Starlink intros faster LEO satellite broadband tier for $500 per month

Starlink, the SpaceX LEO satellite broadband venture, is introducing a high-priced premium tier that promises faster speeds and increased throughput.

The Elon Musk-backed provider is taking orders now for the new tier, dubbed “Starlink Premium,” with deliveries expected to start in the second quarter.

Starlink’s website says customers on the premium service can expect download speeds between 150-500 Mbps (compared to the 100-200 Mbps range Starlink touts for its current service). It also promises latency of 20-40 ms. However, the improved speeds come at a price. To get the premium tier customers need to dole out $2,500 in one-time hardware fee for the equipment and $500 per month for service. The service requires a refundable $500 deposit, plus shipping and taxes.

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The premium tier price represents a steep increase from the basic Starlink service, which charges users around $500 for hardware and just under $100 per month for service.

Last summer during an MWC keynote session Musk discussed wanting to lower the cost of the user terminals for Starlink, saying the company was losing money on them and was working to develop next-gen dishes that would provide roughly the same level of capability but be less expensive for the company. He also expressed wanting to lower the hardware cost for consumers on the standard tier to around $250 or $300.

It appears Starlink might be targeting small business users with the new premium tier, as the website notes it enables “high throughput connectivity for small offices, storefronts and super users across the globe.”

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In a Wednesday tweet Musk said Starlink’s new high performance antenna is “twice the area of our standard phased array with broader scan angle.”

Starlink also said its premium tier is designed for better performance in extreme weather conditions and comes with 24/7 prioritized customer support. As reported by PCMag, some customers waiting to get Starlink service were disappointed last year, when numerous pre-order delivery dates were pushed back to sometime in 2022, from an expected mid-to-late 2021 timeframe. A SpaceX email at the time cited silicon shortages that slowed down production.

Ookla analysis of Starlink’s LEO broadband service performance in Q3 2021 showed median download speeds dropped to 87.25 Mbps, down from 97.23 Mbps in Q2 – which the test and measurement company said could be a result of adding more customers. But the Starlink service still significantly outpaced median speeds recorded for satellite providers HughesNet and Viasat, which came in below 20 Mbps - under the FCC minimum threshold for broadband of 25 Mbps down.   

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In a recent column for FierceWireless, industry analyst and consultant Tim Farrar highlighted challenges of Starlink and LEO satellites , which he said are much closer to the earth and unlike GEOs move around in the sky, making service obstruction more likley as well as more challenging to solve for. He also called out capacity constraints due to the amount of spectrum available for LEOs.

“Overall, while Starlink represents an admirable first attempt to develop a LEO broadband system and bring more choices to rural U.S. consumers, it cannot and will not become the only option for satellite broadband in the U.S. or around the world, because in many areas at least some potential customers will be unable to access Starlink, due to capacity limitations and/or the difficulty of securing a reliable line-of-sight to the constellation,” wrote Farrar.

As of January, Starlink said it had more than 145,000 users in 25 countries with around 1,800 satellites in orbit.