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Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's (SpaceX) Starlink satellite internet constellation is continuing to exhibit wildly fluctuating download speeds. After having opened its service for pre-orders in February last year, Starlink has grown its user base from 10,000 at the time to a staggering 250,000 by March 2022, indicating rapidly growing popularity for satellite-based internet in the United States and globally.
At the same time, the internet service has delivered impressive results, as it continues to vastly surpass rivals in the three key metrics of internet performance - download and upload speeds, and latency, which is the time taken for an information packet to travel to and from a user's device. However, while the download speeds have been impressive, a key concern surrounding them is the performance range or the difference between the highest and lowest results.
Starlink Download Speed Varies Between 300 Mbps & Below 50 Mbps In U.S. and U.K. Show Tests
The issue of widely varying download speeds for Starlink is not a new one, and it is likely occurring due to the constellation being in the early stages of its development. At full capacity, Starlink plans to have thousands of satellites in low Earth orbit, and to date, it has placed a mere fraction of those, as it struggles with the capacity of SpaceX's Falcon 9 medium-lift rocket and satellite manufacturing.
The issue has been consistently identified by Speedtest in quarterly analyses of Starlink median download speeds for the third and fourth quarters of last year. According to the testing service, the range between highest and lowest download speeds across the United States stood at 100 Mbps during Q3 2021 and grew to 130 Mbps in the next quarter.
Today's tests however show the download speed ranges from a handful of users, instead of the disparity presence across a geographic location. They cover the U.S.the U.K. and Canada, with the bulk coming from the North American countries and all having been shared on the social media platform Reddit.
The first set of results shared by a British Starlink user shows wildly varying performance for SpaceX's internet service. They reveal that in more than 80 tests, the highest download speed reached crossed 300 Mbps while the lowest was below 50 Mbps. Data compiled by PCMag in October 2020 had revealed that Starlink's rivals in the satellite internet industry - Viasat and HughesNet - had ~25 Mbps and ~20 Mbps in download speeds.
The British user's results were similar to the ones achieved by an American residing in Central Maine. Posting in response to the tests, elt0p0 shared that:
That graph looks about right. My speeds are all over the place, anywhere from 25 to 300 down and 5 to 30 up. Lately, speeds have been more consistent, around 200 down and 20 up. Central Maine.
Another user from rural West Oregon shared a far more striking discrepancy but admitted that their dish was facing obstructions. According to isidria:
I wanted to wait before posting anything about our Starlink. I got oue kit late December 2021, second generation dish showed up without incident. Our speeds and availability vary quite a bit, to be honest I wouldn't call it stable. I decided to keep our DSL line and have fail over setup on a Ubiqity Edge router 4. Our Starlink bis definitely faster than the DSL most of the time, but not stable enough for voice, video calls or gaming. Our speeds go from 220/20 down to 4/1 and everything in-between daily. Seems completely random. We do have a slight obstruction here in rural west coast Oregon, I'll attach the obstruction screen shot from my phone. We basically just redesigned our home and shop network to use Starlink for all the streaming and DSL for anything important, works well for us. I hope for better stability as more satellite's get launched.
Another Starlink user, this time from Nova Scotia, Canada, also shared his test results, which followed a similar pattern to the earlier ones. They revealed that the highest download speed that Starlink achieved was 286 Mbps while the lowest stood at 29.6 Mbps, with the average being 121 Mbps over roughly two weeks.
The results from both the users were mirrored by the ones shared by a Starlink user in Grass Valley, California. Reddit user NelsonMinar's speed test results that were run every 15 minutes for a seven day period showed that when it came to Grass Valley, Starlink's download speed averaged 137 Mbps. Additionally, it achieved a peak level of 299 Mbps alongside a low of 1.23 Mbps.
Overall, Starlink's performance in a region is affected by a number of factors. Since each 'cell' or location is serviced by a fixed number of satellites, the number of users in it determines peak and average performance particularly since the constellation itself is in its early buildout stages. Furthermore, the choice of orbits for the satellites works in the favor of certain regions as well.
While Starlink continues to improve performance in the U.S., its results in other countries have managed to beat broadband internet, in a crucial victory for a service that SpaceX plans to use to fund its ambitious interplanetary exploration missions.
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