Starlink's current problem is capacity

This blog post is a lightly edited transcript from my most recent YouTube video, in which I explain some of Starlink's growing pains: slower speeds due to oversubscription, design challenges with their v2 hardware, and a major bet on much larger v2 sats and a rocket (Starship) that has yet to complete an orbital flight.

The video is embedded below, and the transcript follows:

I got Starlink during the Public beta, a little over a year ago.

I set up Dishy on my roof, I set up some advanced monitoring and tested it as a backup Internet connection, but ultimately passed it along to my cousin, who's using it on her farm.

Performance and Oversubscription

Starlink Speeds monitored in Grafana

When I first got Starlink, I was getting speeds above 100 Mbps down, and 15 up. But now? My cousin's consistently getting lower speeds, about half what I got last year. It's not bad at all compared to her old DSL, which had upload speeds in the Kbps and cost about the same as Starlink.

But it is less. And that seems to be a universal issue for Starlink's early adopters, at least in the US. People are experiencing slower speeds as the satellites and ground stations get more saturated.

But that's to be expected. Starlink likely has 500,000 customers now, and SpaceX is currently making 20,000 new terminals per week.

The day after I posted my last Starlink video, SpaceX announced official roaming support—users could officially move their Starlink Terminal to locations away from their service address. And just this month, the FCC approved dishes in motion.

The privilege of roaming comes with a fee—$25 a month. But this created a bit of a loophole for people who live in places where Starlink isn't currently available, but has coverage. People are buying Starlink at one address, turning on roaming, then using it at a different address in a cell that's already full.

And what problem does that create? Oversubscription.

Capacity is SpaceX's number one challenge, and it'll still be a challenge with tens of thousands of satellites up in the air. Because despite laser links, more ground stations, and better software, physics just can't be beat—at least not in any short term time-scale.

There are tons of reports of Starlink users who aren't roaming, but they're getting lower speeds and higher latency:

And sure, SpaceX has some toggles to deprioritize traffic for roaming users, but all networking equipment has capacity limits. Once you reach a certain number of connected devices, performance drops off for everyone.

Elon Musk even acknowledged the problem:

We'll get to v2 sats later.

My best guess is in really popular areas, or travel destinations where lots of RV users congregate, Starlink performance might be a lot less than the 100+ Mbps I was originally getting—at least for now.

Even with slower speeds, for many customers, it's such an improvement over what they had before, they don't care. This Reddit user is perfectly happy getting 30 Mbps.

And for every rant over on Reddit, there are probably a dozen more happy customers like this one from Western Colorado, who don't see performance issues at all.

Roaming and Preorders

Outside speeds, I'm a little disappointed with a couple other things.

People who preordered years ago are often still waiting, while people who buy with roaming at a different address can cut in line. Sadly, outside of disabling roaming, there's not a whole lot Starlink can do. The saying is cheaters never prosper... but in the case of getting Starlink sooner, they do.

The new router

Starlink's new v2 router with mars earth transfer orbit

Also, remember how the new Starlink router doesn't have Ethernet built-in, so you have to buy a separate accessory just to get a LAN port?

I didn't notice at first, but it's also missing a visible status light! Unless you pick it up, the only thing you'll see on it is a picture of the Earth to Mars transfer orbit. To even see if it has power, you have to pick it up and look at the status LED on the bottom!

Status LEDs are step 1 in diagnosing any problem. The posts linked above are proof you shouldn't take away literally the only indication if something is working or not.

Even though the old router fell over if you looked at it wrong, at least it had a status LED. And a network jack!

While we're on the topic: some users are building their own PoE boards for the router. Kudos to them, but if Starlink used more standard connections, you wouldn't have to do it at all.

Firmware hell

Another fun 'feature' I was reading about recently is Starlink's inability to run local firmware updates. If you stow your dish too long, there's a chance it'll never connect again. And Starlink support will tell you there's nothing you can do about it!

There's a wired router—surely Starlink could build in a local firmware update mechanism, right?

Firmware updates are electronics design 101. It's ridiculous the answer to someone storing their dish for too long is "throw it away!", especially when the hardware costs thousands of dollars to manufacture!

Starlink support

That's all assuming you get a response from Starlink support in the first place.

