Tracy the Cable Guy (aka: How He Installed Starlink)

Tracy’s been hard at work since we got here figuring out how our Starlink satellite system can be fitted for us. The whole thing is complicated, and, like with our solar and lithium battery set-up, I am not the person to explain it. I’m the one you’re stuck with, though, so here goes with a layman’s description of what the heck he’s done so that we’ll be able to travel with internet.

I’ve written before about what a pain in the ass this lifestyle is when you don’t have cell signal, which is our situation often when we’re boondocking. To you guys who are working too much, a break from your phone and laptop might sound appealing, but if you need your phone to plan where the heck you’re going to live next, for example, then not having it means driving or hiking to a coverage area every time you need to connect. Which we’ve done at 4am because we needed to book sites on the East Coast starting at 8am. Not fun.

That’s why Tracy bought Musk’s Starlink system, which connects to his kajillion low-Earth-orbit satellites and provides internet anytime you have a clear shot of the sky. It’s expensive, but damn. We need it.


The services you choose from (“home” versus “RV”) seem straight-forward, but the trick is who gets priority access to the satellites when you’re in a congested area. And that’s home. So that’s what Tracy chose, and when we’re on the road he’ll turn on the porting option. Together it’s the same price as the RV service, but we’ll get faster speeds where lots of other people are using Starlink.

The Dish

Nearly all the technology for this system is in the rectangle dish you get in the mail.

At first, Tracy clamped it onto one of our solar panels so it would have a clear shot of the sky and it wouldn’t get stolen, but that’s not gonna work while we’re traveling! So, he rigged the telescoping pole (that we used to use for the cell booster antenna) so it would hold the Starlink dish up high and be firmly attached to the ground down below.

I don’t know where he got these pieces for the ground, but they’re brilliantly simple. He gathered a pipe, that’s a tiny bit larger than the pole, and a metal plate, and he asked a welding guy to weld them together. Presto.

Here we have it situated under the tongue jack so it’s firmly on the ground, but we can also put it beside the trailer and roll a tire onto it when we’re parking.

And when we’re ready to go, we detach it all and store the pieces.

For when we’re parked under trees and we can’t get a clear shot to the sky from either of those two positions, Tracy bought a heavy-duty tripod and fit it to the dish, plus he bought an extra-long cable. Voilà. Kind of.

The Modem

That’s all great for the dish, but he still had to get the signal to a modem.

The mediocre one that came with the dish worked fine while Tracy was figuring this out; he placed it in the old battery storage box behind the trailer’s tongue jack, where it would be safe from the weather and didn’t involve threading any cables inside the trailer.

The problem with that modem is it runs on 120-volt AC power (being wired for a house), which would mean on the road we’d need to have the battery inverter/converter thingy on all the time we’d want internet. That’s a no-go for us: we like to turn off the converter at night to save battery, but we also like to check our phones at night, especially for weather and, you know, ALL BOW DOWN TO SOCIAL MEDIA.

So, when Tracy bought a more powerful modem, he had to deal with an Ethernet cable and an electric wire in various ways which I’m unclear on. I think they involved:

  • Splicing the electric cable running from the dish so it would connect to our battery via 12-volt DC.
  • Splicing the Ethernet cable so it would connect to the new modem (the connection Starlink comes with is proprietary so you have to rig it to change it).
  • Running both wires into the trailer … um, where? No one in their right mind drills a hole into an Airstream body. Sacrilege!

For the splicing stuff, I saw Tracy bent over wires with pliers and such for several days. There were a lot of Amazon deliveries and Youtube watching and forum reading.

Getting the wires from the dish inside to the modem is tricky because, unlike a house, you can’t just drill a hole. Tracy converted the existing cable TV outlet (we don’t use that) and ran the wires inside behind the fridge and then behind the kitchen area to the space under the couch in the corner.

All that is the stuff he had to get out from under the oven so he could get his head back there to see what he was doing, plus the framework of the sofa which had to be removed.

That’s the water heater under the sofa, plus a bunch of breakers and stuff, and now a big ole switch to turn on and off the Starlink dish.

The modem he put above the couch, by our DVD player (which we used to use because you can buy DVDs for $1, and they don’t need WiFi, and when you don’t have cell signal for ten days you get so an old movie is pretty enticing. But no more!).

He was able to thread the cable up behind the curtain and into a hole he drilled in the upper cabinet, which he announced and I provided a mental drumroll for. At least this hole is in the inside!

The trial happened yesterday evening, and woohoo! I’m using it right now to write this post. Tracy still has to be sure the power draw shows on our monitor; he has to check that when the solar isn’t feeding to the batteries.

But the speed! We used to be happy with 3 Mb per second, and now we have 100-150. Of course the exact speed will depend on the atmosphere, where a satellite is overhead, congestion, etc. But man is that a difference.

As soon as we got Starlink working, I backed up my devices, updated apps and operating systems, and I even organized photo storage on iCloud and Google Drive because I’d gotten sloppy. We are like normal people now, practically, not even thinking about cell and data use. This won’t work while we’re backing the trailer into a spot and need cell service to get upset at each other (a universal phenomenon) or when we’re hitching the truck and trailer with our super-demanding hitch. We’ve got lame walkie-talkies for that.

It’s a little weird those are our connection methods now: fancy satellites and cheap walkie-talkies. That’s camping these days, though. I’ll forgo a shower for a week no problem, just give me my Internet!

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