SpaceX has been launching batches of Starlink internet satellites on a regular basis since May 2019, and there are now hundreds of nodes in its megaconstellation. That provides sufficient coverage that SpaceX has started rolling out a beta test of its new satellite internet service. According to data from Ookla Speedtest (and analyzed by our friends at PCMag), Starlink is living up to its lofty speed claims.
Starlink joins a market that has long been dominated by a handful of companies like HughesNet and Viasat that offer sluggish satellite internet as a last resort for consumers who don’t have any other options. The current network features almost 900 satellites, some of which orbit much lower than traditional internet satellites. That helps Starlink deliver higher speeds and lower latency.
While Starlink isn’t cheap with its $500 equipment fee and $100 monthly bill, it’s vastly outperforming the other satellite internet providers. In its invitation emails, SpaceX promises between 50 and 150Mbps, and it’s running well inside that range. With the launch of the beta, Ookla has seen the average Starlink speed jump from 30-40Mbps all the way to 79.5Mbps down.
The speed comparison is not kind to the old guard of satellite internet. HughesNet ekes out a mere 19.84Mbps down, and Viasat isn’t much better with 24.75Mbps. The difference in upload speeds is even more stark. While Starlink is currently managing a 13.8Mbps average upload, HughesNet and Viasat are at 2.64and 3.25Mbps, respectively.
Everyone focuses on download speeds, but you need a decent upload for the video chats that have become such an important part of our lives during the pandemic. Latency is also an important part of real-time services like video chats. Again, Starlink is blowing other satellite internet services out of the water. The Ookla data shows Starlink with 42ms of latency on average. That’s enough to make video chats bearable. HughesNet, by comparison, has 728ms of latency. SpaceX even claims its network will be able to get under 20ms by next summer. I get 8-10ms on my home cable connection.
Currently, Starlink’s beta is only available to select customers in the northern US. CEO Elon Musk has said he hopes to expand the beta into Canada. Eventually, the Starlink megaconstellation will feature at least 12,000 satellites with coverage for most of the world.