Starlink DC-powered, space and power saving RV install!
Our motto has always been: Keep it simple! Vanlife is not rocket science. If we now connect to the internet via satellite, it sounds very complicated and somehow like rocket science, doesn't it? This objection is more than justified and we didn't take this decision lightly and evaluated it for a long time.
When we were still traveling through Europe, we deliberately decided against internet via Starlink. The rates are very expensive and the network coverage via LTE or 5G is very good in Europe. Even the most expensive unlimited rate is usually cheaper than internet via satellite. And except for a few countries (like Germany), you usually have good reception even in remote regions.
But now our decision was clear, that we want to continue our journey in America. Especially in Canada we know from our own experience that the cell coverage situation there is different. The country is much larger and also more sparsely populated. If there is nothing for kilometers, why should there be a cell phone mast every few? That makes no sense, and you can see that in reality. If you leave cities and highways, reception quickly becomes sparse. You can be happy if it is still enough for a phone call or an emergency call.
But since we prefer to be out in nature, we didn't want to have to go back to the next town every other day. Especially not to just get on the internet. A satellite connection is very convenient, especially since the data rates in Canada/USA are not that far away from the Starlink ones. As for the technical challenges: Georg is too much of a hobbyist to let that stop him!
Why DIY? Isn't there Starlink for RVs?
Yes and no. Starlink for RVs or the newer Roaming rates are first only price models, they have nothing to do with the technology. When we got our Starlink, there was only the “normal”, rectangular Starlink dish (aka Dishy) available to us. This can't be permanently mounted on the roof of the car, because it can rotate and tilt freely and is not made for the highway.
Another limitation is the router: it is a single device with only two cables: The power cable (cold appliance plug) and the cable for the Dishy, with a special, non-standard plug. There is no other way to supply Dishy with power and get a WLAN connection for now. Starlink states “We do not offer DC-input power supplies. Starlink power supply is compatible for DC-AC modified sine and pure sine wave inverters.”1. If you want to run Starlink in a van without modification, you need an inverter.
At this point I would like to say: If you already have an inverter and enough space with you, stick with it! Because the setup in this case is child's play. Plug in, done. Whether the lower power consumption still plays a role for you, you have to know!
But in our T4 with short wheelbase and without AC power every centimeter and every ampere counts. Therefore we had to find another solution.
But now to the point: What did you do?
First of all, Georg did a lot of research and looked deeper into the technology. Of course, we're not the first ones doing this. There are some other hackers, enthuiasts and even vanlifers having built a similar conversion already. We linked the sources and want to shout out a big thanks for all that information! We summarize the results of our research here. The central point is the mysterious Starlink cable, whose secret we want to reveal here.
This is where the article gets very technical. In order not to make it even longer, we will not explain every term. After all, we're on the internet here, where you can look up anything :)
A little insight into the technology
Behind the gray cable with the special connector hides a simple network cable. A Category 5e AWG 24 F/UTP cable to be more precise 2. Why Starlink provides it with this connector can only be guessed of course. An important reason is probably the power supply of Dishy: This can draw up to 180W, which would not be possible with regular PoE (power over ethernet).
To ensure the power supply anyway, 48V are applied to all 4 wire pairs. With a maximum of 1A per wire pair, it would be possible to transmit up to 192W without burning cables, at least for a short time. This is of course more than the standard allows, which is probably the reason for the changed assignment. So plus is on the wires 1,2,3,6 and minus on 4,5,7,83. The standard says something different here as well, so you'd have to fiddle around with the pinout already….
Now that we know how Dishy is connected, we can build our solution. The idea is to build the modified PoE itself and just talk Ethernet behind it. Roughly the whole thing should look like this:
It gets interesting at the connections which are called RJ45* in the drawing: Here we cut the original connectors and crimp RJ45 connectors on them. Before and after the PoE Injector we swap the blue and green wire pairs. The swap on the Dishy side ensures that the voltages are applied correctly to the Dishy. The swap on the Raspberry side ensures that normal Ethernet is spoken again.
