Starlink internet has taken the telecom market by storm. Demand currently outpaces supply with pre-orders more than a year out as of August 2022.
For folks living in remote locations, Starlink is like a golden ticket to the modern era. For these individuals, Starlink is likely the only high speed internet service provider they have access to. They are also happy to pay the $110 per month that Starlink currently costs.
Starlink does however come with a few important to consider limitations. The nature of the technology does pose a few specific challenges that you should be aware of. What type of internet connection is Starlink really?
Starlink is a low earth orbit (LEO) satellite internet service. This is in contrast to providers such as HughesNet and Viasat which use geostationary satellites 22,000 miles above the earth.
- Lower Latency than Legacy Satellite Internet Service Providers.
- Widespread Availability.
- Reasonably Fast Download Speeds.
- Unlimited Data With No Caps or Limits.
Lower Latency than Legacy Satellite Internet Service Providers
By using low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, Starlink is able to offer lower latencies. Latency has always been one of the greatest limitations of satellite internet. With Starlink latency is generally under 70 milliseconds vs over 500 milliseconds for other satellite internet services.
Fortunately for gamers, it is absolutely possible to use Starlink for online gaming. However, your latency will jump around a bit more than a traditional broadband home internet connection.
This is still higher than with most cable or fiber based internet connections. Starlink claims that satellite to satellite lasers will improve latency as more of the next generation satellites get launched into low earth orbit.
Theoretically light travels faster through air than it travels down a fiber optic cable. Whether this gives satellite based links and advantage remains to be seen.
Starlink is currently available in most parts of the continental United States. Although some areas are still waitlisted due to network capacity constraints. In general most rural areas in the United States currently have capacity available to add more users.
This is key, given that Starlink is really about bringing high speed internet to underserved regions. Starlink is not about competing with Comcast and Verizon in dense urban deployments. That is not a market they are targeting and rightfully so.
Starlink is a game changer for many rural parts of Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and many other states that severely lack the infrastructure for high speed internet in rural areas.
Reasonably Fast Download Speeds
Download speeds with Starlink are currently between 70 – 150 Mbps in most cases. Depending on Starlink network congestion speeds can be lower during peak hours. Generally speeds do not dip much below 50 Mbps.
This is much faster than what you get with legacy satellite internet providers such as HughesNet or Viasat.
It is not however, competitive with the speeds you get with a cable or fiber internet connection. Providers such as Comcast (Xfinity), Spectrum, Cox, Verizon Fios, etc. are able to offer speeds sometimes 10 times faster than what is typically seen with Starlink.
If you live in a rural area that lacks access to traditional broadband internet service, Starlink is your best friend. It is leaps and bounds better than any other existing satellite internet services.
Unlimited Data With No Caps or Limits.
Presently Starlink has no data caps and charges no overages. This is unique to the satellite internet industry. Many other satellite internet providers have fixed data buckets that you subscribe to. Some of these can be as small as 20 gigabytes.
Larger plans with legacy providers get really expensive in a hurry. Fortunately Starlink is truly unlimited and un throttled. This is a huge plus especially for cord cutters.
For all of the positive things there are to say about Starlink, there are certainly some cons as well. Starlink is far from a prefect internet solution. In fact most people are still much better off a service provider such as Spectrum or AT&T
- Speeds are Highly Variable.
- Drops in Signal Are Common.
- Latency is Higher Than Wired Alternatives.
- Starlink is Pricey Compared to Traditional Broadband.
- Mounting the Dish can be Tricky.
Speeds are Highly Variable
Starlink speeds will vary minute to minute and especially hour to hour. In same cases speeds can drop down to quite low speeds, especially during peak hours. This is do to network congestion. This is not unlike what happens with a cellular based internet connection.
Generally a cable or fiber based internet connection will be much more consistent than what you get with Starlink. For this reason if you need consistent download speeds, Starlink may not be the best option for you.
Drops in Signal Are Common
At the present time there are some gaps in Starlink satellite coverage. It is not uncommon to experience drops of up to a few seconds at a time and sometimes a little bit longer. For most web browsing activities this is not that much of an issue. For real-time online gameplay these momentary drops are much more problematic.
Starlink warned about these dropouts in their public beta offering. Now that Starlink is past its beta stage, we would like to see a more stable service. Starlink has repeatedly stated that as more satellites get deployed these drops will become less frequent and eventually go away completely. Based my own testing this is not yet the case.
Latency is Higher Than Wired Alternatives
With Starlink latency is generally under 70 milliseconds. This is great when compared to other satellite internet options. However, it is not competitive with traditional broadband internet services. If you want ultra low latency for gaming, Zoom meeting, or other real-time communications, Starlink is not going to perform as well.
Starlink is Pricey Compared to Traditional Broadband
Currently Starlink Internet Service costs $110 per month. Starlink also requires you to pay $599 up front for the Starlink dish and other required equipment. The upfront cost is similar to the $450 charged by HughesNet a legacy satellite internet service provider but high when compared to traditional broadband services that often have no up front equipment charge.
$110 per month is on the pricy side compared to most cable / DSL / fiber internet options. However when compared to other satellite internet services the price is actually relatively attractive, especially given that there is no data cap with Starlink.
Starlink is primarily intended for people who lack access to traditional broadband internet. Starlink has stated multiple times that they do not intend to compete with Comcast, Spectrum, and Verizon in urban areas.
The Starlink technology is not suitable for having that many people connecting to a single Starlink Service Cell. Starlink is about providing fast and reliable internet to underserved markets. Given that the majority of Starlink’s intended customer base lack access to traditional broadband, many would be delighted to pay $110 per month for fast and reliable internet.
Mounting the Dish can be Tricky
Starlink stability is largely dependent on your ability to get a clear view of the sky. Any obstructions will greatly increase the chance of connection drops. The best way to check this is to use the Starlink Mobile App to scan the sky where you are considering putting your Starlink Terminal (Dish).
If you are not able to get a clear view of the sky you will have issues with Starlink. This means that you may need to mount the dish up higher to get it clear from obstructions.
Starlink is a low earth orbit satellite internet technology. It offers numerous advantages over other technologies but does have some downsides of its own. For most people traditional broadband is a better option at least for now.
If your only other options are services such as HughesNet or Viasat, sign up for Starlink, even if you have to joint the waitlist.