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Starlink Sales Are Straining Capacity in Parts of the U.S. And Canada

OOKLA Speedtest results for the U/ S. and Canada (source)

On June 5th Elon Musk said SpaceX had nearly 500,000 customers in 32 nations and 9 languages. By now, there must be 500,000 customers, most of whom are in the U. S. and Canada, and their performance is suffering.

In the first quarter of this year, OOKLA reported that the median Starlink download speed fell from 104.97 to 99.55 Mbps in the U.S. and from 106.64 to 97.4 Mbps in Canada. Upload speed dropped from 12.5 to 9.3Mbps in the U.S and from 12.82 to 10.7 in Canada and has been dropping slowly since the first quarter of last year in both nations. Median latency increased from 40 to 43ms in the U.S. and from 51 to 55ms in Canada during the year.

A few of the first-quarter customers were small businesses, rural schools or clinics, etc., but the overwhelming majority are residential. OOKLA hasn’t published second-quarter results yet, but they may be worse because SpaceX has entered several non-residential markets—business, roaming (RV), and maritime—during the quarter. They have also deployed mobile roaming on trains and vehicles in Ukraine, and they are testing aircraft connectivity, so we may soon see these services offered commercially.

There are also anecdotal reports of declining performance like this one on Reddit Starlink discussion: “Speeds have slowed significantly. No obstructions and support is no help. KY, USA.” This post describes one person’s experience but has 103 upvotes and 142 comments, many describing similar experiences. Note that the user found that “support is no help,” and future customers will need more support than today’s residential early adopters, who tend to be technically proficient. SpaceX will soon be competing with OneWeb in the non-residential markets, and this sort of experience and publicity will harm Starlink’s reputation.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that SpaceX is rapidly adding capacity. They are launching satellites at an unprecedented rate and the Version 1.5 satellites they are now launching have inter-satellite laser links. Furthermore, when Starship is ready, it will be capable of launching version 2 satellites which Elon Musk says will offer nearly an order of magnitude more data throughput than the version 1 satellite they will eventually replace. Maybe they should slow down sales in oversubscribed areas for a while.

By Larry Press, Professor of Information Systems at California State University

He has been on the faculties of the University of Lund, Sweden and the University of Southern California, and worked for IBM and the System Development Corporation. Larry maintains a blog on Internet applications and implications at cis471.blogspot.com and follows Cuban Internet development at laredcubana.blogspot.com.

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