Starlink vs. Fiber Internet
July 14, 2023
How does Starlink compare to Fiber Internet? Both are gaining popularity as groundbreaking Internet networks, but they are fundamentally different in how they're built and how they work. So which one offers you a faster and more reliable Internet connection?
- Fiber has a much faster maximum and median speed than Starlink or any other satellite provider.
- Fiber has significantly less latency.
- Fiber offers a stable connection that is unmatched.
- We still haven't scratched the surface of fiber-optic Internet's potential.
Will get more into this in a bit. But first, let's talk a little bit about Starlink.
You may have heard updates about Starlink, Elon Musk and SpaceX’s effort to provide satellite Internet to regions, especially rural and remote, all over the world. Recently, SpaceX, Starlink, and Elon Musk are making the news nearly every day.
In most recent news, however, they were denied a $886 million subsidy by the FCC.
The burgeoning satellite Internet service provider has offered service to over 400,000 users in 36 countries. They have also launched nearly 3,000 satellites into space. On July 29, they broke their previous record for number of launches in a year (32), and are on track to reach 52 orbital missions by the end of 2022. This satellite provider 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 areas, SpaceX launched 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.
Starlink users can expect just two pieces of equipment they would need to set up: a satellite dish and a Wi-Fi router.
But the emerging satellite provider also has its share of controversies. There have been concerns about the $600 price users would have to pay for a Starlink satellite dish as well as reports of inconsistent speeds—both of which were attributed to when the FCC denied SpaceX's bid for a $866 million subsidy.
There have been some concerns that the because the satellites are low-Earth orbit, they would affect visibility of the night sky.
In spite of these concerns, Starlink 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 options 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 other satellite Internet plans from 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, an area in which satellite providers have always struggled to keep up, 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. LEO's are much closer to the Earth than those used by HughesNet and Viasat satellite Internet.
Latency is where Starlink especially shines compared to its competition. High latency is caused by the distance a signal has to travel. 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, though there have been some concerns from the FCC as to whether it can consistently deliver that speed.
Starlink also offers service with no data caps, giving users access to unlimited Internet data. 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).
Its potential in speed and accessibility begs in the question: can Starlink replace Fiber? When compared to Fiber there is absolutely no contest, and there will not be for a while. With the highest recorded Starlink download speeds topping out at just over 200 Mbps, fiber-optics deliver consistent speeds capable of symmetrical gigabit speeds.
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.
Starlink is still in development and we have yet to see 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. SpaceX has stated that Starlink's goal for download speed reached is now 10 Gbps.
There has only been speculation about whether Starlink can eventually deliver gigabit speeds. However, 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.
Though we haven’t seen what its full potential, Starlink is an impressive, promising service. We’re excited to see how services like it will bring an unprecedented service to areas normally beyond the reach of 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.