About a year ago, I moved to a new house. Relocating from a well-connected city to a very rural part of Idaho forced me to change my internet service, but the local options weren't going to support my work-from-home needs. The solution, SpaceX's Starlink satellite internet, has been an essential part of my life and work ever since.
After the first few months of living with Starlink and testing the service over a period of several days, I gave it my vote of approval. The service earned an Editors' Choice award, and it's one of the best quality-of-life improvements to happen to people living in rural areas in a long time.
But since then, there have been some changes. New plans have been introduced, prices have increased, and some reports have claimed that Starlink performance has gone down over time. (Because of location differences and many other variables, not every Starlink user experiences the exact same internet speed.) So, as we reached the six-month mark from our first review, we decided to re-test and revisit Starlink's internet service with some Starlink speed tests to see if it's still worth it.
Where to Buy a Starlink Dish
Starlink Standard Kit
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Starlink Standard Kit
Starlink High Performance
After Living With Starlink for Months, It's Better Than Ever
Having used Starlink for the better part of a year now, I can speak to a lot of the questions people have about the service. Is it easy to set up Starlink? (Yes.) Will I need any Starlink accessories to get started? (Almost definitely.) Is Starlink fast enough for gaming? (Yes.) Will it work in winter weather? (Yup.) Can you do your own repairs on a damaged cable? In theory, yes, if your dog makes it a necessity.
The biggest concerns to come out of this extended use are mostly around the availability of equipment, the pricing for Starlink service, and concerns about the overall quality of service. Let's look at each.
The Equipment Situation
One of the biggest complaints I had about my Starlink experience at the outset was the process of getting the necessary equipment. It involved buying the dish, router, stand, and cables up front—a $599 outlay—and then still required additional accessories for proper installation. I was able to get things up and running with a temporary setup that placed the dish at ground level in my yard, but a more permanent installation on my roof required some additional accessories.
(Credit: Brian Westover)
You can definitely get your Starlink service set up and running with this basic equipment package, but it is highly unlikely that it will have everything you need to install your Starlink dish in its long-term, permanent location. Whether that's on a roof, mounted on a pole in the middle of a field, or any other setup, you're going to need some accessories to properly mount your dish.
Ideally, this would be emphasized as part of the initial purchase process, but it's not. You do need to assess your home, determine your ideal mounting situation, and figure out what additional accessories you may need, such as special mounts for different types of roofing, construction materials, and distances. Check out our guide to Starlink accessories to get some help figuring out what additional gear you'll need for your installation.
One positive development is an improvement on the initial equipment buying process, with standard Starlink kits now selling at Home Depot. They're still $599, and it looks like you'll still need to buy accessories through the Starlink app, but it removes one big headache from the initial setup process.
Pricing: Up, Up, and Away
If there is one complaint I've had as a Starlink user, it's been the price increases. When I initially signed up a year ago, the price was a simple $100 per month. Now, 12 months and two price increases later, it's up to $120 a month, for ostensibly the exact same service.
Starlink operates as something of a contract-free, month-to-month service, though you do plunk down a fair amount of money up front for your equipment. It would be nice to be able to lock in a price for longer service periods if you're so inclined, something that many other ISPs offer. Two price increases within a single year is a bit much.
That said, I do still get a great deal of value for my money, even at the current cost. It's also in line with what you'd be charged by any other satellite internet provider, and those services are markedly slower than Starlink.
Network Performance: The State of Expansion
Finally, there's the question of performance. Starlink has been adding users like crazy in the last year, but the performance always seemed satisfactory to me. That might not be the case for every subscriber, however. There are credible reports that the performance has gotten worse for some users in North America. Others mention a slight increase in speeds, but note that this improvement hasn't been consistent year-over-year. We'll look more closely at this below, using our own test numbers.
Aside from the quality of the service, SpaceX is clearly pouring a lot of money, time, and effort into expanding and improving the Starlink experience. New plans added over the past year include the Roam option aimed at RV users, the Best Effort tier that offers a more-affordable option for slightly less-impressive service, and increasingly numerous options for boats, airplanes, and even trains.
New (top) and old (bottom) Starlink availability map, showing increased service availability in several parts of the country(Credit: SpaceX/Starlink)
All of this is on top of major strides made with opening up service in formerly waitlisted areas, as well as launching more low Earth orbit satellites to the Starlink constellation that are the backbone of Starlink service. And the best news from Starlink's many recent developments? A long-anticipated data cap has been nixed, causing users with high data consumption to breathe a sigh of relief.
