How is it looking for the new StarLink satellite? Let’s ask Doug Dawson!

I’m always happen when Doug Dawson (POTs and PANs) takes a deeper dive into something I’ve been wondering. He’s more technical than I am and I’m happy to defer to his assessment, which is what I’m about to do today and I’m trying to focus on the how and why of the latest satellite project.

Doug has recently taken a look at Starlink Satellite. (That’s Elon Musk’s latest plan to launch 30,000 satellites for broadband deployment. It was been billed as the next great thing for rural broadband especially.) Turns out the marketing may be better than the real thing…

Most folks that work in the industry have probably seen the early speed test results for the StarLink satellites that come from the Ookla speed test site. There are only a few results posted and they show a range of download speeds between 35 Mbps and 60 Mbps, upload speeds between 5 Mbps and 18 Mbps, and latency between 31 and 94 ms.

I call these results disappointing because the speeds are so much slower than Elon Musk’s hype about providing gigabit data speeds from the satellites for the average customer. Unfortunately, a lot of rural Americans let themselves get sucked into that hype and they’ve been talking about satellite broadband as the solution that would solve rural broadband issues forever. There are communities putting broadband plans on hold since they think that the satellites will solve all of the local broadband problems.

Here are factors that will contribute to services…

  • But to offset any improvement in the technology will be the fact that speeds will naturally slow down when the satellites fill with subscribers. When everybody in a rural area is heavily using the Internet in the evenings the speeds from the satellites will slow down, just like they do with other shared bandwidth technologies. We also still don’t know how the satellites will handle rain and snow and how badly broadband might bog down during weather events.
  • We know that this technology is only going to work for homes with a decent view of the sky. Homes in ravines, in valleys surrounded by steep hills, or located on hillsides will likely get slower speeds or might not be able to maintain a connection to satellites. It seems likely that homes located in heavy woods will have similar problems.

Is Starlink better than what many people in rural areas have now? Yes. But like some technology that seems old the minute we take it off the self, Starlink is far from future-proof, it’s second tier out of the shoot…

What’s most disappointing is that these speeds don’t close the broadband gap. These speeds would be a great band-aid and will bring broadband to many homes that desperately need it. But these kinds of speeds are still second-class broadband on day one compared to urban broadband, and the gap between satellite and urban broadband will grow rapidly over time.

We’re seeing an explosion of data usage in urban areas. OpenVault recently reported that at the end of the second quarter of 2020 that 61% of all homes in the country subscribe to broadband speeds greater than 100 Mbps. That includes 37.8% subscribe to plans between 100 Mbps and 200 Mbps, 13.5% subscribe with plans between 200 Mbps and 400 Mbps, 5% with speeds between 400 Mbps and 900 Mbps, and 4.9% subscribing to gigabit speeds. What’s not shown in the OpenVault numbers is the trend where homes are upgrading to faster broadband. The number of homes subscribing to gigabit broadband grew by over 130% in the last year. Home data usage continues to grow at a blistering pace and homes are upgrading speeds in search of broadband that meets their needs.

This entry was posted in Satellite, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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