By Kelly Hill
Low-Earth Orbit satellite broadband service Starlink reached a median download speed that achieves the 100-Mbps service tier baseline for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund program, according to Ookla data and analysis from the fourth quarter of 2021.
That’s a notable milestone, considering that Starlink’s median download speed in the third quarter of 2021 was 87.25 Mbps and that it needs to deliver 100 Mbps speeds as part of the nearly US$900 million in RDOF awards that it won to deliver high-speed service across parts of the United States. The Federal Communications Commission recently announced revamped accountability measures for RDOF, to more closely scrutinize whether companies who won funding actually deliver the service levels that they have committed to — in part, as a response to protests that Starlink was able to win so much funding despite the fact that it was not providing commercial service at the time of the RDOF auction.
However, while the topline number looks good, Ookla found that Starlink’s performance “continues to vary widely at the county level.” In this case, “vary widely” means a 130-Mbps difference between the fastest and slowest median speeds.
In Miami Dade County in Florida, for instance, Ookla clocked Starlink’s median performance at 191.08 Mbps, while the slowest median speed was measured in Columbia County, Oregon, at 64.95 Mbps. But, Ookla’s Josh Fomon noted in a blog post on the results, even that low-end speed more than met the FCC’s basic performance tier for a service to be considered “broadband internet,” which is 25 Mbps. The same can’t be said of other satellite providers SES, Viasat and HughsNet; the latter two trundled in with speeds around 20 Mbps, while SES delivered a median download speed of less than 3 Mbps.
Ookla’s testing in the second quarter and third quarter of last year had showed a dip in Starlink’s performance: From median download speed of 97.23 Mbps during the second quarter of 2021, to a median of 87.25 Mbps in the third quarter. Ookla noted that this “could be a function of adding more customers.” Now the company has continued its upward climb on speeds.
However, Ookla did not a slight decrease in Starlink’s median upload speed between the third and fourth quarters, from 13.54 Mbps to 12.04 Mbps. Latency for the LEO broadband provider was about 40 milliseconds, compared to median latency in the 600-700 ms range for traditional satellite providers and just 14 ms for fixed broadband.
Overall, Starlink’s performance is the only one of the tested satellite providers which comes close to being on-part with wireline broadband performance in the US.