Now, let me be clear: every support rep I've worked with has been awesome, but there are not enough support reps!

Users have reported delays up to a month before they get a response! That's not acceptable.

He'll never see this, but Elon: spend less time choreographing dancing robots, and focus on your users. They still love Starlink, but it's like you're trying to make them hate it!

Refurbished dishes

I can't verify this, but it seems some users are getting refurbished or used Starlink terminals.

It would be good for SpaceX to sell refurbished gear. That's less e-waste, it's good for users since existing gear can be reused... but if they do it, they have to tell the customer.

A lot of customers would be perfectly fine getting a used terminal instead of a brand new one. But if it's refurbished, SpaceX has to be upfront about it.

Starlink Business and V2 Sats

Starlink also launched Starlink for Business recently. You pay about 5x as much for a better dish and about twice the performance.

But I can't really judge the business plan yet. As far as I've seen, this video from tabGeeks is one of the first installs with the actual square dish, and that video didn't really have any performance data, so I'm waiting to see how Starlink Business pans out.

Starlink v2 Satellite production Starlink pez dispenser

And how about those fabled Gen 2 satellites, that are supposed to solve many of the performance problems with Starlink? Well, they're about five times heavier than the original sats.

Because of that, they can't be launched on a Falcon 9. SpaceX is betting Starlink's future on a Gen 2 satellite that hasn't been tested in orbit, and it requires a rocket—the Starship—that hasn't even launched yet.

I do think Starship will launch—but there are definite concerns over the Gen 2 satellites.

SpaceX's original goal was to launch tens of thousands of V1 sats. People rightly worried about short-term effects of a satellite collision or unplanned deorbits. Some of those concerns were overblown, but that was with a 500 lb satellite.

What happens if a few of these 1.2-ton satellites break up? The orbit will decay, but can SpaceX guarantee it'll still burn up before it hits the ground? How will they prevent at least short-term issues in their current LEO orbital plane in the case of a collision?

A lot of Starlink's future rides on the combined success of both Starship and the V2 satellite. A lot has to go right to get both of those in orbit quickly. Otherwise, Starlink's going to suffer from performance problems all the time, not just during 'rush-hours'.

Better but not great

Starlink is NOT in beta anymore. Even if it feels like it for many customers.

SpaceX doesn't have an excuse, they have to figure out how to provide a decent level of service to existing customers, and help the thousands of people waiting in the preorder queue. And Musk fans need to realize that just because Starlink is better than the DSL or dial-up rural customers had before, that doesn't give SpaceX any right to slack off on customer service, or provide worse latency and bandwidth than originally promised.

In the end, like I said before, I want Starlink to succeed. If nothing else, I want it to spur competition again, so our Internet infrastructure can improve in the US and around the world. Even for—especially for—people who far from cities.

After the last three Starlink videos I posted, the next day there was some major announcement from SpaceX...

They did an announcement

And yes... they did it again—though this time it as just after I recorded the initial script above.

Starlink Maritime Coverage Map

Starlink just announced Starlink Maritime, a service that costs $10,000 upfront, and $5,000/month.

They'll send two terminals for sea vessels, with download speeds around 350 Mbps, and uploads capped at 40.

This isn't for your average houseboat, it's meant for people who have 'marine vessels' and need high-speed on the high seas. The best thing is, if they can figure out laser links so they can get Starlink beyond just the coastlines, landlubbers probably won't affect speeds way out in the ocean. At least as long as you don't get waves crashing over your dish!

Comments

I am in Canada and was among the first to enter the beta program. Same here. Started with 150+ and now 40. False advertising.

Go back to the alternative then. I hear XploreNet could use some more customers. See how that services compares from a throughput and latency perspective.

Don’t listen to all the Elon fan boys in here. I also got it as soon as it was available and I loved it but lately it’s been super disappointing. Between the raising of the monthly price and way slower speeds to now rumor of data caps. It is quickly just becoming xplornet

I've had Starlink since September 2021 and love it. Yes, my speeds have dipped at times, but I am one of the people whose ONLY option was DSL in the kbps even though I was supposedly Provisioned for up to 3.5mbps.

