Preliminary testing of SpaceX’s constellation of Internet-providing satellites, Starlink, indicate that beta testers have achieved download speeds of between 11 and 60 Mbps. Upload speeds range from 5 to 18 Mbps.
Although the Starlink beta testers have some signed non-disclosure agreements, at least 11 of them anonymously posted their speeds on Reddit and the data was compiled into a graphic. According to SpaceX filings with the FCC, it expects to reach up to gigabit-per-second speeds once the full Starlink constellation is deployed.
In a move that is likely to be attractive to gamers who like fast response time in their online games, SpaceX also plans to reduce latency from the current 31- to 94-millisecond times reported by the testers to under 20 milliseconds. This is possible by keeping the satellites in a low-Earth orbit of about 540 to 570 kilometers in altitude, as compared to the 34,000-kilometer altitude of a typical geosynchronous orbit.
The FCC has approved the launch of up to 12,000 Starlink satellites, of which 600 have been launched so far. This has caused a bit of controversy with stargazers who say that the Starlink satellites interfere with their viewing. Space enthusiasts have also expressed concern over “space debris” consisting of defunct satellites and spent rockets that remain in orbit. Inactive space debris poses a risk of colliding with active satellites and even the International Space Station, which has had to maneuver to avoid it.
The FCC has also expressed skepticism of SpaceX’s claims of low latency in initial communications regarding the Starlink constellation. Existing satellite Internet providers generally aren’t known for their fast speeds partly due to high latency times. Tests indicate that geosynchronous satellites usually have a latency time of about 600 milliseconds, which is among the highest among available Internet delivery media.
Big Benefits for Internet Service “Deserts”
Supporters say that Internet-providing satellites like Starlink can provide Internet access to areas in which ISPs have not made much investment. 60 Mbps is comparable to many of the lower-tier plans offered by ISPs in the United States and is often the best available in rural areas. Many impoverished parts of the world also lack reliable access to the Internet. SpaceX anticipates plenty of interest from these areas, with the potential for up to 5 million subscribers in the United States alone.
Improved Internet access could come with increased opportunities for populations in less advantaged regions. With the rise in popularity of remote working, people who were previously “left out” economically could take advantage of services similar to Amazon Mechanical Turk and Etsy to sell their work. Inexpensive mobile devices loaded with digital wallets and Internet connectivity could benefit the millions of people around the world who do not have ready access to banking services.
All of it may rely on companies like SpaceX being willing to make the initial investment in Internet-related infrastructure like Starlink. However, it will benefit people who previously had to put up with slow Internet or no Internet access at all.
Most recently, SpaceX successfully added 57 satellites to its Starlink constellation with a launch on August 7. The next Starlink launch is slated for August 18 and will put 58 more satellites in orbit. Each one adds more capacity to the Starlink network as it progresses toward its promised 1 Gbps Internet speed.