Rising Satellite Speeds Lift All Subscribers
Obviously, any specifics about service speeds and performance are subject to some caveats. In the case of Starlink internet service, those caveats are location-based. I live in a relatively low-population area in Idaho, with fewer local users than you'd get in, say, California or Virginia. There's a reason large portions of the country are seeing new users put on waitlists instead of simply adding new customers, and that's because each Starlink satellite has a limited amount of bandwidth to divide up among the users immediately below it on Earth. While my testing uses the same hardware and satellites that other Starlink subscribers use, my results may be different from people who live where user saturation is already slowing down service.
But don't worry about those differences too much. The connection speed changes I saw in testing, which we'll discuss below, should still carry over to any other Starlink user, even if their total speeds don't match mine. Faster is faster, even if the improvements don't translate to exactly the same increases for every user in every place. Additionally, as Starlink's network improves, SpaceX has opened up more service areas in previously waitlisted areas. The improvements made not only will be seen in better speeds for every user, but more new users can join the service in areas that were previously closed.
Finally, it's always worth pointing out that Starlink isn't really meant for high-population areas, but for rural locales without other high-speed internet alternatives. If you have cable or fiber available in your area, get that. Those options generally offer better service at better prices. Starlink's service is specifically tailored to providing connectivity where other options are scarce, rather than a cheap alternative to established ISPs.
Starlink Performance in 2023: Significantly Improved
Since my initial review of Starlink, my day-to-day internet usage has remained the same. I'm online all day for work, with frequent video calls and sizable downloads being part and parcel of my job here at PCMag. My kids still stream their favorite shows; my wife and I listen to music and podcasts; and I do a bit of gaming here and there. And, aside from patching a damaged cord and then swapping it out for an official Starlink cable, everything else remains identical to the day I set it up last year. Same dish, same router, same roof-mounted position.
For our six-month follow-up testing, we used the same testbed PC that we used the first time around. It's a small desktop computer set up exclusively to run our testing software. Over the test periods, this testbed has been constantly running a test script that periodically checks Ookla's Speedtest.com to record download and upload speeds, and sends pings to specific servers every minute to measure latency. (Ookla is owned by Ziff Davis, PCMag's parent company.) Running this Starlink speed test 24 hours a day over the course of two weeks, we gathered thousands of data points.
Where our initial (2022) tests were cut slightly short by a global outage (we omitted part of our two-week test results to keep the event from skewing our performance analysis), there was no such outage this time, giving us a full 14-day test period.
In our two weeks of testing, we saw a wide range of download and upload speeds offered by my Starlink connection. With highs up to 261Mbps, and lows dipping lower than 5Mbps, the speeds aren't always blazing fast, but they were, for the most part, right in line with what Starlink promises.
Mean download speeds were excellent, averaging higher than 100Mbps nearly every day of testing. With our home using this single internet connection for work, streaming TV and music, and even online gaming, the consistent speed and quality was absolutely necessary.
Our next set of charts looks specifically at the performance consistency of download and upload speeds, as well as the latency offered by the Starlink satellite internet service.
Here we can see that the bulk of recorded download-speed tests (which number in the several hundred) fall between the 50Mbps and 200Mbps advertised for the service, with only a few outliers trailing slower. That's just what we expected, given Starlink's service claims, but we were surprised to see a significant number of download tests that register higher than 200Mbps. In the aggregate, you're more likely to see faster-than-promised speeds than you are slower ones.
Aside from premium fiber connections, it's exceedingly rare to see upload speeds that are close to download speeds, and Starlink is no exception. However, most of the test results over two weeks peg Starlink's upload speeds between 10Mbps and 20Mbps, with a fair number of results in the 20Mbps-to-50Mbps range. In rural areas where DSL and satellite providers promise upload speeds in the 2Mbps-to-5Mbps range, that's a massive improvement over local options.
Finally, there's the question of latency, measured in milliseconds. The tests recorded almost nothing slower than 100ms, and most results were in the 20ms-to-50ms range. That's low enough to enjoy gaming, and to be active in a video call without any noticeable lag.
Breaking out ping results to the two servers we tested on—Cloudflare's 18.104.22.168 and Google's 22.214.171.124—we see that the destination server will have a slight effect on the overall latency results, but both offered a similar overall distribution of results. That suggests our analysis above holds up, even when accounting for the fact that we got faster pings on Google's servers.
