This service could eventually be life-changing for millions of people.
Starlink is a satellite-based internet service run by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Its main mission is to provide good internet coverage to rural regions and other areas that have poor or no service today. SpaceX has been steadily launching satellites since 2018, and the eventual goal is to have a constellation of tens of thousands of the cute little spacecraft in orbit, providing near-global service.
Above: Example of a Starlink user terminal installed on a building's roof in Canada (Source: SpaceX)
At the moment, Starlink has more than 1,000 satellites up, and the service is in a semi-public beta phase. Where is service currently available, and what are early adopters saying?
Ookla Speedtest (via PCMag) has created a map of current Starlink beta testers. It estimates that the service now has more than 10,000 users, who are seeing connection speeds of up to 170 Mbps, with no data caps.
So far, most of the Starlink customers are in the Northwest—Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana—with a smattering of users in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine, plus a couple of clusters around Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Starlink’s service is mainly aimed at low-density regions that currently have few options for high-speed internet service. However, Ookla found a substantial number of users in urban and suburban areas such as Chicago, Seattle and Minneapolis.
Starlink plans to add service in more US localities over the course of this year.
Starlink is also now available in certain parts of the UK, and Science Focus recently published some of the early adopters’ impressions of the service.
Aaron Wilkes, who lives in Kent in Southeast England, told the PA news agency that his existing fixed-line service from British Telecom, which is advertised at a paltry 20 Mbps, often delivers far slower speeds, making it impractical to stream movies at all. Using Starlink, he’s been seeing an average of 175 Mbps, and up to 215 Mbps at times. “The ability to be able to download content so quickly compared to our standard BT line is amazing,” said Wilkes.
Starlink service is not cheap—UK users are paying £439 for the hardware and a monthly fee of £89. In the US, its $99 a month plus $499 for the hardware. That’s significantly higher than cable or phone-company alternatives, but for business users in underserved areas, it may be well worth paying more for higher speeds.
“If you need connectivity to run a business and if you need connectivity for communication, particularly in COVID times, £90 a month is quite justifiable,” Martin Langmaid told PA. He noted, however, that Starlink suffers from periodic outages, so he’s also hanging onto his existing fixed-line service for now. “I think a lot of people will do something similar, where they will leave their DSL in place at the moment, combine it with Starlink. The outages should ultimately disappear once the coverage is in place, then that’s when I think people start cancelling things like DSL and 4G dongles.”
Elon Musk recently said that Starlink aims to double its connection speed to about 300 Mbps, and to extend its coverage area for “most of Earth” by the end of the year, and to the whole beach ball in 2022.