Ookla: Q3 2021 Satellite Internet performance finds Starlink still #1 but average download speed decreased
Satellite internet is making headlines all over the world. Starlink continues to launch service in new countries while Viasat plans to acquire Inmarsat.
Ookla continues their ongoing series on satellite internet performance around the globe with fresh data from Q3 2021 to see if Starlink’s performance is holding up and how satellite internet compares to fixed broadband in 12 countries.
In the U.S., satellite internet performance was mostly flat when comparing Q3 2021 to Q2 2021.
- Starlink’s median download speed decreased from 97.23 Mbps during Q2 2021 to 87.25 Mbps in Q3 2021, which could be a function of adding more customers.
- HughesNet followed distantly at 19.30 Mbps (comparable to the 19.73 Mbps we saw in Q2 2021)
- Viasat third at 18.75 Mbps (18.13 Mbps in Q2 2021).
For comparison, the median download speed for all fixed broadband providers in the U.S. during Q3 2021 was 119.84 Mbps (115.22 Mbps in Q2 2021).
Starlink continues to far out perform satellite-based competitors in general, and even clocks faster speeds than wireline networks in some countries. For U.S. users during the third quarter of this year, Ookla found that median download speed decreased slightly, from 97.23 Mbps during the second quarter of 2021, to a median of 87.25 Mbps in the third quarter. Ookla noted that this “could be a function of adding more customers.”
Starlink’s median upload speed of 13.54 Mbps (down from 13.89 Mbps in Q2 2021) was much closer to that on all fixed broadband (18.03 Mbps in Q3 2021 and 17.18 Mbps in Q2 2021). Viasat and HughesNet followed at 2.96 Mbps (3.38 Mbps in Q2 2021) and 2.54 Mbps (2.43 Mbps in Q2 2021), respectively.
Starlink, which uses low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, was the only satellite internet provider with a median latency anywhere near that seen on fixed broadband in Q3 2021 (44 ms and 15 ms, respectively). Viasat and HughesNet, which both utilize higher “geosynchronous” orbits, had median latencies of 629 ms and 744 ms, respectively.
Ookla analyzed Starlink performance in 304 counties in the U.S. While there was about a 100 Mbps range in performance between the county with the fastest median download speed (Santa Fe County, New Mexico at 146.58 Mbps) and the county with the slowest median download speed (Drummond Township, Michigan at 46.63 Mbps), even the lower-end speeds are well above the FCC’s Baseline performance tier of at least a 25 Mbps download speed.
Starlink’s critics will be watching closely to see if its slight decrease in performance becomes a trend. Since the company received nearly $900 million in government subsidies for broadband service as part of the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF), other industry observers and players have argued about whether it’s actually possible for Starlink to deliver what it has promised.
In April of this year, satellite competitor Viasat went so far as to provide technical analysis that it says demonstrates in multiple ways that even if SpaceX deploys the full number of satellites that it has plans for, “significant shortfalls in Starlink capacity exist” due to a combination of limitations on spectrum re-use and the geographic density of the areas it bid on and provisionally won in the RDOF process. Starlink responded by scoffing at the analysis and said it was full of factual errors and incorrect assumptions.
As far as the existing service that Starlink is providing, though, it is still the best of the satellite internet providers. While Ookla’s data found that Starlink’s median download speed in the U.S. decreased to around 87 Mbps, the other the satellite internet providers were only able to provide a fraction of that speed. HughesNet and Viasat were a distant second and third, respectively, at 19.30 Mbps and 18.75 Mbps.
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4 thoughts on “Ookla: Q3 2021 Satellite Internet performance finds Starlink still #1 but average download speed decreased”
That’s a fascinating question as to what happens if Starlink doesn’t meet the RDOF performance requirements, particularly if it is close. Will all of their funding be revoked? Only a portion of it? It sounds like RDOF could be part of their business plan given the rumors of how tight SpaceX’s finances apparently are:
That the performance varies so much based on region is also fascinating. One would think that is a function of capacity versus the number and type of users (e.g. high-demand versus casual) in a particular region.
No surprise that Starlink is still #1 in satellite internet download speeds. However, ViaSat, OneWeb and China’s GalaxySpace may offer real competition in the next few years. Excellent content and analysis!
