PCMag Study: Starlink speed and latency top satellite Internet from Hughes and Viasat’s Exede

Recent tests revealed in a PCMag study show that speeds and latency levels delivered by Starlink, Elon Musk’s emerging low-Earth orbit satellite broadband service (owned by SpaceX), far exceed those from satellite-powered rivals. However, initial high costs for the new service could be a show stopper even for consumers in rural areas who lack access to broadband Internet service.  Starlink has deployed almost 900 satellites to date.  The company appears to be ramping up its beta tests ahead of its commercial service launch. SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted Monday that “several thousand” additional beta invites are going out this week.

Average Starlink speeds jumped to 79 Mbit/s down and 13.8 Mbit/s up in October, improving on an average speed of 42 Mbit/s down and 9.7 Mbit/s up, according to the PCMag study.  The speed tests were conducted by Ookla (Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag’s parent company).  Starlink quoted speeds of “50Mb/s to 150Mb/s” in a recent email to beta test users, so the results we’re seeing are in that range.

Starlink speeds

Starlink is joining HughesNet and Viasat’s Exede as a last-resort internet service provider for rural users who can’t get cable or fiber. Starlink’s speeds are a huge jump over existing satellite systems. According to Speedtest Intelligence, in October 2020 HughesNet averaged 19.84Mbps down while Viasat’s Exede system averaged 24.75Mbps down.

starlink vs hughes

Starlink’s latency numbers were outstanding. Latency in recent tests varied wildly, but averaged at 42ms. That’s much longer than wired internet systems but shorter than HughesNet and Exede, which averaged 728ms and 643ms in September, respectively. The company says it expects “to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021.” 4G LTE is currently in the 40ms range for latency, according to Speedtest Intelligence data. My home fiber connection gets 2-3ms latency.

Latency is extremely important for 2 way video conferencing. Participating in Zoom calls requires both a clear uplink and relatively low latency, which means it’s been very difficult for people using existing satellite connections. Starlink could bring rural users much better remote learning capabilities.

Lower latency is one of the big advantages of the new “low earth orbit (LEO)” satellite systems. Starlink’s many small satellites orbit at about 340 miles above the Earth, while the satellites for HughesNet and Exede are up at 22,000 miles (geostationary orbit). So it takes much longer for a signal to get up to and back down from the older-model satellites.

Satellite internet service is relatively expensive: $99/month in Starlink’s beta phase pricing, plus $499 for the satellite dish and a Wi-Fi router for customer premises transmission/reception.  The PCMag report notes that HughesNet’s 25 Mbit/s service with 20 gigabytes of data costs $69.99 per month, while Viasat’s 12 Mbit/s unlimited plan (users can use up to 40GB before data is prioritized behind other customers during periods of network congestion, resulting in slower speeds) goes for $100 per month along with a 30 Mbit/s plan that costs $200 per month.

Starlink’s Beta Program and Future Plans:

According to Business Insider, Musk also noted that Starlink’s beta program, which is focused today on the northern U.S. and southern Canada, could be extended into Florida by January 2021.  If Starlink gets the necessary approvals, it could get to parts of Europe by February 2021 and India by mid-2021.

Musk  said European countries would get access “as soon as we get country approval,” which he estimated would be in February or March.  “This is required for each country individually, as no EU-wide approval system exists. Probably start receiving final (there are many steps) approvals around Feb/March,” he said.

Florida could get access to the public beta in January, he said, adding that “lower latitude states need more satellites in position.”

India can expect connectivity “as soon as we get regulatory approval,” likely in mid-2021, Musk replied to another user.

SpaceX has not said how many people are taking part in its Starlink beta program, but it said this summer that nearly 700,000 people across the US had expressed interest in the service, CNBC reported.







9 thoughts on “PCMag Study: Starlink speed and latency top satellite Internet from Hughes and Viasat’s Exede

  1. It will be interesting to see how well the network will perform as the number of subscribers increases. Of course, at $99 per month, that may limit the number of subscribers, which may be an intentional part of their strategy of getting less price-sensitive customers who appreciate the relatively high-speeds and low-latency.

  2. Thanks Ken. I believe the major subscriber base for satellite Internet is the unserved/rural areas where broadband is not available. Hence, those subscribers are willing to pay more than those in urban/suburban areas where there is usually at least one telco and one MSO/cableco broadband Internet provider.

