SpaceX Starlink Satellite Internet Update 2021

SpaceX’s Starlink internet seeks to solve the rural vs. urban internet divide, and it looks promising.
The logo for SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet
Estimated launch:
Beta testing now live
Estimated cost:
$99/mo.
Estimated equipment cost:
$499
Estimated speed:
50–150 Mbps

It’s the space race, but unlike the 50s, this race’s goal is to connect the world—including rural areas—to the internet. Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite internet project aims to bring affordable, fast internet to underserved parts of the US and the world.

And so far, Starlink beta testers have seen these promises fulfilled. Current beta test download speeds hover around 103 Mbps on average, and latency averages out to 39 ms.18

While we all wait for Starlink service to reach our neighborhood or for a lucky beta invite, let’s dig into what we know about Starlink satellite internet so far.

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Viasat Internet$30$150*12100 MbpsView Plans
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Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For the first 3 months.
Requires 24 month agreement.

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How to sign up for the Starlink beta

The Starlink beta is currently active, with more invites going out this year. So we recommend entering your email and home address on the Starlink site to get your name in the hat and receive updates on when Starlink service will hit your neighborhood.

Even if your area doesn’t have Starlink service yet, you can preorder your service for $99.

The Starlink website states that the preorder price is refundable, and that putting the $99 “deposit” down doesn’t guarantee you’ll get Starlink internet.

But Starlink also notes that orders are first-come, first-served. And since the $99 deposit is refundable, it might be worth your while to put some money down in order to get Starlink sooner rather than later.

How much will Starlink internet cost?

The Starlink site advertises an equipment cost of $499 for the antenna and router and a monthly price of $99.17 Sadly, that’s more than the original guesstimate cost of $80 a month,2,4,11 but it’s still cheaper than some of Viasat and HughesNet’s higher-end plans.

To compare, a satellite internet plan from Viasat ranges from $30 to $150 a month for download speeds of 12 Mbps up to 100 Mbps, and HughesNet plans range from about $60 to $150 a month for download speeds of 25 Mbps.

  • Starlink price: $99/mo.
  • Equipment cost: $499 for the phased array antenna and router

One other interesting thing to note is that the beta invite email doesn’t mention data caps.17 Data caps are a huge deal with satellite internet and are often much smaller than you’d find with traditional ISPs—Viasat offers the most monthly data of 300 GB.

In a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) series, a Starlink representative said “At this time, the Starlink beta service does not have data caps.” That sounds promising, but doesn’t mean unlimited Starlink data is set in stone.20

How fast is Starlink satellite internet?

Speed tests for Starlink internet beta users (as of November 30, 2020) show download speeds of about 104 Mbps and upload speeds of about 16 Mbps, plus an average latency of 39 ms.18

Beta test invites promise speeds of 50–150 Mbps,17 which is a decent starting point for Starlink’s satellite internet service. It’s nice to see that actual speeds the beta testers get when using Starlink internet match up with what the company promised.

Those speeds and latency range are light years ahead of any HughesNet satellite internet plan, which caps out at 25 Mbps and typically sees latency up to 500–600 ms. Plus, those download speeds are also faster than most of Viasat’s internet plans, which caps at 100 Mbps.

Starlink is still in the process of deploying satellites and ground stations while working out the kinks in its beta test. As more satellites reach Earth’s orbit and more ground stations are built, Starlink users will likely see improved download speeds and lower latency.

A Reddit member asked a Starlink representative whether Starlink internet users would see slower speeds once more users sign up. The representative said the service will not get overcrowded, and said that the network will get “increasingly great, not increasingly worse” as more satellites are launched.19

Starlink will have less latency

We mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: Speed tests taken by current Starlink beta testers show an average latency of 39 ms.18 That’s pretty darn close to the 20 ms latency that Elon Musk proposed in a SATELLITE 2020 keynote speech14 and the 20–40 ms latency that was promised in the beta test invite email.17

If you’re wondering, latency is the time it takes for your internet signal to travel from your computer to your ISP, to the website server, and then back to you.

With traditional satellite internet, that means your signal has to travel 22,200 miles to reach the satellite, then back down to the website server, back up to the satellite, and back to you. You can bet that takes a hot minute, which is why satellite internet’s latency is typically between 500 and 600 ms.

But Starlink satellites will sit about 342 miles above the Earth’s surface.4 That’s much closer than other satellites, which means there’s much less distance for your internet signal to travel to a Starlink satellite.

And you know what that means: less latency. (We’re cheering, can you hear us?)

How will Starlink internet work?

Starlink satellites will sit closer to the Earth to reduce latency and use lasers to boost internet speeds.

