Starlink satellite internet often sounds too good to be true. High speed, low latency internet for people who haven’t been able to get it before? People tend to assume that it must be unreliable, or won’t work well in bad weather. After all, there must be some kind of catch, right?
Reliability is important for internet users. Whether you are working from home, or streaming the big game, we all want the most reliable internet possible. But for many people, Starlink satellite internet is the only high speed option available. We can’t control the weather, so many people have questions about how it performs and how reliable it is during storms.
In this article I will be clearing up some of the misconceptions regarding Starlink internet. I’ll give a brief overview of how satellite internet works. Then I’ll cover each of the most common weather events, and how well Starlink works in each weather category.
How Satellite Internet Works
There are several satellite internet services operating globally. Satellite internet works by installing user terminals (satellite dishes) at a residence. Those satellite dishes communicate with satellites that are orbiting Earth. Companies like HughesNet and Viasat operate their satellites in geosynchronous orbit, while Starlink operates their satellites at a much lower altitude in low earth orbit.
Data signals are sent and received wirelessly on several different radio frequency bands, depending on the company. These high frequency radio signals can travel through the atmosphere to reach the satellites in orbit and the dishes on Earth. But the radio signals cannot travel through everything. Objects like trees and buildings can completely block the signals. Weather, like heavy rain or snow, can also cause problems.
How Bad Weather Can Affect Starlink
In this article I’ll be focusing on Starlink satellite internet. Like I mentioned before, Starlink uses satellites in low earth orbit. But their dishes are also different than most, using a phased array antenna. Both are beneficial when it comes to performance in weather. Let’s take a look at how well Starlink works in different kinds of bad weather.
Starlink isn’t affected by most clouds. When you think of a typical partly-cloudy day – blue skies, sunshine, and fluffy white clouds – this kind of weather will not affect Starlink.
Storm clouds can affect your signal. Not only do storm clouds tend to create rain, which can also interrupt satellite internet, the clouds themselves contain more moisture and are more dense as a result. The density of the clouds is the main variable when it comes to whether or not they will degrade the satellite signal.
If you have your Starlink dish securely mounted, where it is not able to sway or move, wind will not be an issue. The Starlink dish uses a phased array antenna. It can track satellites flying overhead without having to physically move. This also means that small movements, such as those caused by wind, will not interrupt the signal.
Rain can interrupt the Starlink satellite signal. Light rain doesn’t usually cause issues, but heavy downpours can knock out your signal until the rain eases up. Whether or not rain affects the connection is based on how dense the moisture is. Like I mentioned in the cloud section, heavy rain is usually associated with more dense clouds, and obviously dense amounts of water falling from the sky. This mass can be enough to block the radio signals coming to and from the Starlink satellites.
Like rain, snow can cause issues with Starlink. Light snowfall shouldn’t cause any issues, but heavy snow rates will negatively impact the performance of Starlink. Again, it comes down to the density of water in the air. The more moisture (heavy snow, heavy rain) the more mass. At a certain point this mass can be enough to block the Starlink signals.
As for snow buildup on the Starlink dish, it does have a heating function to melt snow automatically. If snow does build up on top of the dish, it will need to be cleared for optimum performance.
Sleet and ice can block Starlink signals just like rain and snow. If it is sleeting or icing at a high rate, there will be service interruptions. Luckily, the Starlink dish can automatically melt ice and snow off the face of the antenna. You shouldn’t have to clear off ice except for the coldest and heaviest icing events.
Normal fog likely will not affect Starlink, but heavy, dense fog can cause issues. Like I mentioned before with rain and snow, the density of the moisture is the determining factor on whether it blocks the Starlink signal. Heavy fog can be dense enough to interrupt Starlink service.
How Does Weather Affect Starlink Performance?
In most cases, you won’t notice the short signal interruptions caused by weather. For example, if you are streaming a TV show, data is often buffered so that short interruptions won’t cause your show to stop playing. You may notice the affects of weather if you are gaming or video calling.
Besides losing the signal, bad weather can also cause slower download and upload speeds. Weather can also cause higher latency.
Starlink is very quick to reacquire the satellite signal and connect to the internet. It’s not like satellite TV where your signal might take a few minutes to come back after the storm passes.
Satellite internet is inherently prone to weather interruptions because of the distance data must travel to and from the satellites. Starlink performs well in most bad weather conditions, including rain, snow, and wind. However, heavy rain and snow can cause internet outages.
Starlink has several features that help it perform well in bad weather. First, the antenna is of the phased array type, meaning it has a high field of view. It is not affected by small movements like what you would get with wind. Second, Starlink has built-in snow and ice melting functionality. You won’t have to worry about clearing ice and snow from the dish each time a storm rolls through during the winter.
But at the end of the day, Starlink is still satellite internet. It’s not going to be as reliable during storms as fixed broadband like DSL, cable, or fiber. Most Starlink customers don’t have much of a choice, though. Rest assured that in most bad weather, Starlink will perform just fine.