      1. Starlink for sure, but not anytime soon for Tesla cars which require ultra high reliability/availability as well as very low latency communications for V2X

  3. Viasat: Lower-latencies nice, but not ‘decisive’ driver for satellite broadband, by Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading, 11/6/2020

    Starlink, Elon Musk’s budding satellite broadband venture, is getting heaps of buzz amid beta tests ahead of a commercial service launch. But one of its competitors, Viasat, isn’t surprised by (or overly concerned about) some of the early results being touted.

    “The beta – It’s pretty much what we thought they would do. It’s still a beta,” Mark Dankberg, now Viasat’s executive chairman following the promotion of company president and COO Rick Baldrige to CEO, said Thursday on Viasat’s fiscal Q2 2021 earnings call. “We expect that they’re going to manage things so that the service is good.”

    The initial performance metrics for Starlink do look pretty good, averaging 79 Mbit/s down and 13.8 Mbit/s up in October, according to a study from Ookla and PCMag. The big question is how or if Starlink will be able to sustain that performance as it attempts to manage an expanding constellation of hundreds (and later, thousands) of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites and share capacity as more and more customers are added to the system.

    “They have a small number of users on a lot of satellites so it should be really good no matter what,” Dankberg said.

    Analysts also pressed Viasat about the latency advantage of Starlink and its LEO approach when compared to Viasat’s geosynchronous orbit (GEO)-based satellite broadband platform. Recent tests showed Starlink, whose array of satellites orbit some 340 miles above the Earth, delivering average latencies of 42 milliseconds, compared to about 643 milliseconds for Viasat’s platform that uses a GEO satellite orbiting some 22,000 miles above the planet.

    Low latencies a ‘sweetener’

    Delivering lower latencies – needed for apps like online gaming and videoconferencing – is not the most critical element driving buying decisions, the company insists.

    “We do think latency is important. We don’t think it’s decisive,” Dankberg said.
    “There are technical complications there, but one of the things we’ve found is that when we add low-latency terrestrial to our satellite service, that [customer] satisfaction goes up,” Dankberg said.

    Viasat has generally focused on this with wired terrestrial (primarily with DSL), but is also looking to expand and scale up that work using terrestrial wireless. “The point being that LEO is not the only way to achieve low latency at scale,” Dankberg said.

    More generally, he views lower latencies as a “sweetener” that can be added to the overall mix of speed, capacity and price. “It can be a tie-breaker for sure, but we think speed and volume are really the most important parts.”

    That said, Viasat is not opposed to the LEO concept. It’s been working on its own approach using a system that packs in more capacity per satellite and, therefore, is designed to operate on much fewer satellites than what Starlink requires.

    As part of its interest in pursuing funds for the multi-billion-dollar Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), Viasat has proposed such a system that, it hopes, can meet all broadband needs – spanning speed, capacity and latency.


  4. I had Viasat satellite Internet and it sucked. Speeds were inconsistent, data was capped and it was expensive. I now have Hughesnet and it sucks worse! I can’t think of a single person that wouldn’t jump ship in a heartbeat to get away from either of these two companies.

    For a lot of people, speeds over 25-50 mbs are not even useful/necessary. Honestly, I can stream video in 720p (standard HD) with 15 mbs on my smartphone.

    Because your computer is continually going out and asking for more info from the network, latency is a way bigger deal then is being talked about.

    I’m on the edge of my seat about Starlink and as soon as it is available my Hughesnet junk internet service is going into a dumpster!

    Two other giant markets for Starlink are the RV community and the Marine community.

    1. I too have been with Wildblue/Excede/Viasat for 8 years not. Everything about the company SUCKS, in capital letters. The internet service is absolutely horrible, and their customer service is even worse. Might as well not exist.

  5. I am an IT consultant. The high latency which occurs with Viasat (which i have used) makes functions such as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) impossible.
    It’s all in the physics – geostationary satellites are too distanced from the end point to provide low latency.

    Personally the over promising elon musk will potentially succeed.

    If Viasat is forced to use dsl running over copper just forget it. While latency will be better than satellite based internet, as soon as the conduits and boxes fill with water you will get bandwidth issues

  6. SpaceX to focus on 10 rural Lok Sabha constituencies for 80% of Starlink terminals shipped to India

    SpaceX will shortly apply to the Indian government for a licence to launch its Starlink satellite broadband services in the country and is aiming to touch 200,000 active terminals by December 2022.


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