Elon Musk and SpaceX hope that Starlink’s unique technology will help it fill the connectivity gap between urban and rural areas.

Right now, rural areas face challenges when it comes to getting internet access because of the massive cost of infrastructure. That means the cost of digging trenches, laying cable or fiber, and even dealing with property rights disputes.

But Starlink’s satellites will beam an internet signal directly to a gateway or user terminal on the ground.3 That means there’s much less infrastructure needed to get that internet signal to rural homes.

To top it off, SpaceX says its Starlink internet will be faster and have less latency than current satellite internet. But how?

Each Starlink satellite will communicate with four other satellites using lasers. That means they’ll beam data across the globe at almost the speed of light—a speed that only fiber-optic internet comes close to matching.4

How many Starlink satellites are in orbit?

With over 800 satellites in orbit currently, Starlink hopes to create a megaconstellation of 42,000 satellites.

At the time we’re writing this, SpaceX has launched more than 800 Starlink satellites into space.12

That means Starlink surpassed the 400 satellites Musk said need to be in orbit for “minor” internet service coverage—and still has a ways to go to get to the 42,000 total satellites SpaceX is now hoping to launch.7, 8

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SpaceX hopes to reuse payload fairings
SpaceX’s Shotwell mentioned that the company is working on a way to reuse the payload fairing, or nose cone, of the SpaceX rockets.2 This not only should decrease cost but also reduce the number of materials needed to get Starlink satellites into space.

Back here on Earth, Starlink set up six ground stations to provide fixed satellite service.15 These first stations are located in the following towns:

  • Hawthorne, California
  • Conrad, Montana
  • Greenville, Pennsylvania
  • North Bend, Washington
  • Redmond, Washington
  • Merrillan, Wisconsin

SpaceX originally filed a request with the FCC for 1 million Earth stations. But thanks to the massive number of beta test applicants (700,000+), the company recently amended its request to ask the FCC for permission to build 5 million Earth stations.16 Newly requested Earth station sites include some of the following towns:

  • Limestone, Maine
  • Panaca, Nevada
  • Beekmantown, New York
  • Kalama, Washington
  • Evanston, Wyoming

What equipment will Starlink satellite internet use?

You’ll connect to Starlink satellites through a ground terminal that looks like a “UFO on a stick.”

It wouldn’t be satellite internet without satellites, and Starlink has a ton of them. Each satellite is about as big as your office desk and weighs close to 500 pounds—that means the January 2020 Falcon 9 mission carried 30,000 pounds of satellites into space!4

Sixty Starlink satellites inside a Falcon 9 rocket's nose cone

60 Starlink satellites are flat-packed into a Falcon 9 nose cone.
Source: Elon Musk/Twitter

But what about the satellite dish that sits on your roof? We’ve heard Musk describe these, also called terminals, as a “UFO on a stick,” but that brings to mind all kinds of ideas.

Luckily, Reddit user darkpenguin22 did some sleuthing around Merrillan, Wisconsin, and shared photos of some Starlink equipment, including the infamous “UFO on a stick” ground terminals. Looks pretty sleek, doesn’t it?

Darkpenguin22 also managed to grab a full shot of the Starlink ground terminal equipment, including the small user terminals next to the white, spherical antenna radomes, which protect sensitive equipment. Look at how tiny the user terminals look next to the radomes!

A row of about seven Starlink ground terminals, each one is a white sphere with a skirt on the bottom and sits on a concrete pad

Musk originally said the ground terminals look like a “small- to medium-sized pizza,” which led to the internet calling these terminals and gateways “pizza boxes.”9 We can kinda see what he means . . . if we squint a little.

How much will Starlink equipment cost?

Early guesses about how much Starlink equipment would cost ranged from $100–$300. But beta test email invites listed a price of $499 for the phased array antenna and router.17

That’s likely an upfront payment, which probably means you’ll own your Starlink internet equipment outright—no rental fees required. And to compare, if you wanted to buy your HughesNet or Viasat equipment, you’d pay a similar one-time fee of $449.99 or $299, respectively.

When can you get Starlink satellite internet?

Look for Starlink satellite internet service in mid-2020 at the earliest and at the cost of about $99 a month.

We’re told this is the year we’ll get Starlink satellite internet—though we don’t yet have a month or even day just yet. SpaceX’s president said we can expect to see Starlink’s internet service open up to Americans in mid-2020.10 So far, this remains the goal even as 2020 winds down.

If it’s going to make its target release date, SpaceX needs to launch six to eight batches of satellites, plus finish the design and engineer the user terminals.10

Along with getting its satellites in orbit and finalizing the terminal, SpaceX has to file requests and gain approval from the US’s FCC and United Nations’s International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for its Starlink plans.

