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.
Request: If you’re using satellite internet, take a Speedtest to help Ookla provide an accurate picture of real-world performance.