SpaceX continues to launch frequently. As you can see, most of the eastern US is already at capacity.
Starlink seemed oblivious to the RV and nomad market at first, but we weren’t oblivious to them. Snowbirds got around the residential limitation by changing their service address to where they actually were. For example, if you lived in Michigan, but took your RV to a park in Florida for the winter, you could change your service address to the Florida RV park for the months you’re there — IF there’s availability (one of the light blue areas on the map). You also took the chance that when you returned to Michigan, you might not be able to transfer your service address back if someone on the waitlist had taken your slot, which was quite likely since most of Michigan is currently full. It used to be a serious pain to get your service address changed, but Starlink now makes it easy to change through their website.
In May 2022, Starlink added a “Portability” feature. For an extra $25 per month, residential customers could now use their Starlink equipment in places other than their service address. This way, you can keep your guaranteed fast service in Michigan, and go to Florida, or wherever else, anytime you want. However, outside your home cell, your data rate may be slower — 5-100 Mbps download and 1-10 Mbps upload. The slower speed reduces the impact on residential customers in areas you travel to that are already full. You can also turn Portability on and off anytime you want. If you know you’re going to remain at your service address for the next several months, you can save the extra $25 per month.
Starlink for RV
Eventually, Starlink realized that RVers and other travelers were a huge untapped market, and created a new plan just for us: Starlink for RV. As far as performance and cost are concerned, it is identical to the Residential plan with Portability: 5-100 Mbps download and 1-10 Mbps upload, for $135 per month — the same price as Residential with Portability.
Starlink for RV uses exactly the same equipment as Residential. This is good for consistency but bad for people like me who run exclusively on 12 VDC without a power inverter for 110 VAC. I had to buy a power inverter specifically to run Starlink. It’s also not designed to operate while in motion. Until July 2022 this was actually illegal, but the FCC just certified Starlink for mobile operation. This is mainly intended for ships and aircraft, but I imagine it’s only a matter of time until mobile-specific equipment becomes available, including a Dishy designed to be used while in motion. Hopefully, this includes a 12-volt power option.
There are some important differences between the Residential and RV plans, though.
No Service Address
Starlink requires Residential customers to activate their account at their service address. This can be a problem if you’re already on the road, away from your home service address. Starlink for RV doesn’t have this requirement. You can activate it from anywhere.
You never have to worry about changing your residential service address, either, because you don’t have one. You’ll also never be on a waitlist for service, even if you have it delivered to you in an area that’s currently waitlisted.
There are downsides, though. With no service address, you’ll never get the higher speeds you’d get at a service address. You’ll always be roaming. Occasionally speeds faster than 100 Mbps are possible, but this is rare, and never guaranteed.
You Can’t Change Your RV Plan To Residential
If you get Starlink for RV, travel a bit, then settle down somewhere, you can’t change your RV plan to a Residential plan — even if you settle down in an area with availability. This, plus always being subject to the slower “roaming” data speed, is how Starlink prevents people from jumping the waitlist in areas with no availability. You can get the RV plan to get online immediately, even in a waitlisted area, but you won’t be able to upgrade it to Residential once availability opens up there.
It’s worth noting that you CAN change your Residential plan to an RV plan. However, there’s currently no way to change it back later.
You Can Suspend Your Service
It’s not all doom and gloom for RVers, though. Starlink assumes that you may only be traveling part of the year. In the same way that Residential customers can turn Portability on and off, people on the RV plan can turn their entire service on and off at will. Residential customers don’t have this option. This makes great sense for people who only intend to use Starlink on the road. It’s especially true for people who already have a fast cable modem or fiber optic internet service at home, and/or who live in areas that are on Starlink’s waitlist.
That’s a lot of information to absorb in a wall of text, so here’s a simple table summarizing the main differences between Residential and RV plans.
|Monthly Service||$110 + $25 for Portability||$135|
|Download Speed||50-200 Mbps*||5-100 Mbps|
|Upload Speed||10-20 Mbps*||1-10 Mbps|
|Suspend Service||No (only Portability)||Yes|
What Did I Choose?
After considering all of the factors, I chose Starlink for RV over Residential. Why?
I Don’t Use Much Data
For a family of four, streaming four movies and three video games at once, the slower speed of the RV plan would be a serious bottleneck. But for me, it’s only me. I have just a few devices connecting to the internet at once, and I only stream one video at a time. In the peak evening hours, I’ve sometimes measured my download speed as low as 5 Mbps, yet I’ve still been able to stream HD video with only a few seconds of interruptions in many hours of viewing. YouTube video uploads are still faster than my hotspots, and even most public WiFi. The upload is mostly complete by the time I finish filling in the description, thumbnail, cards, end screen, and all that fun stuff.
Basically, my data needs are low enough that I can easily live within the lower speeds of the RV plan. They’re still much faster than I’m used to having.
I Want an Oompa-Loompa NOW
I’m slowly working toward making Quartzsite, Arizona my home base. This fall I intend to make it my legal residence. I spend several months of the year there, so I could have reaped the benefit of faster data speeds while at “home” there.
The problem is, I would’ve had to return to Quartzsite to receive and activate Starlink from there. I’m not prepared to do that in the middle of summer. I also didn’t want to wait another six months to get Starlink. I’ve gotten sick of my travels being constantly limited and sometimes dictated by where I can get cell service. It’s even one reason why I canceled my trip to Canada, since I’d have severely limited data on my hotspots.
I Can Suspend Service
As a full-time nomad, I wouldn’t normally care about being able to suspend my Starlink service. I have no home base, and it works so well, why would I want to? Because there’s an excellent chance that I’ll be renting my friends’ cabin in Oregon next summer. The WiFi from their house works well, so I can use that instead of Starlink. What I save by suspending Starlink will cover a significant portion of the more than reasonable rent my friends would charge me. Otherwise, I’d just be wasting money, just like I did on my T-Mobile hotspot I couldn’t use in Quartzsite all winter.
Residential Might Be Better For You
Just because I chose the RV plan for myself doesn’t mean that the Residential plan wouldn’t be the better choice for you. Here are some situations where it might be.
You’re a Full-Time Nomad
It seems counterintuitive, but as a full-time nomad, you may benefit more from the Residential plan than RV. If you plan to spend a few months in one place — for example, spending winter in Quartzsite — you can make Quartzsite your service address for those months. You can turn off Portability while you’re there, saving $25 per month. And since you’re full-time, you’ll never have a need to suspend your service, so that benefit doesn’t apply to you.
You’re a Part-Time Nomad Using Starlink At Home
If you have a home base and Starlink is available there, why not save money on a home internet bill and use Starlink both at home and on the road? While you can easily suspend Starlink for RV, it’s a serious pain to keep turning your cable modem service on and off. The same equipment and service will work in both situations, so it makes sense to use it. Buy it before your next trip, and activating it at your service address is no trouble at all. Plus, you can save $25 per month by turning off Portability when you’re not traveling.
You Need Faster Data
Perhaps it’s worth the trade-off of constantly updating your service address to have access to the faster data speeds of the Residential plan. This would be the case for the family of four I described. It could also benefit someone who works online full-time, a YouTuber who needs fast upload speeds, or a gamer who needs both upload and download speeds to avoid getting fragged. Especially with no data caps on any plan, there’s no reason not to take advantage of this service if you need it.