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Caveats as SpaceX Trial Cheaper Starlink Satellite Broadband Plan

Monday, Aug 22nd, 2022 (8:25 am) - Score 12,928

One of the biggest obstacles to wider UK adoption of SpaceX’s popular Starlink service, which offers ultrafast latency and broadband via a mega constellation of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), has been price. But a trial in France that cuts the monthly rental to €50 (£42) may be a sign of things to come. But say goodbye to unlimited.

At present, Starlink’s network has around 2,800 LEOs in orbit and their initial plan is to deploy a total of 4,425 by 2024. Customers in the UK usually pay from £89 per month and £529 for the kit (dish, router etc.). But for that you can expect unlimited usage, fast latency times of 20-40ms, downloads of c. 50-200Mbps and uploads of c.10-20Mbps (speeds may change as the network grows).

NOTE: The compact satellites weigh about 260Kg each and orbit the Earth at an altitude of c.550 kilometres (vs 35,000km for the traditional GSO platforms).

However, I neglected to report last week (sorry) that Starlink has just launched a new “pilot programme” in France, which slashes the monthly rental cost by around 50% to just 50 Euros per month. “This price reduction is part of a pilot program aimed at connecting the greatest number of people without degrading the quality of service. As a loyal Starlink user, the short-term payoff for you will be the same Starlink service at half price,” said the company.

Naturally, there’s a big catch to this, since satellite networks have some inherent capacity constraints, and we’ve long known that Starlink is no exception to this (here and here). The network is so big and expensive that, in order to support millions of potential customers, a sacrifice does need to be made somewhere.

Put another way. The more you share out the capacity of such a network, the greater the number of users that you can serve, but also the greater the risk that network congestion will creep in to suppress the speeds for some of your customers. Congestion is one of the reasons why more established GEO/GSO satellite operators often suffer big performance drops during peak times.

You can of course counter this by launching more satellites and setting up more ground stations, but at the certain point you have to think about the balance of your network and being able to turn a profit. Suffice to say, there’s long been a question mark over where SpaceX would find its balance, since offering both unlimited usage and 100Mbps+ speeds is a very expensive business.

The pilot in France thus comes alongside the introduction of a new Fair Usage Policy (FUP) and yes, you guessed it, that policy warns that customers who eat more than 250GB (GigaBytes) of data in a month may experience slower speeds due to network congestion (i.e. usage above 250GB will be given a lower priority on the network). But fear not, for you can “recover priority” by paying €10 per 100GB of data used.

Apparently, SpaceX will continue to sell such packages as an “unlimited” service, which if it were applied in the UK could see them getting into hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – they have always been very strict about abuses of “unlimited” terminology (example). Just for context, Ofcom reported at the end of 2021 that the average monthly data volume per UK household on a fixed broadband connection is 453GB.

The move is risky since it removes one of Starlink’s key selling points, while admittedly also making it much more affordable for wider adoption. But if SpaceX are going to do this, then we think it should be offered as a separate package – not enforced for existing customers. In addition, they’d need to find some way of clarifying what kind of performance impact customers could expect when they go over 250GB.

The trial is currently limited to France and it remains unclear whether we will see this being deployed in other countries (the final product may differ). You could of course argue that Starlink customers are already impacted by natural network congestion, but there’s a difference between general Traffic Management and targeted measures that deliberately limit your performance after you hit a certain threshold.

NOTE: Not all of Starlink’s users in France got the notice about their 250GB FUP and some just saw a price reduction, so they’re clearly testing the waters with different approaches right now.
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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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18 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    Just more rubbish stuck in space and more money for Musk.

    1. Avatar photo Sam P says:

      Meanwhile you’re sat complaining in the comment section. Good job, keep it up.

    2. Avatar photo Gary H says:

      Sam P what’s your point?

  2. Avatar photo Optimist says:

    I don’t see what the problem is with paying by the gigabyte. Nothing is unlimited. It’s easy to log in to the router to see how much you upload and download.

    1. Avatar photo Iain says:

      There’s nothing wrong in principle with paying by the gigabyte. But that doesn’t excuse misleadingly advertising a capped policy as ‘unlimited’.

      Of course, giffgaff have prior art with their ‘always on’ bundle, which is 80 GB unrestricted, then afterwards you are significantly speed capped. I think they could be clearer in the headline about this, but at least they don’t call it unlimited.

  3. Avatar photo Jerry says:

    People tend to go crazy on bandwidth when you’ve been stuck on a slow connection for so long, but after a while summer comes and you find other things to do. Saving £42/month is a lot of money over a year, and buying the extra data just in winter might be worth it.

    Ideally you’d want to pay the extra £42 ad-hoc for a 1-month unlimited boost perhaps?

