The report noted that the satellite-based connectivity had a median download speed far greater than the average fixed broadband speeds in the UK – but upload and latency are another matter

Just how viable is Starlink’s satellite communications offering for UK customers? The answer to this question is a complicated one, but a recent report from Ookla suggests that the initial results of SpaceX’s low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellation are promising.

Using Speedtest data from Q2 2021, the Ookla report showed that the average download speed via Starlink satellite was 108.30Mbps, more than double the UK fixed broadband average of 50.14Mbps.

Upload speeds, however, were far more comparable, with an average of 15.64Mbps versus the UK average of 14.76Mbps. 

But it was latency where existing fixed broadband was shown to retain a considerable edge over satellite connectivity; Starlink delivered an average latency of 37ms, more than double the UK average of 15ms.

Currently, the Starlink constellation comprises over 1,600 LEO satellites, but Elon Musk and SpaceX have plans to increase this number to 4,425 by 2024, and up to 12,000 in the years to come. Commercial services have already launched in the US, Canada, and the UK, with further locations around the world to be added in the coming months.

These services are primarily being marketed to rural customers, aiming to provide connectivity to areas that are not cost-effective for service providers to reach with traditional broadband infrastructure. However, with speeds that potentially rival that of traditional, fixed broadband, the appetite for Starlink could expand far beyond truly rural areas, with customers in suburban areas looking to adopt the new technology.

In fact, back April, a blog post from George Michaelson, a researcher at the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre, suggested that Starlink’s success could be something of a double-edged sword, discouraging operators from deploying infrastructure in certain areas and leading to more people using Starlink services simultaneously, which in turn will reduce the quality of service provided.

“It’s a catch-22,” said Michaelson. “The capital investment needed to bring terrestrial broadband to your door may not arrive because it may be assumed you have good enough bandwidth from the LEO satellite. In which case, lacking broadband, more people in this fringe area would sign up to get Starlink, thus making it slower.” 

It should also be remembered that the UK is currently in the process of upgrading the nation’s connectivity infrastructure, with the government aiming to make gigabit-capable broadband available to 85% of premises in the UK. This will make a major difference when you consider that the average speeds recorded by Ookla being somewhat dragged down by legacy infrastructure, which will gradually be replaced in the years to come with fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). 

Ultimately, Starlink may be exhibit good results compared to the national average, but can it compete with competing next generation technologies like FTTH? For now, this seems unlikely, but SpaceX said at the start of the year that Starlink will seek to deliver 10Gbps download speeds at some point in the future. 

When exactly these speeds would be deliverable remains unclear, but it is clear that SpaceX does not expect Starlink to remain in the shadow of fixed broadband for long.


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