According to a tweet by tech-mogul and amongst the richest in the world Elon Musk, Starlink’s speed is looking to double in 2021 to reach 300Mbps. As new satellites launch to increase coverage and fill the three-tiered ring layout that constitutes Starlink’s infrastructure, this speed increase should also be matched by leaps in reliability. In theory, this would make the technology one of the most valuable steps forward in connectivity the world has ever seen, but the technology’s integration is no easy feat.
Starlink Versus the World
In terms of sheer bandwidth, Starlink is already capable of speeds that place it among the high tiers of the global internet. At its current 150Mbps pace, this would place Starlink high among the pack when compared to the averages explored by internet measuring website Cable. Double this speed, and Starlink’s potential could approach those of the fast nations in the developed world, at least on average.
With bandwidth seemingly managed, the other question revolves around latency, or the time it takes data to perform a round trip. In older satellite solutions, latency could reach around 600ms. While this speed would merely be frustrating for some uses, it would exclude many real-time applications such as gaming. With data from recent tests, Starlink has reached as low as 40ms. This isn’t quite up to the standard of the global 20ms average that Speedtest reports, but it’s still extremely useable, and generations in front of its contemporaries.
In its current state, Starlink launched with a base cost of £439. This includes the specialised satellite dish, mounting equipment, and relevant routers to get started. Operating alongside this launch cost is an £84 monthly fee, with no set bandwidth caps as of this time. Compared to traditional highspeed fibre in the UK, which costs around £30 on the higher end and often comes with a free router, the prices can’t compare, but this isn’t really the point.
Less well-loved is the effect that Starlink could have on the night’s sky. While Musk initially made claims that the satellites wouldn’t affect astronomy, he’s also been long derided as a man with a tenuous grasp of the truth. This fear of visual pollution quickly came to pass when the satellites first went up, as was recorded by Northwestern University’s astronomy department. With only around 12,000 of at least 30,000 planned satellites in orbit, this problem will only get worse if left unaddressed.
Another issue that ties not just to Starlink, but our greater reliance on satellites in general, is called Kessler syndrome. Proposed by NASA scientist Donald Kessler, this is the idea that the earth’s orbit will eventually be filled with so much debris that a cascade collision effect could occur. This could knock out existing installations, and make future satellite launches. Space missions could become more difficult and dangerous.
The basis of Starlink is found in its use as a technology for those without alternatives. Within the UK, this could be for those in rural areas where fibre doesn’t now or may never reach. Much more influential could be its effects on rural areas in poorer countries, where even basic wired internet is out of reach. With pooled resources, shared connections, and government subsidies, Starlink could bring access to anywhere with power and an open sky. The implications of this for education and a growing global consciousness cannot be understated.
In more general terms, Starlink’s high bandwidth and acceptable latency could be worth making a change for if you’re on ADSL, but this depends more on specifics. For example, if you predominately use the internet for video streaming on systems like YouTube or Hulu for one or two users simultaneously, then Starlink will usually be overkill. These services only require around 25Mpbs each, so investing in a more expensive 150 and soon 300Mbps solution is unnecessary. For households with higher bandwidth requirements, Starlink could prove viable.
For interactive entertainment, the situation is a little more complicated. For example, a popular modern use for online entertainment can be found in online casinos like Betway, which have low-requirements, even for the comparatively more data-intensive games. Though these don’t require low latency, Starlink’s bandwidth would be unnecessary, even for dozens of simultaneous users. On the other hand, full game streaming systems like Sony’s PSNow or Google’s Stadia could use higher bandwidth, but even the slightly higher latency as generated by Starlink would make these uses untenable.
Still untested by the greater public, Starlink is still nonetheless one of the most promising technologies of our time. We are yet to see whether it can overcome its issue. But, even in the case of failure, a path could be set for future projects to follow. Perhaps not useful for the vast majority of users in the UK, the international significance of Starlink could be a game-changer
Stay updated with all the insights.
Navigate news, 1 email day.
Subscribe to Qrius