Using StarLink with a Peplink cellular router for reliable internet connectivity

Introduction

I originally wrote this article in the middle of 2022 not long after SpaceX launched the StarLink satellite-based internet solution to the general public.
Over the last year and a half, a lot has changed with the StarLink offerings. Many of us have a lot more experience with StarLink and have a better understanding of its true strengths and weaknesses. As a result, I have updated the original article with the latest information and have changed my solution recommendations to some extent. This is based on having worked with hundreds of boaters and RVers over the last year and a half who have wanted to built a highly-reliant system for providing consistent Internet connectivity. I also have a lot more personal experience using StarLink on both my sailboat and my travel trailer. I should add there is a lot of great information in other blogs, YouTube videos and expert sites on using StarLink and I encourage readers to seek out guidance from many sources. The focus of this article is to document how to use StarLink with a Peplink cellular router with an emphasis on building a solution with redundancy, high reliability, enhanced security and simplified administration.
In addition, Starlink has now replaced the original Standard dish (Standard Actuated) with a Standard flat dish for the same $599 entry level price. It consumes a bit more power but has no moving parts. I have both Standard dishes and both work well.

With that, let's dive in.

What is StarLink?

StarLink, from SpaceX, is a high-speed internet connectivity solution based on using an antenna and terminal to connect to StarLink’s satellite constellation. Local network traffic passes from the terminal to the local antenna to a satellite and then back to earth where traffic is then routed to the internet. The StarLink solution has received a lot of attention from boaters and RVers given it is priced competitively and fairly easy to setup. However for continuous operation the StarLink antenna needs a clear view to the satellite constellation, otherwise the signal can drop while the view is obstructed. 
StarLink was originally designed to be used on land in a single location setup. StarLink introduced an RV plan (which is now called Roam) designed for portable use but again, the intention is for it to be used in a stationary location, not while moving. StarLink then announced a high performance dish designed for in-motion use on vehicles and boats as well as for business use. While the high performance dish can be used while moving it does have its downsides 
notably its much higher initial cost ($2,500 vs. $599 for the Standard dish) and its higher power consumption. 
In addition, StarLink now has multiple monthly subscription plans covering multiple usage scenarios include residential, business, RVs, boats, commercial maritime addressing both stationary use and mobile use. Prices for these plans range from $120 to $5,000 per month. A good overview of the various options can be found on StarLink's site here.
Given all this, boaters and RVers are fairly evenly split on the StarLink hardware they favor. Regardless of the hardware used, I have been finding that a lot of customers favor the $150 a month "Mobile - Regional" plan and toggle on the "Mobile Priority" service as needed which is charged at $2/GB which allows in-motion use as well as use offshore. 
On the right, you can see a picture of Starlink installed on my sailboat on the aft davit system. I used a Seaview Starlink Stainless Steel 1-14 Threaded Adapter which mates with the Standard Starlink dish arm allowing it to be used with a standard 1 inch marine ratchet mount.

Peplink routers as a backend to StarLink

Peplink routers serve four main functions:
  • The router provides a path to the internet via a cellular connection.
  • It also can provide a path to the internet via a Wi-Fi WAN connection to an available public Wi-Fi hotspot (such as marina or campground Wi-Fi).
  • It can also provide a path to the internet via an ethernet WAN connection.
  • And the router provides an access point for a private Wi-Fi network for your users and devices to connect to on your boat or vehicle.
Peplink routers that include the PrimeCare and SpeedFusion feature set have the ability to combine multiple WAN sources into a single virtual reliable connection. This means you could combine StarLink on an ethernet WAN port, cellular connectivity and perhaps a Wi-Fi WAN connection to marina Wi-Fi hotspot into a single virtual connection which automatically deals with connection drops on any of the WAN connections for seamless continuous internet connectivity. In other words, with this setup if StarLink gets blocked and drops its connection, the cellular connection (or marina Wi-Fi) would still be connected providing uninterrupted connectivity to the internet. Once the connections are setup, this all happens automatically without any user intervention.
In the first version of this article I recommended the Peplink MAX BR1 Mini product as a starting point for the cellular router. This model includes upgraded cellular modems, including support for a Category 7 LTE-A modem that supports T-Mobile’s band 71 long range LTE solution. The Cat 7 model has a theoretical download speed of 300 Mbps and upload speed of 150 Mbps although real world experience will be less than that.
However, after speaking with a lot of customers who have built out this solution I am now recommending users consider the Peplink MAX BR1 Pro 5G. The BR1 Pro 5G has several advantages including a super fast 5G modem as well as faster overall throughput and performance. It is also easier to setup given all the enterprise features such as failover, bonding, Wi-Fi WAN support are built in. 
Another great option is to use the new Peplink B One 5G Router which has an integrated X62 5G modem, 2 WAN ports, 4 LAN ports, a USB port and 1 Gbps throughput. It is a great deal at a list price of $599.

