One-on-One with a Buck Lake Beta Tester
Promising a gamechanger, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has started taking pre-orders in the South Frontenac area for its remote internet solution, Starlink.
Judging by the buzz online, many residents and cottagers are clamouring to get their hands on a system, though delivery dates are currently pegged at mid-2021 or 2022. Not everyone in the province is stuck waiting and wondering if this latest “silver bullet” for Canada’s remote internet blues will live up to the hype. A few lucky souls have been offered the chance to beta test Starlink – among them is Orillia’s Sean Whitelock, who has also spent decades cottaging on Buck Lake.
Our Lakes recently connected with him to find out how his experience has been and whether he would recommend Starlink to people in the township looking for a better internet option.
Question: How did you used to get your internet and how was it?
Sean Whitelock: We moved to a rural location five years ago and started off with Xplornet, and it was a horrible experience. It was hours on calls trouble- shooting. If it was cloudy it was slow, if it was windy it was slow – they always blamed it on the weather. Canceling their service was even more painful. Then we lucked out on a 200Gb wireless hub plan from Bell. We currently are keeping that in case Starlink has issues as it is called beta “better than nothing internet” currently.
Q: What do you mainly use the internet for (i.e.movies, gaming, home-based business, etc., a combination of multiple things, if so what are they)?
SW: We use the internet for work and play. I run a landscaping business and just do the basic emails and such, but [my partner] Natasha is currently working from home due to the pandemic and is on the internet all day with calls and emails. At the end of the day, we will watch a couple episodes on Netflix and call it a day with the internet as it gets expensive when we go over our data with Bell. I bought a Playstation 4 last year to find out the Bell internet couldn’t handle it; it was always needing a download or update so I had to part ways with it. It was using too much data.
Q: Why did you decide to change?
SW: We changed because we were going over our data cap frequently, we have a plan with Bell and get 200Gb for $90. It is a great plan, but it lacks speed, 5mb download and 1 mb upload, and when we do go over, we were seeing $150-$350 bills.
Q: How long did you have to wait after ordering for it to arrive?
SW: I signed up on Starlink’s website and was one of the lucky ones and they shipped it right away. I hear people signing up are having to wait to be asked to be a part of the program. It took about a week to receive it after signing up and paying the fees.
Q: What did your Starlink system cost all in and what is the monthly fee you pay?
SW: I had to pay $800 with taxes; that was the equipment, shipping and the first month’s service. After that it’s $129 a month plus tax.
Q: What is the hardware like?
SW: The hardware looks great. The dish is about two feet around and comes on a base plate. And the router works awesome and has the futuristic Tesla-truck styling (ha-ha). It has only one Ethernet port on it, but we just use wireless so that’s not a big deal for us. I can now get internet in all rooms and even downstairs now. Even makes it to my shop without issues now, as well.
Q: How was it to setup? Were the instructions clear and easy to understand?
SW: The setup was so simple. The instruction sheet was one page, no words, just three pictures. It comes all connected, basically set the dish outside and plug it in. I ran the cord through an existing hole in the side of my house where the Bell satellite went through. (We don’t use the Bell dish anymore. I had to make the hole a little larger to get the connector through.)
I want to mount it on a pole in the springtime. You have to place it in a spot with no obstructions, but there is an app to help with that.
It’s easy to use and found the best spot for it right now. The dish is heated so it will melt the snow off it. Everything felt good when setting it up.
Q: Did you need any technical support either online or through a 1-800 number? If so, how was the customer service department to deal with?
SW: I haven’t needed to call yet, I don’t know if there is a phone number. I think it might be just email. So far it looks like it’s not going to need any troubleshooting! We will wait to see what happens when a situation does arise.
Q: Have you noticed any change in your internet performance?
SW: Yes, 1000% better over my Bell hub.
Everything loads way faster; we can turn up the quality on Netflix so the TV looks way better in HD. Even sending pictures in messenger it goes instantly instead of waiting and having to sometimes send a second time because it failed.
We can both be on the internet, streaming music in the background, dad watching TV… all at the same time now! No asking each other ‘What do you have connected to the internet right now?’
Q: Have you run any speed tests before and after making the switch?
SW: Our speeds on Bell were 5 down and 1 up. The speeds we were seeing on the Xplornet were 5-7 down and 0.75 upload. With Starlink I’ve been testing the speeds often and most times I’m around 100 down and 25-30 upload. It varies, I have seen it down around 50 and as high as 150.
Q: You’ve spent decades cottaging on Buck Lake, how do you think the Starlink system will work in that sort of remote setting where internet service has traditionally been spotty at best?
SW: This internet will be a gamechanger for most. I mean I go to the cottage to get away from it, but if you’re working and are able to bring your work to the cottage why not! What would you want more than spending more time at the cottage instead of traveling back and forth to home to have to work because you can’t work at the cottage. Lunchtime fishing in the lake, just saying! Maybe a morning waterski break. Zoom call your mother from the dock, why not! Need to Youtube how to fix your jet pump plumbing, now you can. Having good internet at the cottage would be beneficial to most.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add about the new system that you think we missed that people should know when considering making the jump to Starlink either good, bad or just interesting to know?
SW: You have to remember right now it’s still beta, that being said there is possibility of downtime. It’s new, they are expanding every day adding satellites to the sky. We have had brief one-minute outages here and there and it says that when you sign up. I found out about it from a friend that currently is on the waiting list. So I tried and got it right away. We had been trying to sign up for Bell wireless home internet, but they wouldn’t give it to us but the people across the street had it. The people across the street also just switched to the new LTE Xplornet, but I have seen the Xplornet truck at their place multiple times since the install. I have yet to ask about it. I had previously tried calling Xplornet, but they wouldn’t even come test my location before installing it and I’m still a little bitter from my first experience with them.
Q: How eager would you be to recommend it to a buddy or relative?
SW: I’ve only had it for a week, but if you can get it, I would recommend it to anyone looking to get internet service. I’d rather shop local for my internet, but if the locals can’t provide it, I will shop elsewhere. From what I have so far experienced, this will be the future for rural internet. True high-speed internet. The start-up cost is a lot, but you’ve got to remember they are paying to have those thousands of satellites shot into the sky.