SpaceX struggles to keep Starlink speed promise, despite impressive launch cadence

At the same time, astronomers are organizing to stop SpaceX from congesting the skies with its Starlink satellites.
Chris Young
SpaceX founder Elon Musk.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

Getty Images 

SpaceX's Starlink service is getting grindingly slow for some users.

The Starlink internet service was heralded for its lightning-fast speeds when it first launched as a beta in 2020. According to the internet speed testing site Ookla, however, the more people use it, the slower it gets.

According to a report from PC Gamer, Starlink users in the U.S. and Canada have seen their download speeds slow down significantly in recent months, and the issue is likely down to congestion due to the popularity of the service.

Starlink slowdown

According to the new Ookla report, "Starlink speeds decreased in every country we surveyed over the past year as more users sign up for service." The survey highlights the fact that median download speeds dropped between five and 54 percent in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, Germany, and New Zealand between Q2 2021 and Q2 2022.

In the U.S. specifically, Starlink's median download rate dropped down from over 90 Megabits per second (Mbps) to about 62.5 Mbps. Similar drops were seen in the other countries surveyed.

While 62 Mbps approximately isn't a terrible internet speed, it does serve to highlight several concerns for SpaceX as well as for the global community. SpaceX is already launching satellites into orbit at an unprecedented pace — will it have to increase that launch cadence even further to fulfill the promises made regarding its internet service?

Then there's the fact that astronomers and scientists are organizing to require greater regulation and more research into the potential environmental effects of satellite mega-constellations. In fact, even NASA has warned that Starlink satellites could impede its ability to detect a potentially hazardous asteroid headed towards Earth.

On the flip side, SpaceX has long held that its Starlink internet service will help it fund its Starship program in a bid to eventually colonize Mars. The company is also working with the astronomical community and recently announced it will carry out new measures that it claims will make its satellites "invisible" to the naked eye.

Crowded skies

As of September 2022, SpaceX has more than 2,300 operational Starlink satellites in orbit and more than 500,000 active subscribers. The number of satellites is increasing steadily as SpaceX periodically launches up to 53 satellites to orbit at a time using its Falcon 9 rocket.

The Starlink slowdown is caused by the fact that more and more people are using Starlink, meaning it's arguably a good problem for SpaceX to have. In part, though, the decline in speed may also, ironically, be caused by an influx of users going online to complain about the speed of their service on social media.

In a recent post in the subreddit r/Starlink, one user wrote, "anyone else's Starlink speed been slowing down weekly? ...This week I'm barely reaching speeds of 45mbps." Another user added that their Starlink speed had slowed down to 1-2 Mbps on some nights.

It's worth noting, however, that the Ookla report says Starlink is still faster than all of its satellite internet rivals, including Viasat and HughesNet. But 60ish Mbps or lower isn't what SpaceX advertises for its service — the company originally said customers can expect speeds of between 100-200 Mbps.

The trouble is that, to reach those speeds, and combat user congestion, the sky will have to become a lot more congested in the coming months and years.

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