When SpaceX opened the Starlink public beta last month, the company told users to expect "brief periods of no connectivity at all" over the first few months. It’s one of the reasons that SpaceX calls this testing period the "Better Than Nothing" beta.
Early reports from Starlink beta testers confirm that users are suffering from this problem to some extent. But Starlink’s overall performance has wowed beta testers, many of whom previously had no access to modern broadband speeds.
"Link stability is a little rough," Reddit user Exodatum wrote on the Starlink subreddit yesterday. "We’re getting jumps bad enough to disconnect us from connection-sensitive servers every 5-10 minutes, but things like Netflix are working perfectly. We watched Airplane! as an inaugural stream and it was fabulous." (Buffering deployed by Netflix and other streaming services can keep videos running when there are brief Internet problems.)
Exodatum placed the Starlink satellite dish/user terminal on a picnic table outside the house, temporarily until it gets mounted on the roof. Bad weather may be having an effect on the service. "There is heavy snow in our area, and dense overcast for the most part with a few breaks today," Exodatum wrote, adding that upload speeds have varied from 10 Mbps to 30 Mbps and download speeds from 15 Mbps to 120 Mbps.
Starlink speeds and reliability should improve in the coming months as SpaceX launches more satellites and tinkers with the network. SpaceX told users in beta-invitation emails that
"data speeds [will] vary from 50Mbps to 150Mbps and latency from 20ms to 40ms over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system."
"As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations, and improve our networking software, data speed, latency, and uptime will improve dramatically. For latency, we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021," SpaceX said in the emails.
That’s Why They Call it a Beta
A Redditor in Montana with the username BenchingServers got download speeds ranging from 11Mbps to over 100Mbps. These tests were taken during heavy snow, but BenchingServers speculated that the wide range in speed had more to do with the positioning of satellites or SpaceX testing the system.
"I really think they were testing something or I had poor satellite coverage at the time because now I’m back to 100Mbps and above but the storm is actually more intense," BenchingServers wrote.
BenchingServers reported having to switch back to 25 Mbps DSL service to get through a Zoom work meeting because "I had too much jitter going on." But the user wasn’t concerned about Starlink’s long-term performance, writing, "I really think it will be fine when they work out the kinks, that’s why [we’re in] beta after all."
"I would expect some improvement on this front as more launches fill in the constellation, if only from having more angles to choose from for punching a signal through," another Reddit user wrote in the thread.
The occasional problems seem to be minor compared to the giant upgrade Starlink provides for many DSL users. A Starlink user named Nickolas Friedrich in central Montana told PCMag that he pays CenturyLink $120 a month for speeds of less than 1Mbps but is now getting Internet speeds as high as 170Mbps from Starlink. PCMag wrote:
Every now and then, the service will cut out for about 10 seconds. Or the speeds will drop down as low as 20Mbps. That’s likely due to the limited number of Starlink satellites in orbit, currently around 800. But overall, Friedrich said, the system represents a massive upgrade over his DSL provider.
"If you were to just use Starlink to watch YouTube or Netflix where they download a buffer, it’ll feel like great city cable Internet," he added. "Upload also ranges between 10 to 38Mbps."
Bad weather hasn’t been an impediment for Starlink user Curtis Nims in Idaho. As PCMag noted, "He’s uploaded a YouTube video showing himself playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive over the Starlink network during a heavy downpour. Despite the rain, his connection still reached 113Mbps for downloads and 15Mbps for uploads."
Another Starlink beta tester brought the terminal to a national forest in Idaho and got downloads of 120Mbps, uploads of 12Mbps, and latency of 37ms, as we reported last week.
Expansion to Southern US in the works
SpaceX is charging beta users $99 per month plus a one-time fee of $499 for the user terminal, mounting tripod, and router. SpaceX VP Jonathan Hofeller reportedly said the company hopes to lower the price of the equipment at some point.
The Starlink beta could expand to the Southern US in a couple of months. Asked when Florida will get Starlink, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk answered, "Lower latitude states need more satellites in position, so probably January." So far, beta invitations have gone out to users in Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington state, and Wisconsin. Users in Canada should get invites soon as SpaceX last month received regulatory approval from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
People hoping for an invitation to the Starlink beta can enter their email and street address on the Starlink website.