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When it comes to Internet service providers, your choices come down to the old real estate adage: location, location, location. Your ISP choice is limited to what's available in your area, leaving you with whatever service provider happens to provide connectivity in your town, city or neighborhood. Moving to get better service probably isn't an option, and for many rural areas, cable and fiber connections aren't even on the menu, leaving you stuck using either DSL-based phone lines or satellite Internet.
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This is one of the biggest reasons why SpaceX's Starlink internet has gotten people so excited. Starlink is a newcomer in the satellite ISP space, promising fast internet anywhere on the planet. And we've tested, and proven that it really does offer speeds that let you work, stream, and even play online, all using an Internet service you can literally take with you on a road trip.
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But what people want to know isn't just "Does Starlink work?" The real question is whether it's better than any other option ISPs are considering, especially competing satellite ISPs like HughesNet or Viasat.
Using data from leading industry surveys, we can compare Starlink's speeds to other major competitors, giving you a clearer picture of how SpaceX's internet service compares to any service available. in your area. For this article, we specifically referenced data from Ookla's Q3 2022 survey of satellite internet providers (Opens in a new window). (Ookla is owned by the parent company of Ziff Davis.) It appears widely in North America, including Canada, Mexico, and island nations such as the Dominican Republic. For our purposes, the US data is the important one.
This dataset includes upload, download, and latency speeds from thousands of unique user results that Ookla's Speedtest.net tests and collects daily. By comparing these numbers, along with our own Starlink test results, we can get a good idea of how these different competing services will perform for any US-based user considering the service.
Starlink is a satellite Internet system developed by Elon Musk's SpaceX that uses a vast network of more than 4,000 low-orbit satellites with self-adjusting receiver dishes to provide high-speed Internet service. Speeds range from 50Mbps to 200Mbps. The system is becoming increasingly popular among users around the world, with approximately one million subscribers from various regions, including North America, Europe and Australia.
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Starlink is a viable solution for users living in rural or remote areas that do not have traditional broadband service, as it only requires a clear view of the sky for reception. Although some parts of the United States may still be on a waiting list to access the service, most of North America is eligible for Starlink service now, and Starlink is expanding rapidly here and around the world.
Because Starlink requires nothing more than a clear view of the sky to connect its orbiting satellites to its users' Starlink dishes on the ground, it can be installed virtually anywhere, even those parts of the country where the -cables are buried and cell towers may not be. . happens Whether you're surrounded by farmland or mountains, live on a remote island, or travel the road as a nomad in an RV or truck, Starlink can provide fast Internet access where it simply wasn't available before.
Starlink requires a one-time equipment purchase ($599) and a monthly service fee ($110) for the standard plan. It's monthly, with no long-term contracts or early cancellation fees. You can read more about it in our Starlink review, which includes observations of our daily use of the service, as well as practical tests of speed and performance.
While most people think of cable, fiber, or even dial-up when they talk about Internet service providers (ISPs), rural users often find themselves without these options. Thanks to the geographical spread of agricultural communities and the cost of running physical cables to distant homes and neighborhoods, satellite Internet has become the ISP of last resort for people across the country.
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While Starlink is obviously a popular and growing satellite internet option, it's not the only one. In fact, the two biggest players in the satellite space have been around for decades: HughesNet and Viasat. Like Starlink, Viasat and HughesNet use a home dish to communicate with satellites in space.
Several main differences distinguish the different satellite internet providers, both in the technology they use, and in the way it is deployed. And all these differences translate into better or worse performance. Let's look at the main differences between the three services.
The first major difference is in the number of satellites. HughesNet uses two satellites called Jupiter 1 and Jupiter 2 (also called EchoStar XVII and EchoStar XIX, respectively). A new satellite Jupiter 3 (EchoStar XXIV) is planned to be launched in the first half of this year.
Viasat has four geosynchronous satellites covering North America, named Viasat-1, WildBlue-1, Anik-F2, and Viasat-2. A new constellation of Viasat-3 satellites is planned to be launched this year, including an additional satellite providing service to North and South America, but it is not yet operational.
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Starlink, on the other hand, has 3,194 satellites in operation as of this writing. And, because Starlink is part of Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company, it can launch more satellites more often than its competitors. The FCC has approved plans for Starlink to launch up to 7,500 new next-generation satellites, greatly increasing the satellite constellation's capacity.
When you put a satellite into space, you have to consider a few things. First, how much of the planet's surface will your satellite orbit? Second, it will orbit
Does the earth, maintain a static position above the ground? These two decisions represent much of the difference between Starlink and competitors HughesNet and Viasat.
HughesNet and Viasat use satellites in high Earth orbit (HEO) about 22,000 miles up. They are also in geosynchronous orbit, meaning they rotate in the same direction and speed as Earth's orbit, allowing the satellites to stay in one position.
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Starlink uses low Earth orbit (LEO) which is closer to Earth, but the satellites pass by the earth regularly. With satellites orbiting approximately 342 miles above Earth, the shorter distance allows for much lower latency and higher throughput. The trade-off is that it requires many more satellites, a flatter technology that can always adjust to send and receive signals from different satellites, and even move to retrieve signals when one satellite passes and another comes.
Distance matters when you consider that every bit of data (whether it's text from an email, an image from a news feed, or a video on YouTube) has to travel twice the distance—once from your house to the satellite , and then again. from. satellite to the provider, and then back again. For HughesNet and Viasat, this combined distance is 44,000 miles. For Starlink, it's 684 miles. And all these distances must be crossed just to connect to the rest of the Internet here on Earth.
This extra distance dramatically increases latency on Viasat and HughesNet, allowing Starlink to offer a better experience for tasks such as video chat and online gaming, which require faster and lower latency connections for real-time interaction real.
Finally, there is the equipment itself. While satellite companies don't make much information public about the technology used in these satellites, we know a little about the dishes here on Earth.
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HughesNet and Viasat both rely on a traditional dish design, similar to what you see with satellite television and other satellite-based services. There is the dish itself, called an antenna reflector. But there is also a smaller device mounted on an arm in front of the dish, called a downconverter low-noise block (LNB), which actually receives and transmits radio signals. All of these are used to convert the radio signal into usable internet, which is then fed to your home router to connect your home network to the internet.
Because the HughesNet and Viasat satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, they stay in the same position in the sky, and your dish must be properly positioned once to align with that satellite to send and receive signals. This makes the initial setup more complicated, requiring professional installation, but also means that once it's set up, it should just work.
Starlink dishes must track moving objects, because the satellites passing overhead are not in geosynchronous orbit. Moving more than 16,000 kilometers per hour in space, each satellite is a fast-moving target, and the two-way communication beam between them must move with it. In addition, satellites pass in and out of view within minutes, so the dish must constantly track and communicate with each satellite, switching from one satellite to another as it passes overhead.
Some of this is done by physically adjusting the position of the dish-Starlink motor dishes for this type of automatic adjustment only. That said, the machine is primarily used
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