StarLink plus the Peplink BR1 Pro 5G

With that background, let’s build out a solution that combines StarLink satellite-based connectivity with Peplink cellular and Wi-Fi-based WAN connectivity.
Technically mating these two technologies is very easy to do. If you have StarLink already, get the optional ethernet cable and connect that to the WAN gigabit ethernet port on the BR1. The other option is to use Wi-Fi WAN. Connect the BR1 5GHz Wi-Fi WAN interface to the Wi-Fi network broadcast by the StarLink system.
There are some changes you can make to fine tune the ethernet WAN setup to allow for better connection sensing and the ability to access the StarLink administration app from your mobile device while connected to the Peplink Wi-Fi network. The ethernet WAN settings I use for my Starlink connection can be found here.
Once that is done, management for all your internet connectivity options can be done from the BR1 web-based management Dashboard. The Peplink Dashboard uses a drag and drop priority system for determining which WAN connection paths will be used. If the Priority One connections drop or fail, then the router immediately uses whatever is defined in the Priority Two section and so on. In this example, we will set StarLink as Priority One and the Peplink cellular connection in hot standby mode as Priority Two. With this setup, if the StarLink connection is interrupted or fails for any reason, the cellular connection will immediately and automatically take over without skipping a beat. Also with this setup, you get the benefit of not burning through cellular data unless cellular is used for connectivity. Wi-Fi WAN could also be setup as an option if available. For example, use StarLink as Priority One, Wi-Fi WAN to the marina Wi-Fi as Priority Two and cellular as Priority Three. If StarLink fails, then Wi-Fi WAN will be used. If Wi-Fi WAN is not available or fails, then cellular will be used. 
Another option would be to have all WAN connections set as Priority One. This would mean all the connections are fully active with the lowest latency connection carrying the traffic. The only downside would be you would potentially use more cellular data with this method.
Finally, another option would be to use SpeedFusion bonding (which is included with PrimeCare) and bind all the available connections together into a single virtual connection. There are many different ways to set up SpeedFusion. For example, you can configure it to get the fastest speed by bonding all the connections. 
Or you can opt for maximum reliability and redundancy by providing multiple paths to the internet via a single virtual connection. Once SpeedFusion is setup, you can configure a Wi-Fi network associated with the virtual link or tie specific devices to use this connection. SpeedFusion also ensures traffic is secure by wrapping all of this with its own VPN subsystem.
Regardless of the method you use, the end result will be an uninterrupted connection to the internet assuming you have cellular and / or Wi-Fi WAN enabled, and you are within range of cellular towers or Wi-Fi WAN services.