Though it’s faced some difficulties gaining approval, Starlink finally landed a go-ahead from the FCC to operate a satellite system of 4,425 satellites and provide satellite internet service worldwide.13 That’s a step in the right direction.

It’s likely Starlink’s original launch date is delayed thanks to this year’s series of (unfortunate) events. But if you’re itching to get your hands on Starlink satellite internet, you can always sign up for the beta.

The beta puts us one step closer to an actual launch date. Prior to opening up the beta, Starlink let the US Air Force test its internet service with its Global Lightning program and Musk himself got to test out Starlink internet in his own home.

Yup, Musk sent a tweet through space using the Starlink satellites currently in orbit. Is that cool or what?

Elon Musk tweets while using Starlink satellite internet

Where will Starlink be available?

SpaceX’s first goal is to bring speedy satellite internet to rural areas in the US and Canada. After that, Musk and his company hope to expand service to other parts of the world.

This plan for world domin—er, internet connectivity—would require SpaceX to launch about 2,800 more satellites—but at higher altitudes between 700 and 800 miles above the Earth.4 And hey, Alaskans, Musk is prepared to show you some love too by launching satellites that would orbit over the Earth’s poles.

We’re all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting for Starlink to be revealed. So check back here to see if a launch date has been announced.

Recap: Will Starlink satellite internet service be good?

We’re all eager to see whether Starlink lives up to the hype, and so far beta test results look promising. To recap, here are some of the key points we know or can guess at so far:

  • When will Starlink internet be available? Right now, Starlink is still aiming to start service in 2020 for the US and Canada. You can get a head start and sign up for updates on when Starlink becomes available in your area, or preorder your Starlink service on its site.
  • How much will Starlink internet cost? $99 a month, plus $499 for the antenna and router.17
  • How many Starlink satellites are in orbit? As of October 27, 2020, over 800 Starlink satellites are in orbit.
  • How many Starlink satellites will be in orbit when the launches are done? SpaceX has filed requests to launch a total of 42,000 satellites so far.
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Can't wait for Starlink? Find rural internet providers in your area.

Live satellite internet service comparison
ProviderMonthly priceDownload speedsLearn more
Viasat Internet$30$150*12100 MbpsView Plans
HughesNet Internet$59.99$149.9925 MbpsView Plans
Data effective 11/19/18. Offers and availability vary by location and are subject to change.
* For the first 3 months.
Requires 24 month agreement.

What Do Americans Think about Switching to Starlink?

Many people are stuck with painfully slow speeds from local satellite, DSL, or cable internet providers. So what does the nation think about signing up for the Starlink beta—even if it costs more? We surveyed Americans to find out what they think about Elon Musk’s satellite venture.

Starlink survey and speeds compared to broadband.

Over half of Americans say they’ll try Starlink if given the chance

Starlink internet is perfect for those who feel stuck with slow speeds from their internet provider—especially in rural areas where building out cable and fiber networks either takes a long time or is less likely to provide adequate coverage.

By offering nationwide satellite internet service with high speeds and low latency, Starlink may even pull more customers from other top internet providers.

Infographic showing sentiment toward Starlink internet.
  • 51% of internet users say they plan to sign up for the Starlink beta once it becomes available to them.
  • While only 5% of Americans currently use a satellite internet connection, 64% of survey respondents say Starlink’s rollout would make them reconsider their satellite internet stance.
  • 55% of non-satellite internet users say they’d switch to Starlink’s satellite internet service at a higher cost if it resulted in faster internet speeds for their household.

What are the most important factors in deciding whether to make the switch to satellite internet?

Common activities like browsing the internet, social media, and checking email don’t require blazing fast speeds, but other internet services may require more bandwidth than DSL, satellite, or other providers offer. And the more programs you have running, especially when they’re media or video-based, the faster internet speeds you’ll need to cover all your bases.

Top priorities for Starlink internet users.

Here’s what Americans want Starlink’s faster internet speeds to cover:

  • 3 out of every 4 (74%) internet users want to stream high-quality video on platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, and Hulu.
  • 72% want to have high-quality video calls on platforms such as Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime.
  • Over half (56%) want to play online video games with high performance.

With higher internet speeds and less latency than other providers, people are willing to dig into their wallets a bit more every month for Starlink if it means they can do what they want on the internet.