These numbers are still right within the range of Starlink's promised throughput, and deliver exactly the service quality I expected when I signed up. Our original review noted that speeds like these are simply unmatched in many parts of the country, and that still holds true.
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But how do these newer test numbers compare to last year's test results?
Starlink Speed Tested: Uploads Are Still a Fraction of Downloads
When we look at the performance results from our Starlink review in 2022, and measure them against the new performance results from 2023, one thing becomes very clear: Starlink got better.
Just looking at raw averages, we see that the average download speed jumped from 89.38Mbps to 129.64Mbps, roughly 30Mbps faster. Upload speeds also bumped up, from 10Mbps to 15Mbps, a welcome change. And, despite using the same dish and router, Starlink has managed to drop the latency a full 10ms, making everything faster and more responsive.
Looking more closely at the numbers, we see that the 30MBps of average improvement is reflected across our testing period. For comparison's sake, we looked at nine days' worth of data for these point-by-point comparisons, but it holds true for the full 14-day stretch—download speeds are roughly 40% to 50% faster on any given day.
But that's merely the mean download speed, an averaged number from multiple test results. What if we look at the lowest and highest download speeds?
Comparing the lowest recorded speed for each day of testing, we see that most days are indeed higher than what we saw in 2022. Even though both wallow down in the 20Mbps-or-less range from time to time, our 2023 results were consistently higher, while our 2022 numbers rarely climbed above 20Mbps. Even at its slowest, Starlink is offering better download speeds in 2023 than it did last year.
It's a tighter comparison between highest download speeds, if only because the performance is bumping against the upper limits of what Starlink's hardware (both on Earth and in space) can handle. Starlink promises speeds up to 200Mbps, and last year's testing showed that was about right, with results ranging between 185Mbps and 246Mbps. But in this latest batch of tests, we saw consistently higher top numbers, generally exceeding 220Mbps. Obviously this isn't sustained throughout the day, but it raises the ceiling just enough to make a real difference.
However the highs and lows shake out, the bigger question is one of consistency: How reliably will Starlink give you 100Mbps or higher download speeds? Well, according to our numbers, the odds are way better than they were last fall. (I should point out here that even though we have more days worth of tests in this recent batch of results, we've averaged them by day to more directly compare against our 2022 numbers.)
Last year's numbers (in blue) covered much of the same overall range, but the majority of test results fell between 20Mbps and 100Mbps. This time around, our testing showed most results fell easily within the 60Mbps-to-200Mbps range, marking a big shift toward faster speeds in general.
Upload speeds don't have the same dramatic improvements, if only because they continue to be a fraction of what download speeds offer, but the trend continues here. Where most uploads measured between 0Mbps and 20Mbps last fall, our more recent tests show a marked shift toward faster speeds—far more in the 10Mbps-to-20Mbps range, and a significant number between 20Mbps and 30Mbps. And there were proportionally more results at even higher speeds, of 30Mbps, 40Mbps, or even 50Mbps.
The one area where we expected test results to stay relatively unchanged was in latency, since there are so many bottlenecks in the Starlink system that would have to be improved, from the speed of the router and dish to the satellites in space and the terrestrial units that SpaceX uses to actually connect those satellites to the greater internet. But, somehow Starlink service has even improved here, offering faster speeds and lower latency, effectively eliminating the lag times in excess of 100ms seen in our first round of testing last fall. While the majority of service still measures between 30m and 50ms of lag, the fact is that you're more likely to get better, faster ping measurements now than you were six months ago.
Add it all up, and what Starlink has managed is pretty impressive: Everything got better.
Verdict: You'll Have to Pry My Starlink From My Cold, Dead Hands
Even as the number of users grew, Starlink has managed to open up more service areas, trim waitlists, and improve service across the board (the last, at least in my rural area). I may grumble about it costing me an extra $20 per month over its original rate when I signed up, but there's zero chance I'd give it up.
It's hard to appreciate just how good Starlink is compared with every other option for rural internet users until you've tried them side by side. While DSL and other satellite providers are still popular, SpaceX's Starlink network is really the best choice for people who don't have access to fixed broadband like cable or fiber. And, as our test numbers clearly show, it's a service that is actively improving. Combine the faster download and upload speeds, better latency, and growing access to equipment, and that's more than enough for me to say that Starlink remains a winner.
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