What is Starlink? Everything you need to know about Elon Musk’s internet service

Ari Howard

Mar 9, 2021 — 4 min read

Starlink could be the internet solution rural households are desperately in need of. But what is it and how does it work?

Falcon 9 rocket launching

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In 2020, the federal government awarded Elon Musk’s spaceflight company, SpaceX, with $885.5 million to launch Starlink, a satellite company. The purpose of this financial award was to create a faster and more reliable internet service option for rural households

Although fiber optic internet service will still be faster than Starlink’s internet service, Starlink is an ideal solution for rural areas that currently lack access to broadband service because its service can be deployed at a much faster rate, for a significantly higher volume of people than fiber internet. 

How is Starlink different from other satellite internet companies? 

Although satellite internet already exists, Starlink is a new type of satellite technology that uses low-orbit satellites. Since Starlink’s satellites are low-orbit, their latency is much lower than the mainstream satellite companies, such as HughesNet and Viasat. Due to Starlink’s lower latency, millions of rural households will soon be able to game online in real-time and work and learn remotely for the first time. 

When will Starlink be available to the public? 

Starlink is currently in a beta phase where it is only available to the Northwest U.S., adjacent parts of Canada, certain regions of the UK and select other areas. There are currently 10,000 people using Starlink internet in the U.S. and abroad. Starlink is available on a first-come, first-served basis and requires a $99 deposit. Elon Musk recently told customers he believes Starlink will be available worldwide by 2022. 

Starlink’s service will be more widely available as SpaceX launches more satellites into orbit. Starlink currently has about 1,000 satellites in orbit and will need to launch at least 10,000 total satellites before the company will be able to service most of the globe. SpaceX has indicated that it may want to launch as many as 30,000 satellites into its network. 

What speeds can you expect with Starlink and how much will it cost?

Starlink is currently available at $99/mo. for 50 to 150 Mbps. However, Musk recently tweeted that he believes speeds will double to 300 Mbps and latency will be cut to 20 ms toward the end of 2021. Latency currently ranges between 40 to 60 ms. This is incredibly low when you compare latency to HughesNet and Viasat, which reaches 600 ms and higher. 

Starlink is currently offering its service with unlimited data; however, the company has not guaranteed it will keep its unlimited data plan in the future. In addition to the $99/mo. service charge, customers have to pay $499 in equipment costs.

What are the downsides of Starlink? 

Cost: Although Starlink has a lot of promise for being a reliable broadband option for rural households, satellite internet still comes with its downside. The biggest downside is the cost of Starlink. At $99/mo. for internet service, Starlink is anything but cheap. However, this price is still much more affordable than what other satellite companies charge for their highest-tier plans. 

Weather disruptions: Another downside of Starlink is that it will likely be just as affected by bad weather as other satellite companies. Although weather-related disruptions will be somewhat inevitable, especially if you live in an area with bad snowstorms, your Starlink will be able to detect and melt snow that falls directly on it. 

“We recommend installing Starlink in a location that avoids snow build-up and other obstructions from blocking the field of view. Heavy rain or wind can also affect your satellite internet connection, potentially leading to slower speeds or a rare outage,” states Starlink.

Starlink’s timeline

  • Jan. 2015 – Starlink is founded. Although Starlink did not become a satellite internet company until 2020, SpaceX had already started a growing network of orbital satellites, known as Starlink, in 2015. 
  • Feb. 22, 2018 – SpaceX launches its first prototype satellite into orbit.
  • May 23, 2019 – Starlink launches its first 60 satellites into orbit on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Starlink1).
  • Nov. 11, 2019 – Falcon 9 launched the next 60 Starlink satellites (Starlink 2).
  • Jan. 6, 2020 – Starlink sends 60 more satellites into orbit (Starlink 3)
  • Jan. 29, 2020Starlink 4 (60 satellites)
  • Feb. 17, 2020 – Starlink 5 (60 satellites)
  • Mar. 18, 2020 – Starlink 6 (60 satellites)
  • Apr. 22, 2020 – Starlink 7 (60 satellites)
  • Jun. 3, 2020 – Starlink 8 (60 satellites)
  • Jun. 13, 2020 – Starlink 9 (58 satellites)
  • Aug. 7, 2020 – Starlink 10 (57 satellites)
  • Aug. 18, 2020 – Starlink 11 (58 satellites)
  • Sep. 3, 2020 – Starlink 12 (60 satellites)
  • Oct. 6, 2020 – Starlink 13 (60 satellites)
  • Oct. 18, 2020 – Starlink 14 (60 satellites)
  • Oct. 24, 2020 – Starlink 15 (60 satellites)
  • Nov. 24, 2020 – Starlink 16 (60 satellites)
  • Jan. 20, 2021 – Starlink 17 (60 satellites)
  • Jan. 24, 2021 – SpaceX launches 143 satellites into space, 10 of which were Starlink satellites. This carpool of satellites on a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket was known as Transporter-1. 
  • Feb. 4, 2021 – Starlink 18 (60 satellites)
  • Feb. 15, 2021 – Starlink 19 (60 satellites)
  • Mar. 4, 2021 – Starlink 20 (60 satellites)
  • Mar. 9, 2021 – Starlink 21 (60 satellites)
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Ari Howard

Written by:

Ari Howard

Associate Writer, Broadband & Wireless Content

Ari is an Associate Writer for the Allconnect team, focusing on broadband and wireless news, as well as broadband and TV provider deals. She recently graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree in… Read more

Robin Layton

Edited by:

Robin Layton

Editor, Broadband & Wireless Content

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