  4. Avatar photo Bob says:

    £89 a month !!! How is that cheap

  5. Avatar photo Tom says:

    Ofcom are an absolute disgrace.

    When I was on 4mb BB and only EE offered over 10mb, their unlimited was over the acceptable cost threshold of £46 a month. I was told that 100gb is a satisfactory amount of data for the average household (agreed by OR and Ofcom) and therefore Openreach didn’t have to commit to the USO. I felt like I was told to F off.

    Funny, a complaint to the CE of Openreach and my local MP and FTTP is now installed. Took around a year from the original complaint.

  6. Avatar photo Damian says:

    We usually use around a terrabyte a month (download). This month due to work backups I’ll probably need to upload 1Tb at 12Mbps. I suspect it will be quicker and cheaper to drive to the office so I can use thier 1Gbps connection.

    Wish I could get fttp fitted before I retire but there are no plans for my local exchange.

    I pay for the fastest I can get with connection guarantees… Once I retire then I’ll look to pay as little as possible…

  7. Avatar photo Zarry says:

    Oh c’mon we live in 21st century people why do even data caps still exist. In my case scenario my internet usage per month usually is over 700 gb

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      You can’t have unlimited data and unlimited speeds when the connection itself has a limit. I mean, you can, but then speeds will be bad for everyone.

      In any case, this is a new “cheap” plan available in France only, not what most customers have right now.

  8. Avatar photo Berry Well says:

    As a current Starlink subscriber this news while isn’t surprising, it is still disappointing to hear.

    If this is forced onto me then this will take me back to the bad old days of the early 2000s, where I had to monitor how many hours (dial up) and then data downloads (ADSL) I had been using.

    If the FUP is really as low as 250GB and then speeds are severely reduced afterwards, I may have leave Starlink and go back to the slower speeds but cheaper costs of my unlimited VDSL line and schedule overnight downloads again.

    Time will tell but I shall be keeping a close eye on this.

    1. Avatar photo John says:

      You need to read the article again.

      This only affects users in France who have taken the new, cheaper, limited package.

      They haven’t introduced a 250GB FUP for you at your current price.

    2. Avatar photo Mike says:

      If Starlink reduces price but with cap you could use the saving to get an extra VDSL line.

  9. Avatar photo Ex Telecom Engineer says:

    What’s the point of offering a LEO service in developed countries, like the UK and France? The mobile companies are installing masts at an ever increasing pace, so 4G may currently be an option for most rural areas, and soon 5G. If my home location is anything to go by, I’ve noticed compact mast monopoles and lattice masts appearing in ever increasing numbers, so rural users will soon have good mobile coverage wherever they are. I can understand how Starlink might be useful for vast under developed areas like Africa, or small Islands where it’s uneconomical to install a subsea cable, or for ships, planes and motor homes. My guess is UK LEO sevice demand will be low, apart from possibly enthusiasts and as a stop gap while for some deep pocketed users in current poorly served areas.

    1. Avatar photo Gary H says:

      5G isn’t likely to be a solution for rural areas given the range issues. Providers arent going to erect masts and run power to make 5G coverage a realistic option outside of rural towns or villages. 4G coverage is patchy in my area so any 5G upgrades to the current masts will make no difference to the many people currently relying on 4G.

      I’m no fan of LEO constellations for broadband, Its an appalling waste of resources and the bigger the deployment the more waste as short life sats burn up in the atmosphere.

      Even the so called hard to reach or difficult connections in the west fade into insignificance compared to continents like Africa, so I don’t really agree that LEO is the solution. As for shipping and internet on aeroplanes ! Really ? You don’t need internet on a long haul flight, remember want and need aren’t the same thing.

    2. Avatar photo Ex Telecom Engineer says:

      “5G isn’t likely to be a solution for rural areas given the range issues. Providers arent going to erect masts and run power to make 5G coverage a realistic option outside of rural towns or villages. 4G coverage is patchy in my area so any 5G upgrades to the current masts will make no difference to the many people currently relying on 4G”

      Rural 5G will use similar bands to the current 4G service, so I don’t see range issues due to Frequency. The shorter range less penetrative EHF bands, will be used in high population areas like shopping centres, stadiums, etc. The difference between 4G and 5G will be more advanced antenna’s and better use of Carrier aggregation, but even 4G can offer really good speeds in low population rural areas. As I said previously, mobile providers are building masts everywhere, I expect coverage in your area will improve dramatically in the not too distant future.

    3. Avatar photo NeilM says:

      In some countries, the masts may be 4/5G, but the backbone will be LEO satellites.

      It solves the insane costs for laying fibre everywhere, until fibre is laid everywhere.

      Regarding, the 4/5G masts, they aren’t being put everywhere and we still have line of sight issues.

Comments are closed

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