Starlink Hits Problems with Network Congestion

Starlink has experienced problems recently as the service continues to gain popularity. With issues affecting speed dragging down the system for some users, there are concerns that the problem will become more pronounced over time.
Representative Image.
Representative Image.Pixabay

Starlink has experienced problems recently as the service continues to gain popularity. With issues affecting speed dragging down the system for some users, there are concerns that the problem will become more pronounced over time. As some customers consider dropping their subscriptions as mentioned by PCMag, this development leaves some questions about whether the change represents teething pains or a serious long-term issue.

The What and How of the Problem

The internet service Starlink has been touted as revolutionizing satellite connectivity since its first launch in 2019. Advances in Starlink are thanks to its newer approach to solving the problem of latency. Latency, also called lag, refers to the delay which occurs when signals are sent over a long distance.

Since traditional internet satellites are located around 22,300 miles above the planet, the distance and infrastructure of these connections apply a latency of around half a second. They have to be this distance because they're geostationary, where being any closer and staying locked would cause them to fall into the planet. Starlink uses a wide array of many satellites as we’ve discussed at NewsGram, which quickly orbit at a much closer distance to avoid falling into the planet. It’s this proximity that also allows them less lag of around 50-100 milliseconds.

By using more modern technology and spreading the load of the internet out more, Starlink also creates opportunities for far faster bandwidth speeds, or at least it did. Starlink’s reputation for better speed than competitors has been struggling recently, with reports that its formerly celebrated connection is now unusably slow for some customers.

The blame for this development ostensibly lies in the popularity of the platform. Starlink's user base has been on a constant uptick since the service began. This has been aided recently by the launch of mobile Starlink for RVs, as covered on the Mobile Internet Resource Center. Greater load on the Starlink infrastructure has pushed the system to a crawl, to what some users call an unacceptable level.

When in peak condition, Starlink boasted a download bandwidth of 160 Mbps. With current issues, some users have reported speeds that average between 1-10 Mbps. This is slower than many older DSL connections and would cause issues for a great many, though not all, contemporary internet services.

What Can Slow Starlink Manage

For a more direct look at what slower Starlink would imply to customers, the use case is the most important measuring stick. If we assume the 1-10 Mbps connection as reported, the slower speed would affect typical uses in several ways.

The most common use for casual users, video streaming, has different demands depending on the service. YouTube, for example, has requirements for 720p viewing of around 2.5 Mbps constant, according to Zen. 1080p then requires at least 4 Mbps, with higher resolutions and frame rates bumping up requirements at each step. If Starlink moves between 1 and 10 Mbps, then even the lower end of modern streaming qualities wouldn’t play reliably.

Less demanding video streaming services like those available for online casinos such as Betway would probably run slightly better. These live casino games like Live Mega Roulette and Live Blackjack Lobby tend not to have as high requirements or take up as much of the screen as traditional video streams, so they place less stress on a connection. That said, if Starlink speeds dropped below the extreme end then even this form of streaming would experience problems.

Representative Image.
Representative Image.Pixabay

Audio streaming on platforms like Amazon Music or the other popular services we explored at NewsGram is less demanding than their video-only counterparts. These require only around 0.5 Mbps on the low end according to HighSpeedInternet.com, so even a slowed-down Starlink shouldn't have problems here, at least in this regard.

On the lowest end of demand are the most basic uses like general browsing. While different websites apply different loads, this is one instance where even the low end of Starlink's bandwidth seldom matters. The one exception might be larger video ads, which will inevitably slow loading but not anywhere close to old 56k levels.

Additional Issues

While the above use cases might not make Starlink seem like a bad choice for certain users, it’s also worth noting that the technology is hardly flawless in other regards either. The most pronounced issue of the technology comes from how the dish needs to track moving satellites across the sky. To be most effective at this task, the dish needs a clear line of sight directly in front of where it is faced, but this limits many natural locations.

For home users, surrounding houses, trees, hills, and weather conditions can all hamper the dish's ability to connect. With extreme weather conditions getting worse due to climate change, which we've covered at NewsGram before, these concerns are only likely to grow worse. Camping sites, which would utilize Starlink for RVs, are usually even more problematic for visibility concerns.

Future upgrades and additional satellites added to Starlink rings will eventually raise the ceiling again for the technology. This will allow more simultaneous users, but whether supply can meet demand is still up for debate. Add onto this the ramifications of limited cover and the usefulness of Starlink for the average user is in question.

Like any promising new technology, it could be a better idea to let the system settle before jumping in. Advancements might prove naysayers wrong, but on the other hand, we'd encourage users to take anything Elon Musk has a hand in with a few grains of salt. As articulated at Curbed, many of his ideas are flawed in both theory and practice, with promises far exceeding physical realities. That said, the proof is in the pudding, and with some more time in the oven, Starlink could be just what some users need.

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