Starlink – We’ve Seen This Movie Before

Starlink image

Starlink is beating the same drum John Deere beat back in 2011 to cover-up the fact they used AGILE and produced a shit system. I can’t believe I’m writing about this again. I searched my blogs and cannot find my 2011 article. Must have been when I was still writing for Motley Fool. Yes, even I wrote for them at one point.

Maybe the Motley Fool site still has the article? At any rate, you have to be old enough to remember Krako car stereos to really appreciate just how many times we’ve seen this movie.

Kraco car stereo TV commercial

A cheesy commercial from yesteryear can’t really convey what owning one of these “beauties” was like.

The Last Boy Scout – Fast Forward Eats the Tape

DX Button

Just can’t find one that shows how they always seemed to have static on them. I never knew anyone that got crystal clear reception with them even in town where the radio station was. These were the low quality products kids without money bought. I owned two before K-Mart started selling KMC brand stereos of comparable price and quality.

Vintage Kraco Dashmaster

Pay very close attention to the tiny silver button on the lower right with “LO/DX” on it. These had cheap FM receivers in them. If you were “in town” and “near” a local FM radio station transmitter the local station would walk on about an inch or so of radio dial around it. Theoretically, when you had DX the weaker more distant station would come in. LO would trim out all but the strongest of signals.

Oh, just to round out the discussion, the numbers next to the holes by the poles/shafts are where “Dashmaster” got its name. Every OEM had different pole spacing. The Dashmaster was around $50 and could fit all of them. The radio reception just kinda sucked. Not all of the time, just when it was a song you really wanted to hear.

Tuning was a real problem. Pioneer launched the Supertuner models. Even Super Tuner II had a local button.

Pioneer KE-5100 Super Tuner II

I know the young-ins will think I have veered off into the weeds. They haven’t ever seen a car stereo with a DX button. The last time I saw one was for my 1990 Eagle Premier Ltd.

Stereo for 1990 Eagle Premier

I haven’t gone off into the weeds. The point here is that FM radio reception didn’t get better until it became a selling point. When OEMs saw Pioneer Super Tuner stereos selling like crazy they got on the stick and improved their product. Pioneer stereos were selling for less than dealers were charging for “upgraded” stereo systems.

Before I forget, the featured image is courtesy of dwaves.de.

AGILE

Companies race towards AGILE focusing on all of that money they are going to “save” by not writing any specs up front. Just let low wage developers hack on the fly. The cheaper the better. Without any documentation stating what the system was supposed to do, nobody can tell you that you failed.

Low wave workers love having no specs so they can spend the bulk of their day surfing the Web looking for “cool things to add to the project and their resume.” All you have to do is claim you got your sprint tasks completed, get your code “reviewed,” and collect your points. Everybody gets a ribbon just for showing up and only the people who “complete” the least number of points sprint after sprint get fired.

Utopia, right?

Eventually something has to work though. “Automated test scripts” cannot prove anything works. That requires end-to-end testing. You know, full systems testing by an actual QA team working from The Four Holy Documents of Waterfall SDLC.

GPS Signals

I’m not going to deep dive into this. I haven’t touched it since I was twenty-something and that was only casually when I was at Waste Management. Some of the vehicle tracking stuff from the nuclear waste division was spilling over into chemical and bio waste at the time. We were using C and DOS with a 640K memory limit. I only saw it a couple of days before getting deep into a Pen-DOS tablet project that had no GPS capability.

Here is some DOT-NOT GPS code examples and tutorial for those interested in a deep dive.

The GPS Signal Plan can be found here.

An academic GPS intro course can be found here.

You don’t need to read all of that for this article. Not that relevant. L1 C/A reached full operational capability on July 17, 1995. In 1998 the modernization effort started.

The L1 C/A signal is also called the legacy signal. It was the original and everything in the sky is supposed to still transmit it. Being legacy you can buy stuff for it cheap.

You will find a fully operational year of 1993 here. The DOD got it before John Q. Public.

