'Pesky pigeons!' Brits face Internet outage as Musk's satellites mistaken for bird baths

Space X confirms deployment of 60 Starlink satellites

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The bizarre problem was reported this week by Professor Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert at the University of Surrey. Starlink, which is on the cusp of offering global Internet coverage, connects to the web via ground-based satellite dishes that link up to a network of satellites in low-Earth orbit (LEO). And it’s the dishes that you mount on your rooftop or balcony that might prove problematic for future customers – all thanks to pigeons looking for a quick bath.

Unlike the satellite dishes you may associate with services like Sky or Freesat TV, which are big and vertically mounted, satellites are fairly small and point upwards.

The satellite dishes exchange signals with Starlink’s LEO constellation, which zips around the planet at altitudes above 340 miles (550km).

To a pigeon’s eye, these concave, fruit bowl-like dishes may appear to be bird baths – and that could potentially lead to connectivity issues.

Professor Woodward, who has had a Starlink satellite installed on his home recently, has complained about multiple outages affecting the service.

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Starlink satellite dish and a pigeon

Pigeons looking for a bath might be causing Starlink internet outages (Image: GETTY/Steve Jurvetson CC 2.0)

Steve Jurvetson with a Starlink satellite dish

Tech investor Steve Jurvetson with a Starlink user terminal and satellite dish (Image: Steve Jurvetson CC 2.0)

And although he is yet to figure out why exactly his Internet connection keeps getting disrupted, he thinks “pesky pigeons” might be to blame.

He told the BBC: “It’s actually been very good but I noticed a series of outages – some a second, some longer.”

According to , heavy rain, wind and snow can all take a toll on Starlink’s Internet speeds.

The company recommends installing the satellite dishes “in a location that avoids snow build-up and other obstructions from blocking the field of view”.

But what about pigeons? Can they block out the Internet signal by perching on the edge of a satellite dish?

.@elonmusk has access to some very clever people – that this works at all is slightly magical, that it works so well from a LEO satelitte is fascinating. just need to stop the pigeons obscuring the signal 🙂 pic.twitter.com/p9Gf6QJAfU

— Alan Woodward (@ProfWoodward) August 24, 2021

Various Internet forums are filled with horror stories of pigeons disrupting TV signals and generally proving to be a winged menace.

One post on the Digital Spy forum states: “This normally goes on in warm weather because the dish is stuck out the way in a sheltered corner.

And the Sun shines on it in the morning. So the pests sit on it getting warm, blocking the signal to the dish.”

Another post reads: “I have had a satellite dish in the same position since Sky started in 1989, first an Amstrad 60cm dish and then since 1999 a Sky minidish.

“All of a sudden, every day around 4pm a couple of pigeons have started perching on the arm, blocking the signal to the LNB.”

According to the company Smart Aerials, pigeon-related disturbances are a well-known problem in the industry.

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SpaceX deploying Starlink satellites into orbit

SpaceX deploying Starlink satellites into orbit (Image: SPACEX)

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Satellite dishes and aerial antennas are simply too good to pass up for pigeons hoping to catch their breath.

Tom Smart, the company’s owner, explained on his website: “From a birds point of view, a TV aerial must look like an ideal perch.”

And yet, despite the pigeon-related mishap, Starlink is being touted as the best option for people who need a fast and reliant Internet connection in areas where fibre-optic broadband is not an option.

These include areas in the countryside as well as in the most remote parts of the world where the required infrastructure does not exist.

In the meantime, Professor Woodward has asked his Twitter followers for some tips on how to keep the pigeons at bay.

One person suggested investing in a pet eagle, while others suggested decoy owls and sprinkler scarecrows.

And SpaceX is not the only company investing in the technology.

The British-Indian OneWeb is building its own constellation of OneWeb satellites, after receiving support from the UK Government.

Jeff Bezos, the former CEO of Amazon, has also announced plans to build a mega-constellation of satellites, called Kuiper.

The multibillionaire said earlier this year: “We’re determined to make affordable broadband a reality for customers and communities around the world.”

has asked SpaceX to comment on the alleged pigeon perpetrators.

William Murphy

William Murphy

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