SpaceX’s satellite Internet service Starlink is constantly increasing its coverage, bringing “extraterrestrial” Internet to every inch of the Earth.
The possibility of receiving Internet from space is, without a doubt, exciting. However, as Starlink grows, some of the same issues that customers of regular ISPs (Internet Service Providers) complain about are starting to creep into SpaceX’s satellite Internet offering. What bothers users is the data limit, known as the data cap. Starlink is set to implement data caps for users, but when do Starlink data caps start and how much can you download using Starlink?
But before that…
Starlink Targets the Ugandan Market
According to reports, Starlink is apparently focusing on the Ugandan market in a move that might completely change the East African nation’s Internet service industry.
The US-based company run by billionaire Elon Musk has previously acknowledged Uganda’s new Framework for Satellite Communication in a letter to the country’s communication regulator (UCC) at the beginning of this month. According to the satellite communication framework, no person may use or operate any equipment for the transmission of energy, communications, or signals by satellite communications on Ugandan territory unless they have obtained and are abiding by the necessary license or authorization from UCC.
In situations where a satellite operator offers connectivity or communication services directly to end users in Uganda (as opposed to doing so through a wholesale agreement with an operator licensed in Uganda), a National Public Service Provider license is further necessary, in addition to Landing Rights or a Space Licence. The website also revealed that high-speed internet service provider Starlink plans to submit an application for a license later this year in order to start doing business in Uganda in 2024.
The tech corporation has previously received approval to conduct business in a number of African nations, including Malawi, Nigeria, neighboring Mozambique, and neighboring Rwanda.
Why Is Starlink Introducing a Data Cap?
As with all ISPs, it’s important to provide a fair and balanced Internet service to all users. Balancing supply and demand in any area is key to a happy user base, and for ISPs, if a few people are using all the available bandwidth, others can’t enjoy their Internet connections.
While bandwidth concerns are real for ISPs, the problem is even greater for satellite Internet providers like Starlink. Satellites launched into space can only provide so much coverage with a certain amount of bandwidth, meaning that heavy users can sometimes appear to be using more than their fair share of resources.
Starlink’s “Fair Use Policy” explains things in more detail, but the bottom line is that, according to them, Starlink is a limited resource that will continue to grow as they launch additional satellites. They emphasize that in order to serve the largest number of people with high-speed Internet, they must manage the network to balance Starlink’s supply and user demand. So data capping aimed at limiting and fair distribution of data across the network is the best option.
What’s the Starlink Data Cap?
At the beginning of November 2022, Starlinkannounced the introduction of a priority access data limit of 1 TB that would track data usage during the day, i.e. from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. During these hours, all data used contributes to the 1 TB data limit. Anything beyond that time doesn’t count. Standard data throttling practice from any ISP.
Furthermore, after the user reaches the 1 TB data limit, it will cost an additional $0.25 per gigabyte (GB) extra. Considering that a standard Starlink subscription starts at 70 EUR per month, the extra charge could quickly escalate into a significant bill if you download a lot from the Internet.
As some users on Reddit pointed out, it would be cheaper to take out an additional Starlink subscription than to pay €70 (initial 1 TB of data per month) plus €238 for the entire additional terabyte of data. Of course, that’s an extreme, and we’re leaving out Starlink’s installation and hardware costs to make the point, but you see the math doesn’t quite add up.
How Will the Data Cap Work?
When the data cap is introduced, each user will start the month with “Priority Access”. After you use up your 1 TB of data with Priority Access, your account switches to “Basic Access”. In network terms, priority access data takes precedence over Basic Access data.
There’s no indication that Starlink will actively “suffocate” Basic Access users. They also have unlimited data consumption. The only major difference is that during periods of network congestion, those still using their Priority Access period will receive network priority over those using basic access. However, Starlink acknowledges that the difference could result in performance issues for certain online activities.
But during the “quiet” periods (from 11 pm to 7 am) there should be no difference between the quality and speed of Priority Access and Basic Access. It all comes down to how many other Starlink users are in your geographic cell. There are several ways you can track Starlink satellites, and Satellite Map is a great option. Note that you can’t see how many other Starlink users are in the same area as you.
Starlink Users Can Buy More Data with Priority Access
The $0.25 per GB figure above details how customers can purchase more data with priority access. All data tracking will take place through the Starlink app and the Starlink user portal, where you’ll also be able to turn on or off the purchase of more data with priority access.
Therefore, if speed isn’t a problem for you, you won’t pay anything but will use Starlink without additional charges. If you need speed and priority over data, then GB costs 0.25 dollars or 0.24 euros.
What’s the Chance That You’ll Exceed the 1TB Data Limit?
Data caps aren’t good for anyone. Still, it’s worth considering how much data will go through that 1TB data limit. It depends on what you use the Internet for and how you use it.
For example, most online games use 100-200 MB of data per hour, which would take you about 5-10,000 hours to use up the full data traffic. But add AAA game downloads, which now average around 100GB, and that priority access period shrinks (very quickly). Similarly, watching HD content on Netflix or streaming poker games at a Ugandan casino site of your choice will use around 3GB of data per hour. But if you choose to watch 4K content, you’ll use about 7GB of data per hour.
For some users, 1 TB will be more than enough. For others, like a large family streaming content to multiple devices, 1TB will become restrictive and will be used up quickly.
Monitor Your Data Usage
Starlink’s data cap will start in February 2023 for users in Canada and the United States. These countries are the guinea pigs for Starlink’s data cap and are the first two countries to struggle with priority access and basic access to Starlink’s satellite Internet.
It seems very likely that Starlink’s 1TB data cap will eventually expand to other countries, especially as Starlink’s user base and coverage continues to grow.