OziCyberNomad 4 has worked it out nicely. If you swap the wires 3,4 and 5,6 on both sides, the correct voltage arrives at Dishy and normal network again at the router:
For our setup we used:
- PoE Injector: Tycoon POE-INJ-1000-WT
- Power supply: XWST DC DC Voltage Converter
- Router: Raspberry Pi 4B
- Patch cable and RJ45 connector (with grounding!)
Of course, it doesn't have to be exactly these products. However, at least for the PoE Injector, I have not found an alternative that I could order at the time of the conversion. Ready-made solutions like Dishypowa were not ready or available at that time. Especially the DishyPowa V2 really looks promising, as it has the DC power supply built in. With the power supply one should pay attention to the fact that the power consumption of the Dishy varies very strongly.
Beside the internet setup we have another component: If we want to use it, we have to charge our laptops somewhere. Thanks to USB-C PD, we no longer need special adapters for this, but the chargers also have to provide the corresponding power of 65W. Since there are two of us, we also have two chargers, which brings us back to 130W maximum power consumption. This is not little and therefore gets its own line to the fuse box. We would also like to have the ability to turn both systems on and off as needed.
Of course we also want to make sure that our car doesn't burn down, so we add some fuses in the very beginning. Dishy and Raspberry shouldn't take more than 195W together, that's 16A on 12V. Both chargers take at max 130W, this is almost 11A accordingly. We decided to take a 20A and a 15A fuse and designed the cables (and switches!) accordingly.
With these things our plan expands a bit:
Now that we've got rid of the annoying router and the need for an inverter, we can install everything to save space. With us in the T4, the seat console of the passenger seat is ideal for such technology. Everything fits in easily, you can easily get to it if you need to repair something and we don't really need the space otherwise. Another benefit: the on-board battery is in the driver's seat console. Since Dishy and chargers are very energy-hungry, you have to plan for thick cables with 12V. So it's good not to have so much distance between the battery and the consumer.
We killed two birds with one stone here and installed a nice substructure without further ado. Another little gimmick: In addition to the chargers, you can also access a USB-Ethernet adapter from the front, which is attached to the Raspberry. So you get the connection to the router not only via WLAN.
As you can see, the technology is installed on wood. I would actually prefer something fireproof, but we didn't have that on hand. Since all components are in their own, suitable housing, that is sufficient for us.
Finally, only thing missing is a place for Dishy itself. A large stand was included with the Starlink package. It's actually very practical if you don't always want to park under the open sky, but instead, for example, in the shade under trees. For us, however, the foot takes up too much space during transport, and because of the permanently installed solar panels on the roof, the shade has been done with anyway. In addition to the photovoltaic panels, we have a roof terrace against the sun that shades the rest of the roof. And this is exactly what we are now using for Dishy. We simply drilled a 30mm hole in one of the slats and doubled it with a small piece of wood underneath. It works great and couldn't be easier.
And that works?
For us, this setup works flawlessly. Even the official Starlink app can handle Dishy running without the official router. All functions that affect the router are simply hidden. The actual brains of Starlink are built into the antenna itself. If you connect to Dishy via Ethernet, you get an IP, Gateway and DNS configured via DHCP. With this, you already have internet access.
You can even communicate with Dishy: Either via the web interface at dishy.starlink.com or via gRPC. The latter can be handy, for example, for getting Dishy's status or putting it into stow mode for transport. You can connect via the gateway address on port 9200. Conveniently, even gRPC reflection is supported, so you can retrieve the specification and use e.g. grpcurl or grpcui.
We use the Raspberry, which we have installed in the Bulli for some time, as a router and WLAN access point. Thanks to RaspAP , the setup is also very easy and you get a nice web interface. As mentioned above, we also connected a USB-Ethernet adapter to the Raspberry to enable a connection via LAN.
Starlink is expensive, but in countries like Canada it is probably the only way to get really good internet outside of cities. It's impressive when you can just drive somewhere in the middle of nowhere without having to check the signal strength. It's a pity that you have to put in so much effort to get along without alternating current, but at least it's realistically possible.
We hope the article gave you a good insight into our setup. If I have any questions, or even tips on how to do it even better, please write to us on Instagram or simply send us an email!