In the last year, Elon Musk's SpaceX went from having lifted 242 Starlink satellites to a total beyond 1,000 as it establishes its constellation of broadband internet-providing satellites, designed to include people who lack equitable options for paid internet access around the world.
Elon Musk has claimed Starlink will provide internet speeds of 1 Gbps, and while recent reports have shown impressive download average rates of 110 megabits per second (Mbps) with uploads of 20 Mbps, this is still a long way from 1 Gbps. Will Musk's promise of 1 Gbps really happen?
Elon Musk promises 1 Gbps Starlink internet
In 2019, Elon Musk's SpaceX promised to offer high-speed internet of up to 1 Gbps — 10% of the maximum theoretical 5G-speed of 10 Gbps. The company's 2016 application stated: "once fully optimized through the Final Deployment, the system will be able to provide high bandwidth (up to 1 Gbps per user), low latency broadband services for consumers and businesses in the U.S. and globally."
When initial beta testing rates were released, Starlink internet upload speeds ranged from 5 Mbps to 18 Mbps, with latencies between 31 ms to 94 ms. Naturally, these early low numbers could be attributed to the lower number of satellites SpaceX had launched — at 600 in mid-2019.
Later, Starlink's "Better Than Nothing Beta" opened for early adopters up for a price of $499 for receiver hardware, and $99 per month for Starlink service, according to the subreddit forum r/Starlink.
Starlink speed will 'double' to roughly 300 Mbps this year
The consensus in the Starlink subreddit is that SpaceX's satellites — stationed roughly 340 miles (547 km) high — far outdo traditional internet options for rural markets, like aging DSL connections, whose maximum speeds are no faster than 3G wireless. The older generation of internet satellites for rural areas also suffers from laggy satellite broadband, since they're stationed 22,236 miles (35,785 km) high, in geosynchronous orbit.
"I am more than satisfied," said software developer Leigh Phillips in Kelowna, British Columbia, in a dashboard he posted. Of his internet speeds — which included downloads at 110 Mbps (on average) and uploads of 20 Mbps, Phillips said they were "good to go" in a home with two working parents, in addition to moderate video streaming and gaming.
Speed will double to ~300Mb/s & latency will drop to ~20ms later this year— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 22, 2021
Starlink has far shorter latency than traditional satellites
On Monday, Musk said Starlink's speed would double to roughly 300 Mpbs, with latency falling to roughly 20 ms later in 2021. While feedback has become more positive in recent months, the company still has room to improve on latency.
Crucial to Starlink's success is its latency, or the "ping time" of how quickly it can send and receive back a single bit of information to a website. Speedtest averaged Starlink's latency at 41 ms, but Phillips' analysis places the internet service at 29 ms. This contrasts sharply with traditional satellites, which can have latencies of 600 ms or more — making gaming and many other applications less than feasible.
Elon Musk's upgrades could continue until 1 Gbps
However, Elon Musk teased Starlink enthusiasts on Wednesday, tweeting: "You might see much higher download speeds on Starlink at times. Testing system upgrades."
"Probably mid year, but Starlink is really meant for those who are least served," added Musk in a subsequent tweet. "Bay usually has Internet," he continued, referring to the San Francisco Bay Area.
SpaceX's Starlink will likely change the internet for keeps — supplying areas of the world stuck in the early twenty-teens with the higher speeds and low-latency seen in urban centers like parts of New York. Likely, Elon Musk won't be able to make good on his 1 Gbps promise until the constellation of internet satellites is complete, but with upgrades beginning this year, we should expect to see more satisfied customers as underserved geographic areas join the next generation of the internet.