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What is Starlink? Everything you need to know about Elon Musk's satellite internet service

Starlink primarily focuses on delivering high-speed, low-latency broadband internet in remote and rural locations globally. Learn where it's available, how much it costs, and everything else there is to know about it.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer
starlink-logo.jpg
Image: Shutterstock

What is Starlink?

Starlink is a satellite internet service operated by SpaceX, the company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk. SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches rockets and spacecraft. SpaceX started launching Starlink satellites in 2019 and as of September 2022 has launched more than 3,000 satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). 

Starlink primarily focuses on delivering high-speed, low-latency broadband internet in remote and rural locations globally. As of September 2022, service starts at $110 per montly with a one-time hardware cost of $599.

Where can I get service?

Starlink's service has expanded significantly thanks to its large constellation of satellites. The company currently has more than 3,000 satellites in orbit and continues to expand it with near-weekly launches. On September 18, 2022, SpaceX launched another 54 satellites into space. 

Starlink claims that it's available across all seven continents -- in September 2022, the US National Science Foundation announced it was testing Starlink's "polar service" in Antarctica. However, as of mid-September 2022, the Starlink site says that service across Africa is "coming soon." In Nigeria and Mozambique, for instance, the site says service will start in Q4 2022. 

In September 2022, Starlink became available in Malta, making the service technically available in 40 countries. It offers the best coverage available in the US, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Starlink is busy expanding its services to mobile sites and vehicles, like RVs and boats, so when you're on the move, you can take your broadband with you. In 2023, according to plans, Starlink will be available on all Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises ships. SpaceX is also making deals with airlines like Hawaiian Airlines to offer Starlink connectivity on flights.

How fast is Starlink?

In the US, Starlink's median download speed in the second quarter of 2022 hit just over 62 Mbps, according to the network intelligence firm Ookla. That's more than sufficient for one or two people to stream videos, download games or do whatever they want on the internet. However, a year prior, download speeds in the US were closer to 90 Mbps.

It turns out that Starlink's growing customer base is having an impact on its performance. In fact, compared to a year prior, Starlink speeds decreased in every country Ookla surveyed in Q2 -- across Europe, Oceania, North America and South America.

The decrease in speeds puts Elon Musk farther away from his Feb. 2021 claim that Starlink download speeds would hit 300 Mbps within the year.

Starlink's upload speeds also slowed across the globe in Q2 2022, while latency remained relatively flat. In the US, Starlink's median latency came in at 48 ms, below other satellite providers.

While Starlink's speeds have decreased, the service in Q2 was much faster in the US than other satellite-based broadband offerings. Download speeds for Viasat, for instance, clocked in at just over 23 Mbps, according to Ookla. Download speeds for HughesNet were just below 23 Mbps. However, fixed broadband in the US was still notably faster than all satellite-based services, with download speeds of 150.12 Mbps.

How much does Starlink cost?

In the US, you can get Starlink service beginning at $110 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $599. There are no long-term contracts, data caps or exclusivity requirements.

Starlink Business is available for remote and rural businesses across the globe for $500 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $2,500. This service provides connectivity for offices of up to 20 users, storefronts and demanding workloads across the globe with promised download speeds of up to 350 Mbps and latency of 20 to 40 ms.

Starlink for RVs costs $135 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $599. Customers can pause and un-pause service at any time and are billed in one-month increments. 

Starlink Maritime costs $5,000 per month with a one-time hardware cost of $10,000 for two high performance terminals. It delivers up to 350 Mbps download speeds while at sea. As with Starlink for RVs, customers can pause and un-pause service at any time and are billed in one-month increments.

How does Starlink work?

From a consumer perspective, Starlink works with the help of a Starlink kit -- that includes a Starlink satellite dish, WiFi router/power supply, cables and base. The Starlink base is designed for ground level installation, or to support a quick-start setup to test your internet connection. However, you may want to purchase a permanent mount for the best installation. 

The Starlink dish is self-orienting and connects quickly as long as it has a clear view of the sky. Once you set up the hardware, you can connect to the Starlink network and use the Starlink app to manage your service. 

SpaceX delivers the Starlink service with its large satellite constellation in low Earth orbit (LEO), at about 550km. By comparison, other satellite internet services use single, geostationary satellites that orbit the planet. Since Starlink has many satellites that are relatively close to the ground, it can provide lower latency service. 

Each satellite uses four phased array antennas and two parabolic antennas to provide increased capacity.

How popular is Starlink?

In May 2022, SpaceX told the US government that it had more than 400,000 global subscribers, CNBC reported -- up from 250,000 subscribers in March. 

Meanwhile, the Starlink app in September made it onto the list of the top 100 most downloaded iPhone apps in the US on Apple's App Store. It was the first time the app appeared on the list, PCMag reports, while SensorTower estimates the Starlink app has been downloaded about 2.3 million times worldwide since January 2021.

What's next for Starlink?

SpaceX is busy expanding its Starlink service to all parts of the globe. Musk has promised to seek exemptions to sanctions that keep it from delivering internet to places like Iran. 

Meanwhile, SpaceX hsa partnered with T-Mobile to put an end to mobile dead zones. Using its existing midband spectrum, T-Mobile plans to enable cell phones to connect to Starlink satellites, bringing coverage to remote areas with no existing cell service. Once the service is launched, Starlink's second-generation satellites will be able to broadcast directly to cell phones.

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