Switching to Starlink—people are willing to pay the price

  • 44% of survey respondents say they’d pay the $99/month price tag for Starlink internet if they were given an option to make payments on the $499 equipment fee.
  • Nationwide, the average internet speed is 57.2 Mbps. Starlink speed tests have shown an average speed of 103.1 Mbps—that means Starlink is 80% faster than the national average.
  • The average monthly internet bill is $65/month. Starlink is slated to cost $99/month.
  • The average American pays $1.13/Mbps per month for internet, while Starlink users would pay $0.96/Mbps per month.

Even though Starlink may be a bit heavier on the budget than the average internet service, our survey suggests that many Americans would be willing to pay more to get the internet speeds they need.

Methodology

The analysts at Reviews.org surveyed 500 Americans 18 and older to determine how they felt about Starlink’s satellite internet service offering compared to their existing internet connection type, speed, and price.

The survey has a sample error of ± 4.5% and a 95% level of confidence.

Starlink speed data was sourced from 168 speed test reports from various beta test users across the country.

Sources

  1. DishyMcFlatFace, Reddit, “We Are the Starlink Team, Ask Us Anything!.” November 2020. Accessed December 1, 2020.
  2. Jackie Wattles, CNN, “Here’s What You Need to Know About SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Service.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  3. Patricia Cooper, Senate.gov, “Statement of Patricia Cooper, Vice President, Satellite Government Affairs, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX).” May 2017. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  4. Dave Mosher, Business Insider, “Elon Musk Just Revealed New Details About Starlink, a Plan to Surround Earth With 12,000 High-Speed Internet Satellites. Here’s How It Might Work.” May 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  5. Joey Roulette, Reuters, “Musk’s Satellite Project Testing Encrypted Internet With Military Planes.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  6. Caleb Henry, SpaceNews, “SpaceX Launches Fourth Batch of Starlink Satellites, Tweaks Satellite Design.” January 2020. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  7. Tariq Malik, Space.com, “SpaceX’s Starlink Broadband Service Will Begin in 2020: Report.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  8. Mike Wall, Space.com, “SpaceX’s Starlink Constellation Could Swell by 30,000 More Satellites.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  9. Mike Brown, Inverse, “How SpaceX Starlink Works: Connecting, Price, Launch Date for Elon Musk’s Internet.” January 2020. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  10. Sandra Erwin, SpaceNews, “SpaceX Plans to Start Offering Starlink Broadband Services in 2020.” October 2019. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  11. Cliff O., YouTube, “SpaceX Seattle 2015.” January 2015. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  12. Stephen Clark, Spaceflight Now “SpaceX Adds Another 60 Satellites to Starlink Network,” October 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020.
  13. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “FCC Authorizes SpaceX to Provide Broadband Satellite Services.” March 2018. Accessed March 4, 2020.
  14. Via Satellite Magazine, YouTube, “Elon Musk, Founder & Chief Engineer, SpaceX – SATELLITE 2020 Opening Day Keynote.” March 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.
  15. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “FCC Pending Applications List By File Number.” August 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.
  16. Michael Sheetz, CNBC, “SpaceX Says Starlink Internet Has ‘Extraordinary Demand,’ With Nearly 700,000 Interested in Service.” August 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.
  17. FourthEchelon19, Reddit, “I Just Officially Received an Email Invite to the Starlink Beta,” October 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020.
  18. Smoke-away, Reddit, “List of Confirmed Starlink Speed Tests,” November 2020. Accessed December 1, 2020.
  19. DishyMcFlatFace, Reddit, “We Are the Starlink Team, Ask Us Anything!.” November 2020. Accessed December 1, 2020.
  20. DishyMcFlatFace, Reddit, “We Are the Starlink Team, Ask Us Anything!.” November 2020. Accessed December 1, 2020.
  • Jessi VernerLasiter

    I am currently a viasat customer. I have the 12mbps plan up to 40gb of data then it is prioritized after the 40gb. I pay 90 dollars per month. That’s the lowest tier of internet available through them. That price is including fees, equipment rental, ECT… So the 30-150 isn’t accurate anymore. I left Hughesnet to switch to viasat. I don’t like either one of them they both throttle speeds to almost unusable internet. But viasat does offer more data per month. I get 40gb compared to hughesnets 10gb. Viasat is just the lesser of 2 evils. Has anyone heard if spacelink will help people get out of their contract with the competition? If so I’d switch in a heartbeat.

  • Chris

    Any news on the star link latency?

  • Aca

    Weather will be problem. It is wasting money.

  • CYB3R

    I can’t wait to ditch Comcast.

  • JJ

    I need help putting the latency speeds in perspective. Does anyone have an apples to apples example between say Spectrum and Starlink?
    Thank you.

  • home search

    If the cost will be like that, then I am sure that people , who live in poor countries , will not be able to afford that money each month. So I suggest that Starlink makes the cost between 10$ to 30$ .