Starlink: Australian pricing, launch date, features and competitors
Elon Musk's new satellite-based Internet service promises fast broadband across all of Australia. We've broken it all down as well as how it might fare versus the NBN or 5G.
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Satellite-based Internet isn't a new phenomenon in Australia, with consumers in Australia's more remote and regional communities using NBN Sky Muster since launch back in 2015. In 2021, however, the skies above us will open up to a fresh competitor in the satellite Internet space as Elon Musk's Starlink service becomes available Down Under.
What is Starlink?
- It's Elon Musk's new satellite Internet service, launched by private aerospace company SpaceX
- Broadband is provided from low-earth-orbit satellite "chains" or constellations
- By having a lot of satellites closer to the Earth than usual, almost anywhere could access high-speed Internet
When can I get a Starlink service in Australia?
Starlink's local website went live recently, with service availability promised in "mid to late 2021" for most addresses we've tested with.
Starlink is offering its services on a "first come, first served" basis, but there's no real indication as to what that really means in terms of available service numbers or expected customer loads.
How much will Starlink cost in Australia?
Starlink's indicative pricing at launch is for a single $139 a month plan with no stated data caps.
However, that's not all you'll pay as the receiver equipment also carries a $709 fee plus $100 for shipping. It's worth noting that Starlink is taking pre-orders now for that mid-to-late-2021 availability window, but you do have to pay the hardware and shipping fee upfront if you are selected as a Starlink customer.
What's in this guide?
- What is Starlink?
- When can I get a Starlink service in Australia?
- How much will Starlink cost in Australia?
- SpaceX and Starlink
- How fast will Starlink be in Australia?
- Will I be able to see the satellites from Australia?
- How does Starlink compare to the NBN?
- Starlink could be a strong competitor to NBN Sky Muster plans
- How does Starlink compare to 5G networks?
SpaceX and Starlink
Starlink is SpaceX's low-earth-orbit satellite constellation, first prototyped in 2018 and made available to North American consumers in late 2020. SpaceX's plan is to have thousands of low-earth satellites forming a global cluster capable of delivering Internet services to just about any spot on the planet.
The advantage of low-earth orbits is that there's less transmission space – quite literally – between the Starlink cluster and other competing satellite services, which should lead to theoretically faster services.
Time lapse taken of a Starlink satellite constellation (Getty)
How fast will Starlink be in Australia?
Starlink is advertising that its services will be capable of speeds from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s, with latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations. However, it also notes that there "will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all". Hopefully, that's a minimising problem as Starlink increases its satellite load over time.
However, bear in mind that like any wireless technology, there's a variety of factors that can affect your achievable speeds on the network, both environmental and in terms of network load. That will be part of why Starlink isn't offering universal service. Like a busy road, if it has too many customers trying to access its services at once, everyone's service could slow to a crawl.
Will I be able to see the satellites from Australia?
With the right equipment, (and sometimes with the naked eye), you can – although they're rapidly moving satellites. They circle the globe every 90 minutes, so you can't really afford to blink much. There's already a service tracking the likely visibility of Starlink's satellites, so grab that telescope and get spotting!
Example of satellite chain locations across Australia. Images taken from findstarlink.com, with graphics and legend overlaid for emphasis.
How does Starlink compare to the NBN?
This is a complex question because it depends on which NBN technology you're looking at. The vast majority of Australians are on fixed-line NBN, using technologies from FTTN upwards, and for those consumers, there are a few advantages to Starlink – as well as some solid disadvantages.
The obvious advantage point – taking Starlink at its word in terms of speed claims – is that for some NBN customers, especially those on lower-quality FTTN connections, that 150Mb/s rate may be faster than their NBN ISP can provide on their current connection.
That speed however, is at a considerably higher price point than most NBN 100 or even NBN 250 connections are currently priced at. While latency is always a variable, you're almost always going to see lower and therefore better latency numbers on a fixed line connection, too, which is important for services such as video conferencing, or more trivially, video gaming.
Less installation requirements: NBN for now
As a satellite-based service, you'd also need some kind of clear air space for reception equipment, which could put a lot of city dwellers, especially those in apartment blocks or densely packed urban areas out of contention.
Starlink could be a strong competitor to NBN Sky Muster plans
Starlink is a clearer competitor here for the smaller proportion of Australians on fixed wireless or NBN Sky Muster satellite services.
It's faster than the NBN's current 4g technology
NBN Fixed Wireless customers can currently access plans that top out at 75/10Mbps (down/up), so Starlink on paper has a speed edge here, although that's very much based on current 4G-based fixed wireless technologies.
NBN Co has shown some interest in rolling out 5G Fixed wireless services, with trials hitting an impressive 1Gbps over a 7km distance. It's also worth considering that fixed wireless NBN customers can get plans at sub-$100 price points with typical evening speeds in the lower range of Starlink's offerings.
For NBN Sky Muster customers, there are some solid potential benefits here if you're a heavier Internet user (or would like to be) because the Starlink speeds simply dwarf those of standard Sky Muster 25/5 or 12/1 plans in speed terms. Right now, there are also no data caps on Starlink plans, whereas Sky Muster services use data caps to ensure equal service availability for all users.
However it may not be as accessible
However, the flip side of that equation is that NBN is a government-owned business with a clear mandate to deliver broadband services to all Australians.
NBN Co is legislatively obliged to provide you with NBN Sky Muster or NBN Fixed Wireless services, whereas Starlink is a private business operating however it sees fit.
Starlink states that it's operating on a "first come, first served" basis, but that could mean that city dwellers looking to hook up will get the same priority as those whose only other broadband option would otherwise be satellite services.
NBN Sky Muster is cheaper
NBN Sky Muster services are also considerably cheaper than Starlink, and there's no $709 hardware fee to consider either.
How does Starlink compare to 5G networks?
They're both wireless, but the state of play for most consumers if you're in the position to weigh 5G up against Starlink doesn't really favour Starlink in any way at all.
If you're looking at fixed home 5G home broadband from the likes of Telstra or Optus, you can score cheaper plans with much better latency and potentially higher data rates too, although again this is network dependent. There are upfront modem costs, but they're nowhere near as high as Starlink's fees.
If you're looking at mobile 5G, device costs are higher – Telstra's 5G Wi-Fi Pro for example will set you back $599 outright – but it's still lower than Starlink. Most plans do have data caps, but also "endless data", albeit speed shaped if you do go over quota.
The catch here is coverage areas. While we've seen a rapid expansion in 5G availability in Australia over the two years since it first launched here, it's still heavily concentrated on high population areas across all three 5G networks.
Starlink can – in theory – deliver a service to any open-air spot across Australia. You won't get much of a 5G signal in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert but (presuming you could provide power) you could get a Starlink signal and service.
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