We got a recent analysis of Starlink broadband speeds from Ookla, which pulls together a slew of speed tests across the country. Average US download speeds on Starlink have improved over the past year, from an average of 65.72 Mbps in Q1 2021 to 90.55 Mbps in Q1 2022. But over the same period, download speeds deteriorated from an average of 16.29 Mbps in Q1 2021 to 10.70 Mbps in Q1 2022.
It is likely that some of this change is intentional since ISPs have a choice of how much bandwidth to allocate to download versus upload. It seems likely that overall bandwidth capacity and speeds will increase due to the ever-increasing size of the Starlink satellite constellation, now over 2,500. Starlink subscriptions are climbing rapidly. The company said it had 145,000 customers at the start of the year and recently announced that it had up to 400,000 customers worldwide. This rapid growth has me wondering when Starlink will stop calling the company a beta test.
These speed tests raise some interesting questions. The first is whether those speeds are good enough to qualify Starlink to receive the RDOF awards that have now been pending from the FCC for over a year and a half. While these speeds now approach the 100 Mbps speed promised by Starlink in its RDOF offerings, it should be noted that the 90 Mbps number is an average. Some customers see speeds above 150 Mbps while others only see 50 Mbps or even less. I’ve spoken to a number of Starlink customers and what they’ve told me is that Starlink needs a “full sky” view from horizon to horizon to perform optimally , and many houses lack the necessary view. This doesn’t bode well for heavy woods and hilly Starlink RDOF reward areas like the rewards in western North Carolina.
There is a lot of speculation that Starlink limits the number of subscribers in a given geographical area so as not to dilute speed and performance. The RDOF awards require any winning ISP to serve everyone, and there remains a big question about what kinds of speeds can be delivered for a geographic area that has many subscribers.
The BEAD subsidy rules also open the door to Starlink and other satellite providers to some extent. Although satellite technology is not considered reliable enough to be used directly for awarding grants, the NTIA has also opened the door to the use of alternative technologies such as satellite and fixed wireless using unlicensed spectrum. in areas where fixed telephony technologies are too expensive. Each state will have to decide whether subsidies can be provided for satellite broadband in such cases, and it seems likely that some states will allow this.
Ookla’s article also shows average Starlink speeds around the world. Some of the average speeds are much faster than US speeds, and this may be due to smaller countries covering smaller and less diverse terrain than the United States. Speeds here are likely much higher in the open plains states than for customers in the hills, mountains, and woods. There can be no technological difference since the same satellites serve the whole world.
There is an interesting app that shows the location of Starlink satellites. It’s fascinating to see how they circumnavigate the globe. What is most striking about the world map is how few satellites there are above the United States at any given time. The app shows a few tightly packed strings of satellites that are recent launches that have not yet been deployed to their final orbits.
The sky will soon become much more cloudy. Starlink’s original business plan was to deploy 11,000 satellites. Jeff Bezos and Project Kuiper have FCC clearance to deploy satellites, with launches beginning this year. OneWeb, which now aims to serve commercial and government customers, has launched much of its constellation but has yet to begin delivering services. Telesat is still moving slowly and has fallen behind due to supply chain and funding issues, but still plans to build a fleet in the next few years. I imagine in a few years we will see reports from Ookla comparing the different constellations.