Additional benefits

In addition to using the BR1 for managing WAN connections to the internet, it also becomes your system for providing a Wi-Fi and wired access point for your users and devices on your boat. With two gigabit LAN ports, you could add a switch as well if you have several wired devices. Wi-Fi users and devices can connect to the network using 2.4 or 5GHz WiFi6 technology. You can create multiple Wi-Fi networks based on your needs. For example, create a second boat Wi-Fi network SSID for guests to use. All traffic from your boat networks will be routed to the internet based on how you setup your WAN connections as discussed earlier. There is no need to continually switch Wi-Fi networks between the StarLink system and the cellular router. Both systems are available from the single Peplink Wi-Fi network.
Another benefit of this approach is you should have continuous internet connectivity even when under way or in heavy seas or bad weather. While the original StarLink dish is not designed to be used underway and certainly would not hold up well in large waves, salt spray or high wind, cellular will work fine in these conditions as long as you are within range of a cell tower. While the StarLink system is put away and offline, the cellular router will keep you connected. This is especially important if you rely on internet-based weather information or need communications to continue in all conditions.
Another consideration for using a hybrid approach as outlined here is power consumption. On a 12 or 24 volt DC system, a Peplink router - which can run on 12-30vDC - will typically consume less than 1 amp. The Starlink system currently runs on AC only so to power it you will need shore power or an inverter. In my testing with my boat's inverter setup, the Starlink Standard dish system when powered up via the inverter consumes over 5 amps which includes the overhead of converting from 12vDC to 110vAC. The high performance dish consumes about twice that amount of power. This is a fairly substantial difference in power consumption which may limit how much you decide to run Starlink when not plugged into shore power. By having a hybrid connectivity solution, you can use cellular when it is available and you are not plugged in and otherwise use Starlink as needed.
While there are many other benefits to this combo approach, there is at least one more feature worth highlighting. PrimeCare also includes a remote, web-based management system called InControl2. With InControl2 you have full secure access to your Peplink router from anywhere assuming the router is on and connected to the internet via one of the WAN connections discussed earlier. This would allow you for example, to monitor the system from home, change connection priorities, monitor traffic and SIM card use and more.

Summary

This combo approach using both StarLink and a full-featured cellular router makes a lot of sense for boaters and RVers who need full time connectivity. StarLink is very attractive with its ability to provide high speed internet connectivity even in remote locations. However, if it is your only internet connectivity system then you’ll be disconnected if StarLink is not working. For example, if you are in a marina with lots of structures and masts, StarLink may have dropouts as the signal gets blocked by obstructions. Having a cellular router with the ability to connect to cellular networks, Wi-Fi hotspots as well as pass through the StarLink connection gives you the best possible opportunity to stay connected.
While the solution above could be built with almost any Peplink router, we strongly recommend the MAX BR1 Pro 5G or the new Peplink B One 5G Router as a starting point. If you need even more redundancy or options for staying connected, consider the Peplink MAX BR2 Pro 5G which has two 5G modems, two ethernet WAN ports and more.
Note, we now offer marine mounts for the standard Starlink dishy. Check out our offerings here.
More information on boaters using StarLink can be found on the SeaBits blog. I highly recommend this SeaBits article for more advanced details on setting up SpeedFusion and other topics beyond the scope of this article.
The Mobile Internet Resource Center has a whole section on using StarLink with Peplink routers for their premium subscribers.
Also be sure to check out Peplink's Starlink FAQ which can be found here
Finally, check out my recent article on my own real-world experience using StarLink and Peplink together over the last year.

As always, feel free to leave comments or questions below.

Happy cruising

Doug Miller
 

1 Comments

Steve

Date 1/6/2024

So, does this setup completely bypass the Starlink Router? I would just need the optional ethernet cable/adapter for the starlink. Connect the disk to the adapter and the adapter to the Peplink router. Completely bypassing the starlink router? Or do I still need to have the starlink router plugged in and attached to the starlink adapter? This wasn't clear. Thanks.

Doug Miller

Date 1/6/2024 1:59:00 PM

You have at least three methods for powering the Starlink and pass the connection to the Peplink router: 1. Use the Starlink router with the optional ethernet adapter and leave the Starlink WiFi active in addition to the Peplink WiFi. Use an inverter to power the Starlink. This probably consumes the most power. 2. Same as #1 but put the Starlink router in bypass mode. You won't see the Starlink WiFi network but you still have full access to the Starlink admin via the app connected to the Peplink WiFi network. This supposedly consumes a little less power but still requires an inverter to power the Starlink router (which powers the dishy). 3. Use a DIY or commercial Power over Ethernet kit (mentioned in the article) and power the Starlink system directly from 12vDC. This does not require or use the Starlink router but you do need to wire up the ethernet interface for connecting to the Peplink WAN port. This method uses the least amount of power in my testing and does not require an inverter. This is what I am currently using on my boat ad RV. Questions welcome. Doug Miller

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