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SpaceX Show Latency Improvements on Starlink Broadband Network

Saturday, Mar 9th, 2024 (6:55 am) - Score 3,880
spacex_leo_starlink_vs_gso_broadband_satellite

Starlink (SpaceX) has revealed some of the progress they’ve been making to further improve the latency performance across their mega constellation of ultrafast broadband satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), which has long held the goal of delivering a service with stable 20 millisecond (ms) median latency and minimal packet loss.

The operator currently has 5,548 LEO satellites in orbit around the Earth (altitudes of c.500-600km) and they’re in the process of adding thousands more by the end of 2027. Customers in the UK typically pay from £75 a month for a 30-day term, plus £449 for hardware (currently discounted to £225 or £150 if refurbished) and £20 for shipping (currently free) on the ‘Standard’ plan, which promises fast internet latency times of 25-50ms, downloads of c. 25-100Mbps and uploads of c. 5-10Mbps.

NOTE: At the end of 2023 Starlink’s global network had 2.3 million customers (currently 2.6m) and 42,000 of those were in the UK (up from 13,000 in 2022) – mostly in rural areas.

One of the well-known advantages of sticking your satellite constellation in a LEO, which means the spacecraft will reside significantly closer to the earth than geosynchronous (GEO / GSO) platforms (the huge double-decker bus sized comms satellites often sit c.35,000km away), is that your signals only have to travel a relatively short distance and this is particularly good for latency.

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Just for some context. Latency is a measure of the time that it takes for a packet of data to travel from your computer to a remote server and then back again (ping). The delay is measured in milliseconds (e.g. 1000ms = 1 second) and modern broadband connections will often have an average latency of anything from around c.4ms to 40ms. Faster latency means smoother fast-paced online multiplayer games, generally more responsive internet actions, fewer sync problems in video calls and so forth.

But what is normal for your connection will depend on lots of different factors. A faster score (shortest time) is always best for latency, although the times can be affected by various things, such as the performance of remote internet servers, the connection technology being used, network congestion at your ISP, peering / routing problems and the setup of your own home network etc.

Starlink’s Improvements

The good news is that Elon Musk’s Starlink network is slowly delivering improvements. According to the latest update, Starlink claims to have “meaningfully reduced median and worst-case latency for users around the world.” For example, in the USA they’ve reduced median latency by more than 30%, from 48.5ms to 33ms during hours of peak usage.

The operator also reports that worst-case peak hour latency (p99) has dropped by over 60%, from over 150ms to less than 65ms. Outside of the United States, they have similarly reduced median latency by up to 25% and worst-case latencies by up to 35%. You can get a rough idea of how this has changed by looking at the network’s measurements of latency over the past 2-3 months for the USA below.

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In order to measure Starlink’s latency, the operator collects anonymized measurements from millions of Starlink routers every 15 seconds. These 15 second average latencies are then used to calculate the median and worst- case latency. The median (50th percentile or p50) refers to the point where half of the latency measurements are below that number and the other half are above. The worst-case latency, or 99th percentile, is defined as the place where 99% of measurements are better than the point.

While we look at data from all points in time, we specifically focus on the performance during hours of peak usage (6-9 PM local time), when the largest number of people are using Starlink, and the network is under the most load,” said the operator.

Starlink’s Latency Over Time (Jan-March 2024)

Starlink-Latency-Over-Time-Jan-to-March-2024

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Over the past several months, monitoring and metrics have also been added across the network to measure latency on every subsystem down to the microsecond. “We have rigorously tuned our algorithms to prefer paths with lower latency, no matter how small the difference, and to remove any and all sources of unnecessary and non-physical latency,” said the operator. “You can expect latency to continue to improve over the coming weeks and months as we prioritize software changes, build additional ground infrastructure, and launch more satellites.”

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Mark-Jackson
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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Comments
5 Responses
  1. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

    Indeed. Mine is showing anything from 25-35 now – down from the 48-40 I used to have. Speeds have also gone up until about 4PM when it doors to about 150 but before that i have seen high as 479 on Speed tests as have others. At the moment the UK still seems under served which is good. I just wish the price was lowered like they have done over most of Europe.

    1. Avatar photo Onephat says:

      Yeh agreed. I can often see high 300 to low 400mbs outside of really peek times. It never really drops below 180 now. Pings in the low 20s are pretty much a daily occurrence now.

    1. Avatar photo I love Starlink says:

      okay so it showed 45 on this one but that’s 1 test

      https://www.nperf.com/r/3502035353186814-69fKOOqf

      Here’s another one (and it’s raining heavy too)

  2. Avatar photo William Wilkinson says:

    I’ve had Starlink since beta. I play FPS game Apex legends. I have a heavy internet use family. I check my Starlink statistics everyday. I’ve noticed dramatic performance improvements over the last 3 months or so. Live in Lancashire.

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