These days, there’s no question that you need an internet connection. The new question is about how you should connect to the internet. Should you choose an innovative option like Starlink or a tried-and-true connection from an ISP (internet service provider)?
Starlink, the satellite internet service backed by Elon Musk, is a fully wireless connectivity solution. Like other providers of satellite internet, Starlink allows customers to connect to the internet from virtually anywhere using a satellite dish.
ISPs offer a more “traditional” way to connect to the internet. Instead of using satellites, ISPs—like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, to name a few US examples—rely on several methods to connect homes and businesses. In most cases, an underground copper or fiber optic cable will connect you to the internet.
So, when it comes to Starlink vs ISPs, which should you choose? To help you decide, let’s compare each service’s speed, latency, reliability, availability and cost.
Starlink claims to have a download speed of up to 300 Mbps (megabits per second). However, in practice, Starlink users in the US are more likely to see download speeds in the range of 60–90 Mbps. Upload speeds have been hovering around 9–17 Mbps. Starlink’s speed will continue to fluctuate as more customers sign on and the company expands its fleet.
When you connect to the internet through an ISP, your speed will depend on what’s available in your area. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with fiber internet, you could enjoy blazing-fast upload and download speeds. For example, AT&T offers a 5 Gbps (5,000 Mbps) fiber package.
Unfortunately, fiber only accounts for 20% of the US internet service market share, so it’s far from the standard. For those without access to fiber, a download speed of 25–100 Mbps is more typical.
The good news is that either option should be sufficient. The FCC asserts that a 25 Mbps download speed is fast enough for most applications—including streaming HD video and gaming—so Starlink and most ISPs can deliver. Still, for the fastest possible internet speeds, there’s no better choice than an ISP that offers a fiber internet connection.
Latency—the delay in communications between devices—can impact your internet experience.
Historically, satellite internet access has been synonymous with high latency, as signals had to travel thousands of miles. However, since Starlink satellites are in low Earth orbit (LEO), latency isn’t much of an obstacle. Field tests of Starlink’s service reveal a latency of 40–50 milliseconds—slightly higher than the advertised delay of 20–40 milliseconds.
As for ISPs, the FCC reports that typical latency ranges from 12–26 milliseconds for cable and 8–13 milliseconds for fiber.
Overall, because cabled internet provides a direct connection, service from an ISP will likely have less latency. However, Starlink isn’t far behind, and the gap should continue to shrink. For most users, either option should be acceptable; anything under 50ms is suitable for even the fastest-paced online games.
For the most part, Starlink is exceptionally reliable. A piece of space junk could take down a single Starlink satellite. However, nothing short of a massive solar flare would cause the entire constellation to drop out (and then we’d have a bigger problem on our hands). However, like all satellite internet services, Starlink’s connection can be affected by inclement weather.
A cabled connection is also safe from potential damages, as most ISP services run their cables underground. With that said, ISPs can sometimes suffer network outages, especially during weather events or power outages. Some ISPs are more reliable than others, so it’s worth researching the options in your area.
Ultimately, both options are relatively reliable, though Starlink will be better for those in rural areas.
One of the most exciting benefits of satellite internet is unrestricted access from anywhere in the world. While Starlink has yet to reach 100% global coverage, it already offers connectivity to parts of the globe that may otherwise be unconnected.
At the time of writing, Starlink’s coverage map shows availability in the following locations:
- United States (excluding the South, Midwest and the Pacific Seaboard)
- Canada (excluding southern Ontario)
- Europe (excluding Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo)
- New Zealand
In 2023, Starlink plans to expand its coverage to the rest of the US and Europe, as well as much of Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia. By 2024, most of South America and Africa will also be covered.
Currently, ISPs offer more thorough coverage of the US, but they don’t reach every part of the country. The FCC’s National Broadband Map shows that swaths of the US still lack fixed and mobile broadband coverage. Considering that ISPs have had years to connect those areas, it seems likely that they’ll remain unconnected until it becomes profitable.
When it comes to availability, Starlink is the clear winner. ISPs may cover more ground today, but Starlink provides coverage in places that ISPs have neglected for decades. What’s more, once Starlink expands its coverage in 2024, most of the globe will have access to a high-speed connection.
Last—but certainly not least—there’s the cost. Starlink currently offers three plans that might interest the average user:
- Starlink internet – After the one-time equipment fee of $599, residential users pay $110 per month.
- Starlink Business – After the one-time setup fee of $2,500, businesses pay $500 per month to access Starlink from anywhere.
- Starlink for RVs – Users on the move can enjoy connectivity for $150 per month (plus a one-time fee of $2,500 for in-motion hardware or $599 for portable hardware).
With ISPs, internet costs vary significantly. Depending on where you live and the type of service you need, you could pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per month for a reliable connection. With that said, the average cost for high-speed internet in the US is around $58 per month, though installation fees, equipment rentals and add-on packages can add up and drive your bills higher.
It’s difficult to say which provider wins this category. Most people will find that ISPs offer the most affordable option, but you get what you pay for. If you need mobility or connectivity in hard-to-reach places, satellite internet is worth the investment.
Starlink vs ISP: Which is Best?
Choosing the right internet provider depends on your needs, budget and lifestyle. If you live in an urban area, you’ll likely have access to affordable high-speed internet through an ISP.
However, if you live further afield or travel extensively, Starlink may be your best—or only—option.
For a best-of-both-worlds approach that combines the reliability and low-latency promise of ISP-based internet with the availability of satellite internet, try FUSION from IP Access International. FUSION uses a variety of satellite and cellular networks to give you a fast, reliable internet connection—no matter where you are.
We’d love to tell you more about the future of satellite internet connectivity. To learn more about our connectivity options, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.