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How Fast is Starlink? The Answer Will Shock You

By Rich Smith – Updated Aug 13, 2021 at 3:14PM

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If you want the fastest possible Starlink connection, consider moving to France.

Ten months ago -- not even a full year -- a revolution hit the high-speed internet industry.

Elon Musk announced that beta testing of the SpaceX Starlink high-speed satellite broadband service had begun. For the low, low price of just $499 upfront, and $99 a month, you could cut the cord with cable once and for all (and not just joining the trend of canceling your pay-TV package to switch to streaming over cable) and get all your high-speed internet needs satisfied with broadband internet from space.  

Now the question people need answers to is: Should you do that? Is Starlink internet really fast enough to replace cable internet?

Several satellites surrounding Earth.

Image source: Getty Images.

How fast is Starlink?

The short answer to that question is "fast enough." But the longer answer may depend on where you live when you sign up for Starlink.

Earlier this week, Speedtest.net reported that median internet download speeds on Starlink have increased by nearly 50% in the U.S., from 65.7 Mbps in the first quarter to 97.2 Mbps in the second quarter. That's still slightly slower than the 115.2 Mbps median speed for fixed broadband (i.e. "cable internet"), but much faster than the speeds offered by rival satellite internet providers ViaSat (VSAT 5.28%) or HughesNet, which is a division of EchoStar (SATS 1.10%).  

That being said, as Mashable.com points out, Speedtests of Starlink internet in the U.S. and abroad show that "Starlink internet speeds and latency are all over the place."  In certain areas of the U.S., Starlink service may be as much as five times faster than traditional broadband service available in the area.  In other places, however, Starlink may be as much as 68% slower -- with similar variances in "latency" or "ping" (i.e. the lag time between clicking a button on your computer and seeing a response) .

Even more surprising are the variances between Starlink performance in the United States -- the first country to receive service -- and elsewhere in the world, where service is still rolling out.

We're No. 3! We're No. 3!

Late last month, a new "community based status site for the Starlink satellite internet service," dubbed StarlinkStatus.space, began collating data provided by a handful of Starlink users around the globe . According to this data, the average speed of Starlink service in the U.S. is 114.1 Mbps -- a slower speed than the average speeds for Starlink connections both in Europe (161.1 Mbps) and around the world (134.7 Mbps) .

That's right, folks. America, the birthplace of Starlink, has the slowest Starlink speeds on Earth.

Caveats and provisos

Now admittedly, the sample size on StarlinkStatus is, at present, very small -- just 77 customers, scattered across seven countries that have Starlink: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the United States . StarlinkStatus also reports its results based on the mean, or average speeds reported by customers, as opposed to Speedtest, which reports median speeds (i.e. the mid-range speed, with half of customers reporting speeds faster than the median, and the other half, slower) .

But while their methodologies differ, and Speedtest presumably has greater piles of data to draw upon, Speedtest's own data mostly agrees with what StarlinkStatus has been saying. On the one hand, its calculation of a 97.2 Mbps median speed for Starlink in the U.S. compares favorably to the 86.9 Mbps median speed clocked for Canadian Speedtest users checking on their Starlink connections. (StarlinkStatus, however, did not break out an average speed for Starlink in Canada).

On the other hand, Speedtest clocked Starlink delivering 108 Mbps speeds in Germany, 108.3 Mbps in the United Kingdom, and 139.4 Mbps download speeds in France -- all numbers consistent with StarlinkStatus' findings that the service works faster in Europe. Furthermore, Speedtest says Starlink produces 127 Mbps speeds in New Zealand -- also faster than in the U.S.  

What it means for SpaceX

While it's a bit of a shock to find that Starlink works better outside the United States than within it, let's not lose sight of the core facts here:

Starlink broadband internet service is much faster than existing space-based internet services. It's faster outside the U.S. than within it, true. But even the 97.2 Mbps (or 114.1 Mbps) speeds produced here in America are pretty darn speedy for an internet signal that has to travel several hundred miles into space and back. And Starlink speeds are increasing -- up 48% over just the last three months, despite SpaceX still having only put a fraction of its planned 12,000 satellites in orbit.  

For consumers seeking internet service in parts of the country (or the world) where cable internet service is slow or nonexistent, I expect Starlink to continue growing in popularity. In fact, with 90,000 customers spread across roughly a dozen countries currently --20,000 more customers than it had only a month ago -- I'm pretty certain it already is.  

Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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