Starlink Claims 300 Mbps Internet Speeds Achievable This Year
By Space Coast Daily // March 18, 2021
Elon Musk’s Starlink has hit headlines again recently with claims the system could achieve 300 Mbps by year-end. This would double the effective 150 Mbps available in early units, with the addition of greater overall system reliability.
Though the technology shows immense promise, there is some question as to whether the claim is just that, and how useful the technology could be in the mainstream.
What is Starlink?
In basic terms, Starlink is an advanced form of satellite internet. The idea itself is not new, existing as a promising combination on the mind of developers ever since the internet went live.
On a consumer scale, the first business to put this idea into action was European satellite company Eutelsat in 2003. While promising, the geostationary technology at the time put some harsh limitations on what these early incarnations could accomplish.
Starlink, by using much closer orbits, mitigates this problem while introducing some new ones. Exiting in three tiers, the closest of these satellite shells operate in low-Earth orbit or LEO. At an altitude of around 340 miles or around 2% of the distance of geostationary orbits, the latency which formerly afflicted satellite internet is reduced significantly.
In older geostationary systems, this latency could reach around 550 milliseconds, as VSat Systems reports. The lower the latency the faster a website will respond, and while this idea isn’t important for all uses, there are some in which low latency is a necessity. Starlink, with its net of much closer satellites, hits around 40ms, a more than 10-fold improvement from older methods.
Coupled with latency is the bandwidth, the amount of data that can pass through a connection in a set time. The more of this, the faster downloads will be, and the fewer users will run into problems like buffering.
Of course, this is dependent on the connection being reliable, which it currently isn’t quite, but this problem should be addressed with more satellites in the Starlink constellation.
As an issue, this connection unreliability is a result of the move away from geostationary orbits. With moving satellites, the dish needs to keep track of moving targets, a much more complicated pursuit.
This has been addressed by having the satellite dish that Starlink relies on remain stationery, as it utilizes a technology called phased array antennas. In these systems, signals are timed from different sets of transmitters to effectively simulate a moving effect.
Once more satellites reach orbit (with 10,000 of 42,000 planned in operation so far), tracking and communicating should be much simpler.
What Can Starlink Do?
The answer to this question is practically anything a wired internet connection can do, and possibly more. At a higher cost, however, this isn’t a product for everyone.
Related to Starlink’s goal of increased bandwidth, the former Starlink 150 Mbps upper limit could download an uncompressed 4K movie in around 1.5 hours, according to Download-Time.
This would ride the line between being able to watch a movie without interruption, and have it pause occasionally to buffer, depending on the film. At the goal of 300 Mbps, such a problem would be eliminated.
For video games, Starlink could work where older satellite services never could. Most gaming applications require a maximum of around 100ms to be playable, so Starlink’s 40ms will be the first satellite avenue with playable fast-paced games.
It should be noted that this is baseline latency without geographical concerns in mind, however, higher latency will always apply the further away on the planet the signal needs to travel.
While these advantages are profound, they’re not always necessary. As long as older satellites met the bandwidth requirements, for example, they would also work just fine for 4K movies.
The same could be said for online casino games like those on Betway, for example. Here, titles such as blackjack don’t require low latency, so Starlink’s advantages would be moot. This again applies to basic browsing, which relies as much on server latency as anything else, as explored by Cloudflare.
A Matter of Use
With so many countries pushing for developed fiber infrastructure, Starlink will often be considered unnecessary. Fiber is faster, cheaper, and less complicated than the alternative, so it makes sense as a first choice. That said, there are instances where Starlink could prove invaluable.
In developed countries, this could be in places where other internet solutions don’t reach. Complications in geography can make some areas internet black-holes, and Starlink, as long as it has a line of sight into the sky, would avoid this problem.
More important is the effect that Starlink could have in less-developed countries with much more limited power and internet infrastructure.
With one Starlink satellite and a shared connection, it could be possible to provide internet to an entire village. Combined with the communication and education possibilities that the internet represents, the implications could be enormous.
Whether or not Starlink will reach its lofty goals remains to be seen. As promising and effective as it has been, concerns over sky and orbit pollution are still in debate.
There are also certain milestones of thousands of active systems that Starlink has to meet, where failures would result in a loss of government subsidies and the company’s inevitable failure. At least, even if the worst does come to term, the lessons learned by the Starlink experiment could be useful for centuries to come.