Starlink Approaches Speed of Regular Broadband Internet

A recent test of Starlink’s speed indicates that it is rapidly approaching the speeds usually seen in “regular,” ground-based broadband Internet. Testers reported an average download speed of 97.23 megabits per second (Mbps) during Q2 2021. Fixed broadband Internet subscribers gets an average of 115.22 Mbps.

The test data was provided by the popular Internet speed checker Speedtest, which compared Starlink to competing Internet service providers (ISPs) HughesNet and ViaSat in a report published on August 4. Starlink posted surprisingly good latency speed for a satellite Internet service provider at a response time of 45 milliseconds. ViaSat’s latency came in at 630 milliseconds and HughesNet came in at 724 milliseconds.

By way of comparison, Speedtest says most fixed broadband Internet service providers’ latency time clocked in at 14 milliseconds. Fixed broadband makes use of phone lines or fiber optic cables, which give them the advantage of not having to send a signal up to satellites in Earth orbit and back down to a customer.

However, the infrastructure for land-based Internet services is often not well-developed enough to provide reliable high-speed Internet in isolated, sparsely populated, or low-income areas. Projects like the UK’s Project Gigabit and United States’ Rural Digital Opportunity Fund aim to address this issue by working with private Internet service providers like SpaceX’s Starlink to develop infrastructure for broadband Internet service. Chile has also recently signed a deal with SpaceX for a pilot program to bring Internet access to rural communities, making it the first Latin American country to gain access to Starlink.

As far as Internet speeds are concerned, Starlink gets 97.23 Mbps download speed and 13.89 Mbps upload speed, which beats HughesNet’s 19.73 Mbps download speed and 2.43 Mbps upload speed. It also humiliates rival ViaSat’s 18.13 Mbps download speed and 3.38 Mbps upload speed.

The faster speeds and lower latency times are made possible by Starlink satellites’ lower orbit. They reside in low-Earth orbits with an altitude of between 550 and 1200 kilometers. HughesNet and ViaSat place their satellites in a higher geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 35,000 kilometers. By way of comparison, the International Space Station orbits Earth at an average altitude of 250 kilometers.

All this makes Starlink an attractive option out of the three satellite-based Internet service providers in area where the infrastructure for broadband Internet service is not very well-developed. The low latency will make Starlink especially useful to people who frequently use online resources that require fast response times like video games, video streaming services, and video calling services like Zoom.

It may also lend credence to Elon Musk’s complaints that competitors like ViaSat are terrified of a satellite Internet service that is simply better than theirs. ViaSat has attempted to slow down SpaceX’s development of the Starlink satellite constellation with regulatory complaints filed with the FCC.

Most recently, a panel of judges based in Washington, D.C., refused to put a freeze on launches of additional Starlink satellites while the case filed by ViaSat winds its way through the appeal process. SpaceX is ready to resume launches for Starlink later this month and company president Gwynn Shotwell says the constellation will be capable of global coverage in September.

Starlink currently has 1,650 satellites in orbit. The FCC has approved the launch of up to 12,000 satellites for Starlink, though SpaceX says that the constellation could eventually include as many as 42,000 satellites. It is currently conducting the “Better than Nothing Beta” and working with nations like the UK, US, and Chile to provide access to isolated communities that have previously lacked access to reliable, affordable, and fast Internet service.