Illustration: Jane Taylor/École St Patrick High School for Cabin Radio
SpaceX’s Starlink high-speed satellite internet service is now available to some NWT communities, including Yellowknife and its neighbouring communities, and from Great Bear Lake and north.
Service expanded this week across most of the three territories, meaning the service is now available across most of the Canada. However, communities that lay in the dark blue and mid-blue bands do not have access to the service yet.
In the darkest blue, service is expected in the first three months of 2023 or may still be waiting for regulatory approval, according to the map on Starlink’s website.
In the mid-blue band, which follows the NWT’s southern border at the 60th parallel and stretches south into Northern Alberta, service is currently listed as “at capacity” and residents in these areas need to order the service to reserve their place on the waitlist.
Starlink internet is powered by thousands of small, low Earth orbit satellites that work together to provide unbroken high-speed internet access across the globe without needing any extensive and costly on-the-ground infrastructure.
That’s not to say the Starlink is cheaper for customers than other options currently available, though low Earth orbit satellites offer a faster way to get high-speed internet to customers in remote areas. The hardware – which includes the Starlink satellite dish, wifi router, cables, and base – costs each user $759 plus $65 for shipping. On top of that, the service for the high-speed internet costs $140 per month. There is a 1TB soft cap on the plan, which means if users use that amount of data in a month their service will slow down considerably.
An Ookla report in June found Starlink’s download speeds in Canada earlier this year were 97.4 mbps, though a September report noted service’s download speeds fell across the world as more users signed up, reaching a median speed of 60 Mbps.
By comparison, a download speed test in Yellowknife on a Northwestel Internet 100 unlimited plan – which costs $150 per month – was 105 Mbps on November 5. However, these download speeds aren’t consistant across the NWT. In October, a cabin owner along the Ingraham Trail told Cabin Radio Northwestel’s service had “degraded to the point where it’s dangerous,” leading many people he knew in the area to sign up for Starlink.
Northwestel also offers more expensive plans with higher download and upload speeds. All plans also include installation fees, which range from $73 to $156.
Starlink isn’t the only low Earth orbit satellite solution changing the way internet is provided in the North.
Rivals include OneWeb, a London-based company which lists Northwestel as one of its distribution partners, and Telesat, a Canadian company which Northwestel has signed a memorandum of understanding with.