Starlink Service Starts To Slow Down As Limited Capacity Rears Its Head
from the disruptive,-it-ain’t dept
We’ve noted a few times that Elon Musk’s Starlink broadband service is great if you have no other options. It’s also great if you’ve spent an eternity stuck on an expensive 3 Mbps DSL line straight out of 2003, or a traditional, capped, expensive satellite broadband connection. Being able to get 100 Mbps in the middle of nowhere is a great thing, assuming you can afford it.
But most Starlink press coverage doesn’t really talk much about the fact that the service doesn’t have the capacity to be as disruptive as it’s claiming it will be. Wall Street analysts suggest that Starlink can serve about a million users worldwide over the next few years. For context, somewhere between 20 and 40 million US residents lack broadband, and another 83 million live under a monopoly.
The laws of physics and limited capacity aren’t playing well with Musk’s continued decisions to expand access to the service (RVs, airlines, luxury yachts). Over the last year there’s been increasing reports of significant service slowdowns as reality begins to inject itself into the equation. Now speedtest provider Ookla has measured it, and notes the service has slowed significantly in most countries:
The fact that degraded Starlink service is still faster that many DSL “broadband” providers speaks well to the service’s utility, but the growing congestion isn’t a great sign for a service many claim will revolutionize US broadband access. Combined with Starlink’s often nonexistent customer service, I suspect you’re going to be seeing a lot more grumbling over the next few years as congestion increases.
Ultimately Starlink wants to launch additional waves of next-generation satellites that dramatically boost capacity, but even assuming this all goes swimmingly, Wall Street analysts estimate the max subscriber total (worldwide) could top out at around 6 million. That’s still, even in a best case scenario, a tiny dent in US overall connectivity needs. And again, that assumes Starlink will remain financially viable.
Fixing US broadband requires driving fiber to as many areas as possible, then pushing 5G into most of the gaps (even Musk has admitted 5G plays a better role here). While Starlink can help, it shouldn’t be portrayed as a magic bullet, and over-hyping it to fluff Musk’s stock holdings can act as a bit of a policy and subsidy distraction from better, more reliable, and certainly more affordable broadband solutions.
Filed Under: 5g, cable, digital divide, dsl, fiber, high speed internet, starlink, telecom, wireless
Companies: spacex, starlink