Starlink vs. Fiber
August 29, 2021
You may have been hearing updates about Starlink, SpaceX’s effort to provide satellite Internet to regions and homes all over the world. In most recent news, the burgeoning satellite Internet service provider has shipped 100,000 terminals to customers in 14 countries. For those of you not yet familiar with Starlink, it has a key characteristic that sets it apart from other satellite Internet services in use today.
With the goal of providing fast and reliable service to even the most remote places on Earth, Starlink is deploying a “constellation” of satellites around the globe in low-Earth orbit (LEO). LEO satellites are around 300 miles above the Earth, as opposed to traditional Internet providers' satellites that are typically 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. This difference in distance has already demonstrated extremely improved speeds, latency, and reliability in comparison to other satellite Internet services. But just how fast and reliable is it, and how does it compare against other advanced Internet services out there today?
How Fast Is Starlink?
A recent study was done by Ookla, a company whose speed test is used by all Tachus technicians and staff when installing service. Findings in this study show that Starlink easily outpaces fellow satellite providers like HughesNet and Viasat. Starlink’s median download speed in the United States was 97.23 Mbps, far exceeding our nation’s standard for broadband Internet. The study reported download speeds of 19.73 Mbps and 18.13 Mbps for HughesNet and Viasat, respectively. For upload speeds, Starlink was reported to have a median of 13.89 Mbps, while Viasat and HughesNet came in second and third with 3.38 Mbps and 2.43 Mbps, respectively.
In the case of latency, which is an area in which satellite providers have always struggled to keep up with fixed broadband providers, the difference between Starlink and the others was even bigger. Starlink reported a median latency of 45 ms. Viasat came in at a distant second place with 630 ms, while HughesNet was reported to have a latency of 724 ms. For a frame of reference, 20 ms to 40 ms is considered optimal, while 100 ms and less is considered acceptable for gaming.
Why Is Starlink Faster Than Other Satellite Services?
A big reason why Starlink is faster and much less latent than other satellite Internet providers is because Starlink uses LEO satellite constellations, which are much closer to the Earth than those used by Viasat and HughesNet. Latency is where Starlink especially shines compared to its competition because latency is directly caused by the physical distance a signal has to cross, and Starlink’s signal doesn’t have to travel nearly as far as a signal from typical satellite services. Starlink has latency that is considered within the optimal range, and a download speed capable of reaching 100 Mbps. But how does it compare to providers that use a fixed infrastructure like fiber?
Is Starlink Faster Than Fiber?
Currently, it looks like Starlink’s speeds still have a little way to go before competing with those of cable Internet. Ookla’s study reports the median fixed-broadband speed to be 115.22 Mbps with a latency of 15 ms (compared to Starlink’s 97.23 Mbps and 40 ms). When compared to fiber there is absolutely no contest, and there won’t be for a while. With the highest recorded Starlink download speeds topping out at not much higher than 200 Mbps, fiber Internet providers deliver consistent speeds that are not only capable of 1,000 Mbps but are symmetrical as well. Starlink’s upload speed is still significantly slower than its download speed, making it not as ideal as symmetrical services for online gaming, videocalls, or uploading large files.
As Starlink is still in development and we haven’t seen it at its full potential, there has been discussion as to whether it can surpass fiber in the future and take its place as the fastest, most advanced Internet service. Early this year, SpaceX announced that they were raising Starlink's goal for download speed reached from 1 Gbps to 10 Gbps. However, while there has only been discussion and speculation about whether Starlink can deliver gigabit speeds, we have already seen fiber break multiple speed records and deliver up to 319 Tbps (or 319,000 Gbps). Fiber is fast, reliable, and most importantly future proof. Any new service that is being implemented will have a long way to go before it can outpace fiber.
Starlink is an impressive, promising service. We haven’t seen what it’s truly capable of, and we’re excited to see how it, and services like it, will bring an unprecedented service to areas normally beyond the reach of conventional high-speed Internet. It’s clearly the best satellite Internet service. But when it comes to the absolute best speed, reliability, and latency that Internet service has to offer, there’s no beating fiber.