The L2 signal became available in 2005 with the launch of the first IIR-M satellite.

The John Deere Days

John Deere was big on getting auto-steer field navigation systems into the field. John Deere was also big on cutting costs by using AGILE and low wage workers. They used “the cheap stuff” when it came to their auto-steer field navigation systems. Other companies did not. Every farmer found this out when the brew-ha-ha started.

LightSquared

You really need to read the brew-ha-ha link above. LightSquared was the original broadband disrupter. Nationwide broadband using towers and satellites. They were going to license to Leap (Cricket parent) and basically solve the broadband issue for rural America. Rather than fix their shit, John Deere buried them in court cases.

Yes, right here is where the Kraco story becomes important. None of these systems had a DX button. Without any way to trim out a strong signal, they were junk.

Hopefully you paid attention to the date on the brew-ha-ha article, 2011. First L2 satellite went up in 2005. Competitors (my family farm got some from the competitors instead of Deere) were advertising that they had no issues with LightSquared. Competitors fell into two categories.

  • Those using L2
  • Those who figured out how to Super Tuner III (or better) to get the signal they wanted

It was only the bottom feeders that went after LightSquared.

Ligado Networks

Eventually LightSquared became Ligado Networks. It’s really hilarious when you poke around on the Ligado site looking at what they offer. You need to read the brew-ha-ha article to understand just how funny. All of the 911 dispatch tracking and other services that were crying to high heaven about LightSquared now have at least one product to replace them from Ligado.

LightSquared was competing head to head with 4G back in the day. Ligado appears to be a big player in 5G and private Push-to-Talk phone networks.

Starlink

To totally understand just how funny the current situation is, you need to read Elon Musk whining about how 5G will make Starlink useless for most Americans.

Yes my friends, same shit different day!

AGILE – hacking on the fly developing systems and products looking no further ahead than six inches in front of your shoes.

5G didn’t just fall out of the sky people. The Four Holy Documents of Waterfall SDLC could have saved you from this catastrophe. You now have useless satellites in orbit. Oh, some parts of the globe might be able to use them. It will be the very poor parts of the world that cannot afford 5G towers until 6G comes out and they can purchase 5G at scrap price.

AGILE – everybody gets a ribbon just for showing up. Nobody can say it failed if you don’t have any up front documentation stating what it was actually supposed to do.

Until someone actually tries to use it, one can get away with that. Once it is out in the real world the fraud of AGILE becomes apparent.

Why I Didn’t Buy Into Starlink

I’m amazed at how many people are stunned that me, and IT guy, didn’t rush right out and pre-buy into Starlink. Why didn’t I? Because I’ve had just about every kind of rural Internet there is. I’ve had two “different” satellite Internet technologies. I’ve had $300/month dial-up (yes, you read that correct.)

Used a 3G USB dongle and a CradlePoint for a number of years and survived on a 10GB/month limit all of those years. Tried 4G when the one and only 3G tower serving data to my area got trashed, it sucked. Went to a line-of-sight service SatNet and used them for quite a while. Nice people. They tried hard. COVID-19 and remote learning just slowed things down too much for me. (I think they solved that problem now.)

Today I’m on Surf Broadband. I pay almost twice as much as SatNet and my connection speed doesn’t often dive into the single digits. My package is for 25Mbps and I get over 20 most of the time. I just can’t get more than 3Mbps up.

Satellite Internet duth sucketh

Starlink and Elon want to believe they’ve “solved the problem.” Since they didn’t do Waterfall SDLC up front I don’t think they even identified the problem.

AGILE – looking for a one & done answer to a 24-part problem.

From what I’ve read they are focusing on the 600Ms ping times for satellite that trashes most VPN software. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, hat, and bumper sticker. That’s a symptom, not the problem.

The Problem

You see these things?

These are what you need to effectively communicate with satellites. They have massive transmission power. There are huge licensing and location restrictions. Commercial flight paths have to be routed around these things.

Y’all have something that looks like this at home or work, correct?

