Starlink’s performance flattened in Q3, Ookla finds

New data from Ookla shows a slight decrease in Starlink’s speeds during the third quarter of this year, which could be due to bringing on more customers.

Starlink continues to far outshine satellite-based competitors in general, and even clocks faster speeds than wireline networks in some countries. But for U.S. users during the third quarter of this year, Ookla found that median download speed decreased slightly, from 97.23 Mbps during the second quarter of 2021, to a median of 87.25 Mbps in the third quarter. Ookla noted that this “could be a function of adding more customers.”

Starlink also saw a smaller dip in speeds for users in Canada. In Q2, the LEO-based service had a median download speed of 86.92 Mbps, which decreased just a bit to 84.55 Mbps in the second quarter, even as fixed broadband speeds in Canada increased overall. “This is in line with what we expect to see on new technologies as additional users are added to a system,” Ookla said.

While one quarter’s data does not a trend make, it’s fair to say that Starlink’s critics will be watching closely to see if it becomes a trend. Since the company received nearly $900 million in government subsidies for broadband service as part of the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF), other industry observers and players have argued about whether it’s actually possible for Starlink to deliver what it has promised. In April of this year, satellite competitor Viasat went so far as to provide technical analysis that it says demonstrates in multiple ways that even if SpaceX deploys the full number of satellites that it has plans for, “significant shortfalls in Starlink capacity exist” due to a combination of limitations on spectrum re-use and the geographic density of the areas it bid on and provisionally won in the RDOF process. Starlink responded by scoffing at the analysis and said it was full of factual errors and incorrect assumptions.

As far as the existing service that Starlink is providing, though, it is still the best of the bunch by far when it comes to space-based internet service. While Ookla’s data found that Starlink’s median download speed in the U.S. decreased to around 87 Mbps, the rest of the satellite providers were only able to provide a fraction of that speed. HughesNet and Viasat were a distant second and third, respectively, at 19.30 Mbps and 18.75 Mbps.

Ookla was able to analyze Starlink performance in 304 counties across the U.S., and observed a 100 Mbps difference between performance in the fastest and the slowest median download speeds on a county-level basis. Even the slowest median speed, in Drummond Township, Michigan, was 46.63 Mbps — well above the 25 Mbps performance tier required by the Federal Communications Commission. Meanwhile, Starlink’s fastest county-level median download speed was a full 100 Mbps faster than the slowest, with Santa Fe County, New Mexico clocking in at 146.58 Mbps.

Comparatively, Ookla notes, the median download speed for fixed broadband providers in the U.S. during the third quarter of 2021 was nearly 120 Mbps.

Starlink also clocked substantially better latency than the other two satellite services, which are provided by geosynchronous satellites much further away from Earth.

Starlink’s U.S. latency was recorded at 44 milliseconds, compared to 744 ms for HughesNet and 629 ms for Viasat. Wireline broadband latency in the U.S. was pegged at 15 ms.

Around the world, it’s a mixed bag whether Starlink is faster than local wired services, however. Ookla looked at Starlink performance across a dozen countries. Notably, Starlink’s median download speed was faster than the country’s average for fixed broadband in places like Australia, Belgium and Germany.

Read Ookla’s full analysis here.

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