SpaceX has been launching Starlink internet satellites for the last 18 months or so, and all they managed to do for most of that time is tick off astronomers. However, the first users have been able to log onto SpaceX’s Starlink internet service, and their impressions are good. This is just a small beta test, but SpaceX is apparently planning a wider test early next year.
Satellite internet service is nothing new — companies like Viasat and HughesNet have been offering similar services for years, but they’re slow, laggy, and really only worth using in remote areas where there are no other options. Starlink appears to be focusing on isolated folks in the closed beta, but the speeds aren’t what we’re used to seeing from those other “last resort” satellite services.
Ookla Speedtest data shows Starlink tops out around 80 Mbps down, which is several times faster than the other satellite internet providers. Starlink also has much better latency in these early tests, around 42ms total. The competition is up closer to a full second of latency. As more satellites join the Starlink constellation, the faster and more reliable the speeds will get. SpaceX currently claims between 50 and 150 Mbps for the beta period with just a small part of the network online.
Currently, Starlink’s beta is only available to select customers in the northern US and southern Canada. That’s due to the orbit of the existing constellation, which includes just shy of 900 satellites. In a recent Reddit post, Starlink engineers answered questions about the service. Among the more interesting answers, the company confirmed it hopes to open up the beta program soon, possibly as soon as January 2021.
SpaceX has talked about offering broadband to students in a Texas school district as a test next year. That would suggest SpaceX plans to have Starlink active in lower latitudes by then. Previously, SpaceX planned to have Starlink up and running globally next year, but that might not be in the cards. Even sending up 60 satellites in each Falcon 9, it will take time to bulk up Starlink. The company is approved for 12,000, but it’s already the world’s largest satellite operator with the existing network. The company has also made it known it wants to get approval for as many as 30,000 more satellites.
If you want to get into the expanded beta, head to the Starlink site and sign up for the email newsletter. This is the list SpaceX uses to send out beta invites. The service costs $ 99 per month, and the setup fee (including the dish) is $ 500.