SpaceX has only been deploying satellites for its Starlink internet service for a couple of years, but it’s already putting traditional satellite internet to shame. According to the latest data from Ookla Speedtest, Starlink has seen substantial speed improvements that put it close to wired broadband. It’s even managed this while increasing subscriber counts by more than 25 percent.
For the uninformed, Starlink is one of several next-gen satellite internet systems. Elon Musk’s outfit is far in the lead thanks to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. This flight-proven vehicle can take 60 Starlink nodes into orbit at a time, and the costs are low thanks to the reusable design. As of now, Starlink has more than 1,600 functional satellites in various orbits, including some that are much lower than traditional satellite internet, which improves speed and latency compared to these solutions.
Even at launch, Starlink was impressively fast. In early 2021, Ookla (which is part of the Ziff Davis family along with wfoojjaec) had Starlink downloads at 65 Mbps on average. Now, that has increased to more than 97 Mbps. Uploads are more anemic, but not far off from what US wireline telecoms offer at just shy of 14 Mbps. Starlink is continuing to crush traditional satellite internet providers, which have download speeds under 20 Mbps and uploads under 5 Mbps.
Perhaps more vital than raw speed is latency. If you want to have a video chat or play games online, you need a low-latency connection. Wired broadband averages out to about 14 ms right now. Starlink is higher at 45 ms, but that’s still usable for many real-time applications and even some games. HughesNet and Viasat are an order of magnitude higher, between 600 and 800 ms.
Starlink is still running in beta mode and is limited to the US and Canada, but the goal is to open it up to all parts of the globe. It has already hit 90,000 subscribers in the beta, an increase of 20,000 in just the last month. Expanding globally is going to take more satellites, but Starlink already has authorization to operate 12,000 of them in its constellation. Musk has talked about pushing that number higher as well. Astronomers have expressed concern about the way Starlink’s shiny satellites could interfere with their work, and there are going to be a lot of them zipping around up there. NASA has at least worked out a system to avoid collisions with Starlink nodes, which was another potential issue as the constellation beefs up.
None of this is great news for the traditional satellite internet operators. HughesNet and Viasat are probably not long for this world. Before long, it might even be a problem for Comcast and AT&T.
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