Detail in campsite photo shows growing Aussie trend: 'The best thing'

A photo from a popular Queensland tourist destination shows how Aussies are finally able to embrace a new lifestyle.

It's probably not what you expect to see at a beachside camping resort, but the presence of four small white dishes at a popular tourist destination in Queensland suggests a growing trend among Aussie travellers.

A photo taken at an Airlie Beach resort shows a small stretch of the campsite with five 4WDs in the shot and four Starlink satellite dishes sitting outside, pointing up at the sky.

The satellite dishes, ostensibly belonging to campers, are from Elon Musk's Starlink company that uses a constellation of 4,000 low-earth orbit satellites around the world to beam high speed internet to users in remote areas who host the dishes.

The photo was shared online this week with the caption, "New game: Spot the Starlink".

For some in the Australian parliament though, it highlights a major failure by the federal government.

Photo of Airlie Beach camping resort showing four Starlink dishes set up.
The untrained eye might not notice the Starlink dishes popping up like mushrooms. Source: Facebook

After launching in recent years, the private space company reportedly has 120,000 customers signed up in Australia – eclipsing the competition from the government's National Broadband Network (NBN) in the battle to service non-metro customers.

Last year, Starlink announced a new portability feature, meaning the service was no longer fixed to a home address and users who wished to pay a bit extra could take their dish on the road.

A Facebook group for Australian StarLink users – where the Arlie Beach photo was shared – has nearly 50,000 members, many of whom are dedicated supporters of the company. While another group called Starlink Nomads Australia has 6,000 members and growing.

One staff member at the Airlie Beach resort where the photo was taken told Yahoo they hadn't particularly noticed the dishes popping up, saying "pretty much everyone who comes in here all use our wifi". But those who know what to look for have certainly reported noticing them.

"Looked the same when we were there," one person commented. "Lots of dishies to be found".

"Just left there and there were definitely a few others with it!" another said. "And it’s only going to increase. Loving my Starlink!" a third person added.

One person thought the idea of taking high-speed broadband on holiday was antithetical to a nice relaxing trip. "Personally I couldn’t think of anything worse than going on holiday and taking the internet with me lol," they wrote.

But the person who shared the photo said it allowed him to work in order to stretch out his holiday – a growing trend in the era of remote work. "[I had] a five week trip where I have only three weeks leave available during it," he explained.

Like him, many in the Facebook group have taken to sharing pictures of their Starlink setup while on the road, allowing them to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Starlink dishes pictured in the bush, and snow.
Aussies have flocked online to share their portable Starlink setups. Source: Facebook

Couple travel Australia for 12 months with Starlink

Dan and Amanda spent more than two years travelling around Australia on their caravan and were among the very first adopters of Starlink, even before the service was activated in much of the country. They run an online business while on the road, selling Dan's landscape photography, "so we need good internet," Amanda told Yahoo.

Dan, who has a background in communications technology with the Air Force, jumped at the chance at better internet after previously relying on his own antenna kit and a portable Telstra Nighthawk modem.

"We first used it in a place called Fowlers Bay (in South Australia) which had zero bars of 3G reception," he recalled. "People had to go stand stand out on a pier in this town, stand very still and hope their phone would connect to Telstra ... We set up Starlink there for the first time on top of the caravan and I was sitting there with 350 megabit download speed." That's about four times the average speed for fixed line broadband services in Australia.

Dan and Amanda pictured alongside their caravan.
Dan and Amanda spent 12 months caravaning with their Starlink dish. Source: YouTube

Given the high-frequency nature of the technology involved with Starlink the dish does require a clear line of sight, meaning any surrounding trees overhead will cause drop outs. Users taking the dish on the road will also need to think about their power source, with Dan and Amanda relying on a solar kit and battery bank to keep it running.

When it's firing, "it's the best thing since sliced bread," Dan said. "I'll tell everybody that ... It just works."

The couple and their five-year-old daughter are currently travelling in the UK, where they continue to blog and provide tips to others looking to embrace the nomadic lifestyle. They believe the tandem rise of technologies like Starlink (Amazon is also working on a similar style competitor) and the era of remote work has led to a growing number of Australians taking work, school and life on the road.

"It's definitely happening. Caravan sites are much busier than when we first started at the end of 2019. We saw the progression of how many families are on the road," Amanda said. "For anyone who wants to do home schooling, anyone who wants to go on the road and run their business ... it's the best solution."

Dan, Amanda and their daughter Aria pictured smiling at the beach.
Dan, Amanda and their daughter Aria have embraced the nomadic lifestyle. Source: Overland Exposure

NBN losing out to better technology

Even for those staying at home, Elon Musk has provided a much needed option. In contrast to Starlink, the NBN uses two 6.5-tonne high-earth orbit satellites to service Australian homes, but data caps and slower speeds have left a big opening for upstart competitors. In an editorial earlier this month, The Australian Financial Review lamented that hundreds of thousands of rural Australians had declined to use the NBN's satellite internet offering because of its poor performance. That has played a part in the company writing off $31 billion.

"It would be a stretch to call this a technological disaster for the NBN. But it is another underscoring of technological risks," the publication's editorial board said.

In February, NBN Co chief development officer Gavin Williams copped a lashing in senate estimate hearings, with Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson declaring "Elon Musk is running rings around you".

"I am absolutely shocked you have only lost 10,000 people because the services don’t even compare," fellow Liberal Senator Holly Hughes said during the hearings.

Starlink, meanwhile, has been slashing prices this year taking the start-up cost for the dish from more than $900 down to $199. For now digital nomads are the winner. But arguably at the expense of Australian taxpayers.

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