Cliches like “Keeping up with the Joneses” and “The grass is always greener on the other side” are recycled for a reason — we, as people, like to want for bigger and better.
When it comes to our internet connection, faster is always better. But to say, “The internet is always faster in outer space,” might have seemed ludicrous, just several years ago. But, in 2019, it’s true.
Last month, NASA upgraded the internet plan for the International Space Station (ISS) doubling it to a whopping 600 Mbps — IN SPACE!
To put that into perspective, a July 2019 Speedtest.net report found that the average download speed over fixed broadband in the U.S. was 115.67 Mbps, a little over five times slower than the internet in space on the ISS.
Globally, the average download speed is even worse, coming in at 63.95 Mbps. Even the country with the fastest internet speed — Singapore, with a 191.93 Mbps connection — didn’t come close to the ISS speeds.
What does the ISS use the internet in space for anyways?
The astronauts on the ISS (which started operating in 2000) perform research and experiments that help pave the way for future missions to the Moon and beyond. Thus, it’s important they have an effective way to send their data and findings back to Earth.
NASA relies on the Space Network, a collection of ground-based antennas, as well as an on-orbit constellation of Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), to send information to and from the ISS using radio frequency signals.
“NASA’s communications networks play a pivotal role in every NASA mission, enabling data from human spaceflight, space and Earth science research missions and technological demonstrations to reach Earth for the benefit of humanity,” said George Morrow, the acting center director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, in a press release.
“This increase in data rate capability for the International Space Station underlines our commitment to provide high-quality operational services for NASA exploration missions today and in the future.”
So, why are average internet speeds so much slower?
In the United States, slow internet speeds usually come down to two things: infrastructure and monopolies.
High-speed internet lines are costly, and most of the U.S. relies on either copper DSL or coaxial cable lines.
While some high-speed copper DSL lines are capable of transferring data at speeds of up to 100 Mbps, most come in closer to the 10-25 Mbps range. Coaxial cable wires are the same. While some upgraded cables can reach speeds up to 1,000 Mbps, most fall into the 100-300 Mbps range.
Fiber internet lines that are capable of speeds of 1,000 Mbps or more are extremely costly because they require all new infrastructure — new fiber lines have to be laid, new connections established at homes, etc. For instance, municipal officials in New Braunfels, TX, are looking at a $3.5 million investment to establish the infrastructure to bring fiber-optic internet to all 79,000 residents.
While the average internet speed in the U.S. comes in eighth on the global index for July 2019, speeds across the country can vary greatly. According to December 2017 data from the Federal Communications Commission (the latest available), 12.4% of U.S. residents don’t have access to speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.
Of the 87.6% of people with access to speeds of 100 Mbps or more, less than half (47.11% to be exact) have two or more providers to choose from. So, most people only have one internet provider option at that speed level.
And according to their data nearly everyone (99.89% of the U.S. population) had access to internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, the minimum requirements to meet broadband standards.
But the FCC’s data has been widely criticized and outside reports suggest that 162.8 million people (not the 21.3 million the FCC reported) lack access to high-speed internet.
So, for now, it looks like until the U.S. and the rest of the world start investing more in high-speed internet, outer space will continue to be faster.
If the thought of internet in space being faster than yours is making you green with envy, check out which providers in your area may offer faster speeds.