Starlink from SpaceX is now the fastest satellite-based internet service provider. It delivers latency that is comparable to fixed broadband and download speeds that are on par with it as well.
Starlink on Schedule
When CEO Elon Musk initially said that his goal was to have global coverage in place by the end of 2021, there was a fair amount of healthy skepticism. But SpaceX exceeded their schedule for launching satellites and even earned permission from the FCC to launch even more and at a lower orbit. Its beta test went live in 2020 and greatly expanded in 2021, and outside of a handful of reports of overheating equipment in hot environments, has been a grand success by practically any measure. As of this writing, there are more than 90,000 active users, and Starlink is consistently adding more.
Reshaping Public Perception
One of the challenges facing Starlink is reshaping public perception of satellite-based internet. For a long time, satellite-based Internet was horrible and really only an option for households that had no other option. Services like HughesNet and Spectrum would eventually improve to speeds that allowed them to be classified as broadband, but the speeds were still far below cable, which was widely available at that point.
Starlink Speed Tests Impress
The popular Speed Test by Ookla recently reported that Starlink is the only satellite-based ISP in the U.S. to offer fixed-broadband-like latency. Latency has historically been one of the greatest deficiencies with satellite-based Internet and what has made it less than ideal for certain online activities, such as multiplayer video games and video conferencing. But the service also managed an average download speed of 97.23 Mbps, which is right there at the speed required by the average American household.
Putting Starlink in Context
Consider that the FCC defines broadband internet as having at least 25 Mbps download. That speed is fine for a single-user environment, but the FCC estimates that the average home needs at least 100 Mbps. Satellite providers HughesNet and Viasat averaged just 19.73 and 18.13 Mbps during the same test period. They do manage to hit 25 Mbps, which is why they are technically broadband, but the average download speed is far below what the average American home requires.
What the Future Holds for Starlink
Starlink currently has 1,800 satellites launched. Once all are operational in their orbits, the beta period will end, and Starlink will be offering service around the world to anyone that wants it. According to SpaceX, it does not matter how remote your location is. If you have access to electricity, then you will have access to Starlink. SpaceX plans to launch more satellites as well and to continue improving the service. Consider that in the first quarter of 2021, the average download speed for Starlink was 65.72 Mbps. The increase to 97.23 Mbps in the second quarter is therefore rather substantial.
It is worth noting that the average upload speed was just 13.89 Mbps during the test period, and that is only a marginal increase over the 13.77 Mbps measured in the first quarter. This upload speed is still vastly superior to anything offered by HughesNet at 2.43 Mbps or Viasat at 3.38 Mbps. It is, however, below the average upload speed for fixed broadband at 17.18 Mbps. As more people work from home and place an emphasis on upload speed, this could be one factor that holds Starlink back. Nevertheless, Musk is bullish that Starlink will eventually compete with fiber-optic services when it comes to speeds.