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

Ari Howard

May 26, 2021 — 5 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.  Although satellite internet already exists, Starlink is a new type of satellite technology that uses low-orbit satellites.

The benefit of low-orbit satellites is that latency is able to become much lower. 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. 

Starlink satellite is currently only available in a handful of U.S. states and other countries. However, Starlink will be expanding its coverage rapidly in the coming years with better speeds and lower latency than what they currently provide. Find out if Starlink’s 150 Mbps satellite internet plan for $99/mo. is the right option for you. 

How does Starlink measure up against current satellite providers?

Speeds

At up to 150 Mbps, Starlink provides the fastest max speeds out of any satellite providers. Viasat, in contrast, can currently reach 100 Mbps for its most expensive plan and Hughesnet can only reach 25 Mbps. According to Elon Musk, Starlink will be able to reach 300 Mbps by the end of 2021. 

Latency 

Since Starlink’s satellites are low-orbit, their latency is much lower than the mainstream satellite companies, such as HughesNet and Viasat. A low latency is important because that measures the amount of time it takes for data to travel from one point to another. With high latency, services like Zoom are nearly impossible to use because there is too much of a delay between when one person speaks and when the other person hears that message. 

Starlink’s latency currently ranges between 40 to 60 ms but Musk tweeted in February 2021 that latency will reach as low as 20 ms by the end of the year. This is incredibly low when you compare latency to HughesNet and Viasat, which reaches 600 ms and higher. 

Costs 

One of the downsides of Starlink is that starting prices are considerably higher than they are with Viasat or HughesNet. For instance, while Starlink’s satellite service costs $99/mo., you can get slower speeds with Viasat or Hughesnet and pay around $50/mo. There’s no denying that Starlink’s value, however, is considerably higher than Viasat or Hughesnet when you factor in speeds, contracts, data caps and reliability. Do keep in mind, however, that you will have to pay $499 in equipment fees for Starlink. 

Contracts

Another selling point of Starlink is that there are no long-term contracts. While Viasat and Hughesnet will lock you into a two-year agreement, Starlink offers service on a month-to-month basis. 

Data caps 

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. Both Viasat and Hughesnet have data caps that range between 10 GB and 150 GB depending on the plan. 

When will Starlink be available in my area?

Starlink is currently in a beta phase where it is only available in the western regions of the U.S., 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. However, over 500,000 people have already placed an order or made a deposit for the service. Starlink is available on a first-come, first-served basis and requires a $99 deposit. 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. 

How do I sign up for Starlink service?

Signing up for Starlink is incredibly simple. All you have to do is go to the Starlink website and then input your address at the top where it says “service address.” Once you click the “order now” button, you will be asked to provide your name, phone number, email address and billing information. You will be charged $99 for the deposit once you click “place order” at the end.

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).
  • Winter 2020 – Starlink send a total of 240 satellites into orbit (Starlink 3-6)
  • Spring 2020 – Starlink sends 176 satellites into orbit (Starlink 7-9)
  • Summer 2020 – Starlink sends 175 satellites into orbit (Starlink 10-12)
  • Fall 2020 – Starlink send 240 satellites into orbit (Starlink 13-16)
  • 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. 2021 – Starlink sends 120 satellites into orbit (Starlink 18-19)
  • March 2021 – Starlink sends 180 satellites into orbit (Starlink 20-22)
  • April 2021 – Starlink sends 120 satellites into orbit (Starlink 23-24)
  • May 2021 – Starlink sends 232 satellites into orbit (Starlink 25-27)

Starlink FAQs

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 Content

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