WHAT if you could work from a cozy cabin in the forest, where nature’s beauty and tranquility surround you? You could listen to the soothing sounds of birdsong and the breeze as you focus on your tasks. Imagine the possibilities: a cozy desk, a fast internet connection and a hot mug of coffee. Well, that’s my life now when I am at my coffee farm.

Thanks to Starlink, a satellite-based internet service, underserved regions can now enjoy high-speed broadband connections. This innovative technology has transformed my workspace. In the past, I had no choice but to rely on Globe or Smart mobile data tethered to a pocket Wi-Fi, which was far from ideal in the heart of the forest. Previously, sending this column required a trek to the windy side of the ridge, bundled in warm clothes or waking up at dawn.

Initially, I was unsure if Starlink would work in a forest-surrounded location. However, I stumbled upon a YouTube video titled “Will Starlink Work in a Forest?” by a content creator named ttthefineprinttt. His answer was a combination of “yes” and “no,” depending on the user’s intentions. He explained these speeds are excellent for remote work, uploading and downloading files, but might not be the best option for livestreaming, video calls or playing video games because of obstructions.

My home is situated across a meadow, surrounded by thick pine trees, so I ordered a 150-foot cable to reach a spot with fewer obstructions. Understanding the importance of having a clear view of the sky to connect to satellites, I used the Starlink app to check obstructions and identify the best location for the Starlink dish or “dishy.”

Starlink provides users with an estimated score, showing whether their view is obstructed and where the obstruction (north, south, west, or east) originates. Average obstruction scores for my dishy’s location ranged from 3 to 7 percent, with a Starlink notification to expect interruptions every 3 minutes.

After using Starlink for several days, I experienced 11 minutes of obstruction across 12 hours of use. Obstructions lasted 2 to 10 seconds, not significantly affecting my internet usage. Despite these limitations, browsing has become faster. I can even watch Netflix and YouTube videos without disruption, which never happened with a mobile data connection. My husband reported that the NBA app was working intermittently. FaceTime calls with my siblings would sometimes drop out, but they would always reconnect quickly. Such minor annoyance didn’t affect the overall quality of the service.

While using the built-in speed test app, results showed the Wi-Fi speed at 150-250 Mbps download and 16-49 Mbps upload. Latency can reach as high as 226 milliseconds (ms). Even the fast.com app, powered by Netflix, displays the same Wi-Fi speed range.

Wilson Chua, one of the founders of BASS (Bandwidth And Signal Strength monitoring tool), informed me that Starlink’s median speed is 17 Mbps as of April 24, 2023. The speed of Starlink is limited when it involves local content.

Source: https://www.facebook.com/ProjectBassApp/photos/a.183920585450436/1544396752736139/?type=3&mibextid=cr9u03

Chua explained that this speed is because the ground station is in Japan, and their Philippine station in Pampanga is not yet activated. Data reveals Starlink is much faster than Kacific Broadband Satellites Pte (7.5 Mbps). The median Wi-Fi speed surpasses that of Smart (15 Mbps), DITO (12 Mbps) and Globe (6 Mbps). Smart displays a median speed of 15 Mbps, but I don’t experience it here from the meadow. Only the mountain ridge or waking up at 4 a.m. allows me to experience Smart’s median speed.

BASS (projectbass.org) aims to compile actionable data that will be used to improve the state of local internet quality in the Philippines. Some Starlink users from as far as Batanes to Tawi-Tawi provide data to the BASS app.

To accurately represent the Starlink speed, a higher number of records are needed. The BASS app is a free app that can be downloaded from their website, and measures your Starlink or carrier’s bandwidth and signal strength.

Considering the limitations and occasional obstructions, the overall improvement in internet accessibility has been nothing short of remarkable. This groundbreaking solution holds the promise of dramatically improving the lives of many people living in rural areas by offering them dependable internet connections and a wealth of opportunities.

First published at The Manila Times, April 30, 2023.