Bloomberg: Musk’s Starlink Brings Internet to Ukraine, and Attention to a New Space Race
SpaceX enabled its Starlink satellite broadband service in Ukraine and began shipping additional dishes. Those dishes are especially valuable now that Russia’s military is targeting Ukrainian infrastructure. “Received the second shipment of Starlink stations!” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s minister of digital transformation, tweeted on March 9. “@elonmusk keeps his word!”
The dishes Starlink’s Elon Musk has provided to Ukraine and to Tonga following its January tsunami have cast a spotlight on low-Earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, a new generation of spacecraft that can circle the globe in just 90 minutes and connect users to the internet. They’re small and inexpensive: A Starlink satellite weighs 260 kilograms (573 pounds) and costs from $250,000 to $500,000, while an Inmarsat Group Holdings Ltd. geostationary satellite can clock in at 4 metric tons and sell for $130 million.
The satellite networks will be able to provide broadband access to tens of millions of people in places such as rural India that otherwise lack access to more traditional mobile and fixed-line networks. “There is a large opportunity to bridge the digital divide in remote areas where the cost of terrestrial communication is high, and hence both voice and broadband communication have not been set up,” says Anil Bhatt, director general of the Indian Space Association.
On March 9, Musk boasted that SpaceX had sent 48 more satellites into orbit, adding to its over 2,000 already circling the Earth. But Musk has rivals with their own LEO satellite ambitions. They include fellow space billionaire Jeff Bezos. Amazon.com Inc.’s Kuiper Systems wants to launch more than 7,000 satellites. On March 5 a Chinese rocket launched six LEO satellites for Beijing-based GalaxySpace, which plans a constellation with as many as 1,000. The European Union in February announced a plan for a constellation that would cost about €6 billion ($6.6 billion). And Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Global, along with the British government, is an investor in OneWeb Ltd., which plans to begin operating its LEO constellation of 648 satellites this year. It intended to launch its latest group of satellites on March 5 aboard a Russian rocket, but canceled after the Kremlin’s space agency demanded that the U.K. sell its stake. OneWeb is looking for alternative services for six future launches.
Unlike more established operators, which have a relatively small number of satellites in fixed locations about 36,000 kilometers (22,369 miles) above sea level, companies launching LEO satellites place them at heights of 550 to 1,200 km. That makes it easier for the satellites to provide speedy services than those higher in space, says Marco Caceres, an analyst with Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm. “They’re going to make a lot of these traditional systems dinosaurs overnight,” he says, adding that Starlink alone is likely to have 4,500 satellites in operation by the middle of the decade. “They’re moving at lightning speed.”
SpaceX began signing up customers in India in 2021 even though it didn’t have a license to offer Starlink service there. India’s government in January demanded the company return money from would-be customers. As SpaceX works out its entry strategy for India, Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.—the telecommunications operator controlled by Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest person—in February formed a joint venture with Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES SA to provide internet access via satellites in geostationary and medium-Earth orbits.
While the new satellite companies boast of their ability to reach underserved communities, many will struggle to make their equipment affordable for some target markets, says Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Matthew Bloxham. According to BI, a standard Starlink plan costs $499 for the hardware, plus a monthly fee of $99. But there are other reasons governments are likely to provide financial support for internet via satellite, Bloxham says: “It provides resilience in case of a cyberattack that takes out the regular internet that we know today.”
Still, critics say Musk and others aren’t considering the risks of having too many satellites in a relatively narrow band above Earth. “What’s going on now is there’s a race to put up as many as possible for the rights that are implied by having those satellites, even if it’s not economically justified, or safe, or sustainable,” says Mark Dankberg, chairman of Viasat Inc., a California-based satellite operator of geostationary satellites, which in November agreed to buy rival Inmarsat for $4 billion. As operators attempted to bulk up in response to the challenge from newcomers, M&A deal volume for the satellite industry in 2021 reached its highest level since 2007, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, with companies signing 60 deals worth $18 billion.
China in December said two of Starlink’s satellites came dangerously close to its space station. The U.S. said there had been no “significant probability” of a Starlink collision with the Chinese station, but some experts worry that the situation was a sign of what’s to come. International agreements governing space date to the 1960s and ’70s, when billionaires didn’t have their own space programs. “We have so many of these new actors coming on board, and we don’t have sufficiently strong international law,” says Maria Pozza, a director at Gravity Lawyers in Christchurch, New Zealand, who advises clients on space law and regulation. “We’ve got a little bit of a mess.”
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