Starlink: The Satellite Internet Service Explained

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31 August 2022
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What's All The Hype About?

What if there was a way to get internet much faster than you can get through your current service provider? That's the promise of Starlink, a new satellite internet service from SpaceX. But what is Starlink, and is it worth the hype? Here's everything you need to know.

What is Starlink?

Technically speaking, it's a satellite internet system. But to average web users, it's a potential godsend. 

If you operate in a city or other densely populated areas, you probably enjoy fast internet speeds, maybe at 1Gbps or beyond. But if you are a business in a rural area, you may only get internet speeds at 20Mbps, or even as low as 0.8Mbps.

Worse, your business only has one or two internet service providers, leaving you stranded with poor service.  

Enter Starlink. The satellite internet system from SpaceX can theoretically deliver 150Mbps internet speeds to any place on the planet. All the customer needs is a clear view of the sky.  

In late 2020, the system began serving its first users, many of whom were based in remote or rural regions of America—and the response was enthusiastic. Two years later, Starlink earned its first PCMag Readers' Choice Award for top US ISPs. 

How Does Starlink Work?

Satellite internet technology has been around for decades. It involves beaming internet data, not through cables, but via radio signals through the vacuum of space. Ground stations on the planet broadcast the signals to satellites in orbit, which can then relay the data back to users on Earth. 

One of the existing primary providers has been HughesNet, which relies on satellites 22,000 miles above the planet.

SpaceX's system improves on the technology in two unique ways: The company wants to use low-Earth orbiting satellites that circle the planet at only around 300 miles above the surface. 

The shortened distance can drastically improve internet speeds while also reducing latency. Second, they want to launch as many as 40,000 satellites in the coming years to power the system, ensuring global coverage without service dropouts. 

How Fast Is Starlink? Is the Internet Consistent?

According to users, Starlink is currently delivering 50Mbps to 200Mbps in download speeds and about 30Mbps in upload speeds. Meanwhile, latency comes in at around 20 milliseconds, which is on par with ground-based internet. Over time, there are plans to bump up the download speeds to 300Mbps.

Expect speed increases as more Starlink satellites are launched into orbit, which as of July 2022, had over 2,500 in active operation. The company's long-term goal is to eventually operate thousands of satellites, paving the way for download speeds at 1Gbps and then 10Gbps.

Does Starlink Work in Cold Weather or the Rain?

Yes, it does. SpaceX designed the Starlink satellite dish to work in cold and wet climates by building a heater into the unit. As a result, the dish can melt any ice around it. However, the advice is to keep the dish clear of snow to ensure the signal quality isn't disrupted.

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