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Earlier this week, SpaceX finally got the ball rolling for its Starlink satellite-based internet service when it emailed those who had signed up for the service that it was ready to roll out beta, first-phase connections. SpaceX's email, though short in words, consisted of key details for Starlink's performance; details that help in drafting an early-stage comparison of the service with its terrestrial and satellite-based competitors.
Our brief comparison showed that when it came to latency (the time it takes for a packet of information to travel back and forth between terminals), Starlink was miles ahead of other satellite service providers. More importantly, the email also highlighted SpaceX's plans to bring Starlink speeds at par with what terrestrial providers were offering in the United States; a big promise as it naturally allows the service to gain a serious leg-up over other satellite internet providers.
The good folks over at PCMag seem to understand the importance of SpaceX's claims, and at this front, they have managed to secure exclusive data from Speedtest Intelligence for Starlink's performance.
SpaceX Starlink's Latency Claims Fall Slightly Below Test Results But Should Improve As Constellation Grows
In the email, SpaceX made two specific claims for Starlink's immediate performance. First, the company stated that users who sign up for the service's beta will experience 'data' speeds ranging between 50Mb/s and 150Mb/s for the next few months. Then, SpaceX also highlighted that when it came to latency, the users would experience delays ranging in between 20ms to 40ms until at least summer 2021 – when latency would drop to range in between 16ms and 19ms.
Our comparison revealed that when it came to latency, SpaceX's promise for 2021 sat right in the middle of the median values delivered by terrestrial service providers. Now, PCMag's data reveals that SpaceX's stated values for data speeds and latency are mostly accurate, but shows that when it comes to delivering latency in between 20ms to 40ms, the company will have to continue building its infrastructure.
Starlink was able to deliver an average download speed of ~80Mb/s in October, reveals the data - a value that sits slightly above the midpoint of SpaceX's provided speed range. Additionally, the network's speed received an important boost in October as it nearly doubled over September's value.
When PCMag compared Starlink's download and upload speeds with that of the company's rivals in the U.S., the results were startling, to say the least. Looking at the download speed, perhaps the most important metric considered by consumers when choosing their internet connection, Starlink quadruples download speed when compared to HughesNet and has an almost similar advantage over Viasat.
Upload speeds also exhibit a similar difference and PCMag also provides details about the network's latency. According to these, the average latency for Starlink stood at 42ms, but it "varied widely". Given that the details for this variance were not provided, one can only assume that it touched the bottom end of SpaceX's 20ms - 40ms emailed promise. Yet, an average value of 42ms suggests that either the bulk of the data set's readings were above 40ms or a handful were significantly greater than SpaceX's upper range.
Additionally, the data provided to the publication also revealed that HughesNet and Viasat (which PCMag refers to by Exede - the service's predecessor) had latencies of 728ms and 643ms respectively or more than 15x higher of what Starlink can achieve.
The latency figures for SpaceX's competitors are for September, and it's unclear whether the 42ms average for the company is also for the same month. Given that SpaceX doubled its download speed in October, it could be possible that latency also improved, but this is mere conjecture until actual figures are available.