As for the V2 Satellites they should help a lot, but from your article it seems that you misunderstand the Laser Links. Those Links are Starlink Satellite to Starlink Satellite ONLY.

This should reduce Latency between them and positively impact Latency for users as well in the end. The Laser Links will also help with lack of enough Ground Stations AND reduce the number of them necessary. This will help worldwide coverage, but also especially towards the Poles where there may not be any or many places to put one, and no High Speed Fiber, etc to connect them to. ✌️

Because despite laser links, more ground stations, and better software, physics just can't be beat—at least not in any short term time-scale.

That's the text from the article—laser links may be helpful (as well as more ground stations, better sats, etc.), but they are not a magic bandaid—each laser link can reach a saturation point as well (no network equipment can handle infinite packets).

The best thing about laser links would be the ability for Starlink to route connections better for users who are further from a ground station (especially out at sea), or to spread bandwidth between ground stations more effectively.

Honestly, all these people complaining about slow speeds on Starlink drive me a little crazy. If I could get 25mbps DSL that was super reliable with very low latency, I wouldn't be a Starlink customer in the first place.

I think the first generation Starlink is best for people like me - I have crappy Hughesnet with monthly data caps, very slow and erratics speeds, very high latency. In theory, Hughesnet often speed tests at 25mbps or even 40mbps, but in practice they seem to only have a surge capacity. If you go beyond a few seconds, the speeds come way down. In general, to download a one-hour TV show over Hughesnet takes me 2-3 hours. Streaming is out of the question. YouTube is mostly out of the question.

With Starlink, I download a 1hr TV show in under 15 seconds in most casts. Streaming is uninterrupted since it can buffer ahead. YouTube is easy.

It isn't perfect. Because I don't have a clear view of the sky, I have a lot of outages. This means that if I'm logged into a remote server by SSH, it can be annoying. Facetime and Zoom are annoying. But everything else works well. Compared to Hughesnet or Viasat (we've had both), it feels like entering the 21st century.

So yes, it's not a competitor for fiber. It's maybe not even a competitor for DSL. But it absolutely blows geosynchronous satellite out of the water. If Starlink and the other LEO companies get fully deployed, Hughesnet and Viasat are dead.

We too suffer through Hughesnet and have the same issues you mention, in addition to too often weather related service losses. I put my deposit in to Starlink over 16 months ago and still hear/have nothing. My local electric provider here in north central Pennsylvania is planning on installing fiber optics within a year or year and a half and I fear that may be my salvation since Starlink continues to be MIA.

Starlink was great during beta. But now its worst internet and streaming we have ever had this us last month we are going local company . It was great too bad.

People who preordered years ago are often still waiting, while people who buy with roaming at a different address can cut in line. Sadly, outside of disabling roaming, there's not a whole lot Starlink can do. The saying is cheaters never prosper... but in the case of getting Starlink sooner, they do.

They fixed that a few months ago. The terms of service now state that if you're a residential user in roaming mode, and you're in the same location for more than two billing cycles, you can be further deprioritized below the roaming levels. They haven't documented how low that is, but if it's below residential roaming and RV priority, it could drop to almost nothing.

I cancelled my reservation after waiting over a year. Why? Hate the pollution of night skies. Hate the obvious risk of the Kessler syndrome. Hate the PUBLIC financing this company gets while privatizing their profits and overcharging customers. Hate Elon for being an enormously wealthy A' while treating workers like crap and bloating his way through life screwing the rest of us!

Keep note that Starlink satellites been LEO will reenter earth atmospheres and burn within 5 years. This is the solution to avoid cluttering dead satellites in a special orbit.

I've been a beata tester for about a year and a half in the Kansas City area the speed varies a lot. But it's still better than anything else on the market where I live. I'm pleased that I'm not hit with a lot of advertisements and the cost. I'm not power user as most users are, so it's plenty fast. 160 mps this morning.

Look, we just like the fact that we can finally stream. We've had Hughesnet forever. And we had Dish for TV. Now we've gotten rid of both and are paying half as much and we love it and we can all stream movies and videos and facecalls all at the same time. We live in the woods and in order for us to get signal we have to have the satellite waaaayyyy out in a field and the 150 foot cord we had to order only reaches to our green house. So we have the router in the greenhouse pointed toward our main house. In our main house we have a signal booster and it does ok but we are now looking to upgrade to a mesh system. Honestly, the only thing that scares me is how long it may take them to get another system out here if or when this one gives out.

