SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband service has the potential to be a game changer for rural broadband, according to an analysis by PCMag of Starlink speeds. The analysis is based on beta tester data exclusively provided to it by Ookla Speedtest.
The site looked at data from rural, suburban and urban areas. Among its more than 10,000 users in its semi-public beta were “a perplexing” number in urban and suburban areas where a variety of high-speed options already are available. The story cites Chicago, Seattle and Minneapolis as places where there were testers, despite readily available alternatives.
The site compared download speeds against other fixed service providers in 30 counties with at least 30 samples in any month from December 30 to February 24. The counties in which the fixed providers had the biggest speed advantage over Spacelink were urban or suburban: Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties, CA; Cook County, IL; King County, WA and Washington County, MN.
It is in rural areas that Starlink shines, according to the research. The five counties in which Starlink had the biggest download speed advantage over the fixed group were rural: Vilas County, WI; Ravali County, MT; Waldo County, ME; Okanogan County, WA and Lamoile County, VT.
The number of counties in which Starlink beat the fixed providers and those in which the fixed providers beat Starlink appeared to be about equal, as was the speed differential.
“Our own analysis shows that Starlink will make the biggest difference in rural, low-density, low-population counties with few options other than lower-quality satellite services,” wrote Sascha Segan, author of the PCMag article about Startlink rural speeds.
There is some skepticism about Starlink and its ability to serve rural broadband at scale, especially considering it has committed to serve 642K locations through the FCC RDOF program. Detractors have argued the service will struggle to provide adequate broadband speeds to that many rural customers.
At this point, Starlink is geographically constrained. The story says that reports put its current constellation most effectively covering areas ” between either 44 degrees or 45 degrees north, and either 52 degrees or 53 degrees north.” This region is in the northern third of the country and extends into Canada. A distribution map shows most beta testers in the northwest, with some in the upper Midwest and a smattering in the northeast and central and southern California.
Beta users report download speeds of as much as 170 Mbps with no data caps.
Starlink may be getting a speed boost. Last week, Space X CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he expects download speeds to hit 300 Mbps later this year. He added that latency will be 20 milliseconds.