Microwave oven

A microwave oven that you use to cook or just heat stuff. The operative phrase there is “microwave.” What we get for home use to cook food is really low powered. Nowhere near the many Megawatt (probably Gigawatt) satellite dishes for commercial use.

When John Q. Public gets an outdoor satellite dish for Internet transmission it is so low powered it cannot penetrate the skin of most commercial aircraft, let alone interfere with the systems or cause harm to the occupants. Those big dishes can really hurt a plane and its occupants. How bad, I don’t know. All I remember is when I worked at Airfone Inc. the former air traffic controllers working there told me flight paths are routed around those dish farms because they could really mess up a plane and its occupants.

What Do Regular People Get?

Specifics? I don’t know. I’ve had two different ones over the years. I know that most households in America have 100 AMP service for the entire home. That runs your fridge, freezer, air conditioner, computer, television, and Internet connection. Those base units are plugged into a standard wall outlet and that entire circuit will have a 15AMP limitation.

Are you really surprised your Internet doesn’t work when it is really cloudy or raining heavy?

Starlink can’t fix this problem. Yes, lower orbit satellites should reduce the power requirement, but heavy clouds and rain exceed the transmitter strength. If you are across a large room from someone and talk at a volume so they can understand you, all is well. Now, someone puts one of those office cubicle walls between you and a dot-matrix printer starts grinding away. Your previous volume won’t get there in an understandable condition.

Clouds and rain are that cubicle wall and dot-matrix printer. You only got a transmitter licensed for nothing-in-the-way communications. Starlink can’t solve this.

The Pipe Problem

One of the issues with SatNet was everything fed back to the same pipe. They didn’t have their own black fiber. I think they have gotten more pipe since then. I’m not dissing them. They were the first line-of-sight provider in my area and way better than my alternatives. I used them for years. When remote learning kicked in with COVID-19 the math didn’t work.

Every “shared” Internet service relies on your not using all you pay for. If you are pulling down there are brief moments when you stop downloading to send some kind of ACK back so the other end knows you got the last chunk. Most people only use their Internet a little bit at a time. Even when you download a screen of naughty pictures, once they are rendered you still have to spend time scrolling through them. During that time your connection is “idle” and the bandwidth available for others.

I don’t need to know just how big the data pipe is coming from the satellite to the ground station and going back. I know it has a limited physical bandwidth. Even it if is 100Gbps wide, that is still limited. There is a fixed number of users consuming their full 25Mbps that will divide into that.

4K televisions are under $300 now. A 4K transmission basically uses everything you got. Those ACK messages don’t let the connection breath. Everybody aiming at one satellite or a group of satellites that all feed back to a main satellite that performs the actual groundstation transmission means you have a limited pipe. When the pipe gets full, people have to wait.

People don’t like to wait.

Roland Hughes started his IT career in the early 1980s. He quickly became a consultant and president of Logikal Solutions, a software consulting firm specializing in OpenVMS application and C++/Qt touchscreen/embedded Linux development. Early in his career he became involved in what is now called cross platform development. Given the dearth of useful books on the subject he ventured into the world of professional author in 1995 writing the first of the "Zinc It!" book series for John Gordon Burke Publisher, Inc. A decade later he released a massive (nearly 800 pages) tome "The Minimum You Need to Know to Be an OpenVMS Application Developer" which tried to encapsulate the essential skills gained over what was nearly a 20 year career at that point. From there "The Minimum You Need to Know" book series was born. Three years later he wrote his first novel "Infinite Exposure" which got much notice from people involved in the banking and financial security worlds. Some of the attacks predicted in that book have since come to pass. While it was not originally intended to be a trilogy, it became the first book of "The Earth That Was" trilogy: Infinite Exposure Lesedi - The Greatest Lie Ever Told John Smith - Last Known Survivor of the Microsoft Wars When he is not consulting Roland Hughes posts about technology and sometimes politics on his blog. He also has regularly scheduled Sunday posts appearing on the Interesting Authors blog.