Look into Ubiquiti litebeam gen 2. You need a pair of those to aim from your green house to your home. Then the connection between the two will be lossless for speed and only about 1ms of additional latency.
Pickup an AC version of the ISP Cube as well, they daisy chain to the CPE (litebeam) so you will have a router as well all in one.

It took me 3 weeks to get customer support to answer a message, there's no phone number to call. Once they contacted, I had to take pictures of my install, affirm that the router is not in a wet area and they finally sent a refurbished replacement and shipping label for me to return my original. They also gave me a month service credit. Just FYI for when yours does eventually die.

Im a sr systems engineer, have been in IT for 22 years and I solve problems for the government that no one knows about. The problem is more subjective expectation than capacity. 50 Mbs is more than enough to do a whole lot of things simultaneously. I have never saturated a 50 Mbs connection to the point I was disappointed with performance. I'm sort of surprised to hear people complain about less than 100 Mbs speed when the vast majority of people probably don't use half that at any given point. Moreover end points will not necessarily be fast enough to keep up with that speed regardless of how fast starlink is. I'm in a very remote location and all I can do is rdp or ssh to my jump server. I'd be happy with 10 Mbs right now.

I am in Puerto Rico. And i got Starlink about 6 months ago. So far not awesome as I thought but it has its moments. Some days it runs at 60mb till like 6pm then it goes crazy with speeds over 200mb constantly. Gaming is sweet with it because i get around 26 of pin.... However it is still my back up. (I got fiber optic also)

Had 3-4 mbps on previous internet so even the 30-40 is a big improvement for me as a rural user.

I notice through all the complaining no one, not even the author, mentions a competitor to Starlink. Funny how people b and complain about a service that has no competition because none of the other LEO constellations are even in Beta.

Yes, it's slower cause people are on it and that means the service may even break even at some point. But really? Cancel it if you don't like it, and go with one of the other low latency high speed satellite internet providers...

Oh right.

Perhaps some faith in the dude who brought us the only functional nearly global LEO internet constellation, and oh yeah the only commercially successful reusable booster. (The one that has squashed prices per kg to orbit and destroyed ULAs economic rent seeking)

Geez.

****F.Y.I.>> Had Starlink since Feb./2021. Speeds were as promised, mostly. Up/Down...but usually in the low 100's....during the "Beta" time period. Then, last summer/fall, a few problems started occasionally, and when speed was checked....found very low numbers sometimes in single digits download. Now, just as a matter of principle....we were promised certain speeds for a certain price., period. Then a substantial price increase...with no improvements to service or speeds. Now.....cust. serv. is very poor, worse than before...and our speeds are decreasing!!! Way I see it....we are NOT GETTING WHAT WE WERE PROMISED....PERIOD. Bait and switch!! NOT good business, Mr. Elon Musk!!

The Bay Area, and all of these other metropolitan areas couldn't be worse examples. A vast majority of the folks who actually needed the service in very rural areas, where their only option was two-way VSAT (Hughes / XploreNet), are experiencing excellent service. These are the people who actually needed it.

While you are quick to point out SpaceX as oversubscribing, which I agree they have done in many areas. They seem to have a tough time turning away money. The larger, more obvious issue to me in the U.S. needs to be addressed. The lack of proliferation of high-speed Internet services in rural and urban areas. It's just tragic that people in the Bay Area for example would need Starlink to begin with. Starlink was never intended to fix that problem. So why isn't the government and all of these big corporations making investments in expanding services? I keep hearing people saying they are at the far end of a DSL string getting 200kbps data rates. Why isn't that being fixed?

Here in Western Canada our federal government and companies like Telus have been making huge investments in FTTX in every community including towns and rural areas. As well, they are even running fibre to every small community along the coast. Where all they have had was low throughput / high latency two-way satellite for the last few decades. Would be awesome to see more of this in the states...

I went from 4Mbps/10Kbps with local providers to 160Mbps/20Mbps with Starlink in my remote area.
Plus it is $20 cheaper! I am happy as hell with Starlink. No complaints.