Starlink latency

Elon Musk continues to move forward with his Starlink project, which seeks to carry out high-performance satellite internet throughout the planet, and revealed some details of his performance, which will undoubtedly make many happy.


Elon Musk says Starlink will have latencies of 20ms, making it ideal for gaming


How Starlink Low Latency Works?

Starlink satellite

The key to the low latency compared to current satellite connections is in the distance from satellites to Earth. In the case of Starlnk, these are located in Low Earth orbit between 540 and 570 kilometers above the surface. For its part, the geostationary satellites used so far are located much further away, which makes latencies rise to 600 ms.

So we know Starlink would be way better both in latency and cost than regular satellite internet, but what about Optic Fiber?


Starlink vs Optic Fiber (latency)

The speed of light depends on the medium it travels through. While in the vacuum it is faster (299,792 km/s), in fiber optic it is about 31% slower (204,190 km/s). This means the signal would travel faster through Starlink than through Optic Fiber, sure in the case of the former the information has to go all the way to space and back, but this adds a small amount of time as Starlink satellites are at a height of only 550 km. If you send a signal to a satellite at this height that is directly above you it would take less than 2 milliseconds to get there, while if you send a signal 500 km away using Optic Fiber, it would take about 31% to reach.

There are other factors to take into consideration, such as the hops to major data centers and the processing of the signal. Elon Musk says the following about it.

Elon Musk on Starlink

Sub 20ms latency, this is the promise Elon Musk makes, and he has a good track record so we should believe him, but there are people and agencies that doubt what the entrepreneur said, let's see what their arguments are.


Starlink vs Regular satellite internet

Internet traffic via a geostationary satellite has a minimum theoretical round-trip latency of at least 477 ms (between user and ground gateway), but in practice, current satellites have latencies of 600 ms or more.

If Starlink is to have the same theoretical/real ratio as regular satellite internet, with a theoretical performance close to 20 ms in the case of the former, you would get around 30 ms latency in real life, which is still an order of magnitude better than current technology, and it can compete with many fiber optic and 4G connections too. But what about 5G?


Starlink vs 5G

5G and Starlink are perfectly complementary. While 5G is to be massively used in cities, Starlink is for those rural areas regular internet connection won't reach. 5G is expected to communicate devices such as cars, drones and phones with very low latencies, while Starlink is all about coverage.


FCC about Starlink Latency

The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is not convinced by Elon Musk's promises about Starlink's performance. Although it does not doubt, for now, of the speeds, it does that of the promised latencies. As we have already mentioned, the expected latency of this connection would be around less than 20 ms, greatly improving current satellite connections, which currently are not suitable for gaming, unless you were willing to play with almost a second of delay.

The FCC latency requirement for "low latency satellite internet" is sub 100ms, which is way more humble than what Space X is trying to achieve. "Short-form applicants seeking to bid as a low-latency provider using low-Earth orbit satellite networks will face a substantial challenge demonstrating to Commission staff that their networks can deliver real-world performance to consumers below the Commission's 100 ms low-latency threshold," the FCC said.



Starlink is not going to be for everyone

Rural area

While explaining why Starlink is not a threat to telcos, Elon said that the service would not be for everyone, but rather for those who live in rural areas.

"I want to be clear, it's not like Starlink is some huge threat to telcos. I want to be super clear it is not," Musk said. "In fact, it will be helpful to telcos because Starlink will serve the hardest-to-serve customers that telcos otherwise have trouble doing with landlines or even with... cell towers."

Starlink will likely serve the "3 or 4 percent hardest-to-reach customers for telcos" and "people who simply have no connectivity right now, or the connectivity is really bad," Musk said. "So I think it will be actually helpful and take a significant load off the traditional telcos."


Starlink connection price?

SpaceX has not said how much Starlink will cost, but the company has said in the past that millions of US residents pay $80 per month to get "crappy service," which hints at a price around said number.


What is the size of a Starlink Satellite?

Each satellite is roughly the size of a table and has a mass of approximately 260 kg.


When can I get Starlink?

The initial beta test will apply to those located in “high latitudes,” Musk added. To date, SpaceX has said that Starlink service will initially be made available to customers in Canada and in the northern United States in 2020, with additional service expansion to follow to other parts of the world throughout 2021