Starlink is here – sort of
Last year, we reported about some new satellite phone plans, including Starlink. Now, satellite plans are becoming a reality, as Starlink’s order page went live on 9 February in Australia. Select customers can pre-order Starlink service, which will officially launch in the second half of this year.
Satellites have been around for a while now, and so have satellite phone plans. But modern satellite phone plans are different, and they have improved performance when compared to older satellite systems.
With Starlink planning to launch in Australia in the coming months, the National Broadband Network’s (NBN) Sky Muster will finally face some head-on competition.
In this article, we’ll look into what Starlink is all about, how much their plans will cost, and how competitive they will be in the Australian market.
What is Starlink?
Elon Musk’s private space exploration company, SpaceX, plans on launching humans to Mars at some point in the future. In order to do that, they need plenty of funds. Starlink is SpaceX satellite phone/broadband company, and is expected to help raise revenue to support SpaceX ambitions of settling humans in Mars.
Starlink isn’t your normal satellite phone company, however. The utilize satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). LEO satellites launch around 500km to 2,000km away from Earth. Compare this to traditional satellites that are around 36,000km from Earth.
For Starlink, LEO means lower latency – around 32 milliseconds, compared to 600 milliseconds on traditional satellite data plans. This lower latency refers to the time it takes for data to transfer from one point to another and back. The closer the distance between point A and B (in this case, your home on earth and the satellite), the lower the latency and the faster your data transfers.
LEO satellites vs traditional satellites. src
Starlink just unveiled their order page to allow some Australians pre-order their satellite plans. However, there are no phone plans yet – Starlink is currently only offering satellite Internet service in select areas.
Starlink actually sends emails to Australians, inviting them to sign up for the service. Availability is limited, so if you get invited, you might want to take advantage of it as soon as possible.
However, it’s important to note that although Starlink is now taking orders, the service has not gone live yet. Starlink expects to go live at the second half of the year, so even if you sign up now, you’ll have to wait a while.
Here’s what we know about Starlink prices and speeds:
- To sign up and get Starlink’s satellite equipment, you’ll have to deposit AU$709 up front.
- When Starlink goes live in your area, the service will cost AU$139 per month.
- Although the service isn’t live yet, Starlink expects download speeds between 50Mbps and 150Mbps. Beta testers have reported an average of 100Mbps so far.
- Starlink is also expected to have between 20ms and 40ms latency.
Starlink vs NBN’s Sky Muster
Starlink is targeting rural Australia, where fast, reliable Internet service can be hard to come by. In that market, the direct competitor is NBN’s Sky Muster – another satellite Internet service.
Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Starlink and Sky Muster:
Sky Muster has been around since 2015, so compared to Starlink which is yet to launch, they have much more experience in the Australian market and satellite Internet service in general.
Sky Muster is also much cheaper than Starlink, charging a fraction of the monthly costs that Starlink demands.
However, if Starlink lives up to its speeds and low latency promises, then it will win over customers based on performance. Starlink’s promised speeds are similar to 4G, and even some early-stage 5G plans, which clearly dwarfs Sky Muster. And the lower latency is a boon – thanks to the LEO satellites close distance to Earth.
The Australian market is getting more competitive and interesting. Starlink is yet another entrant into the market, but the company is focusing on a more unique niche.
Starlink will target rural and remote areas. The NBN’s Sky Muster, however, also targets those areas with their satellite broadband service, making them a direct competitor.
However, where Sky Muster wins with lower prices, Starlink wins with speeds and lower latency (if their service is as advertised). But for now, Starlink is yet to launch, so customers can only pre-order service.