Starlink vs Fiber Internet: What’s the Difference?

satellites in musk's starlink

Starlink vs Fiber Internet: What’s the Difference?

Key Points:
  • Starlink is a satellite provider that uses a constellation of fast-moving LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites that communicate with the new “Dishy McFlatface” dish.
  • Starlink is a subsidiary of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company focused on taking humans to Mars via the Moon. But SpaceX’s Starlink mission is to provide the Internet to citizens of Earth everywhere.
  • Fiber optic technology is faster than the copper cable, and much faster than DSL that uses existing phone lines.

If you’re like most people in the civilized world, you’ve had your share of disappointing Internet experiences. In this comparison, we’ll break down Starlink vs fiber Internet connections and see how they stack up. We’ll also take a look at the Internet history and technology behind both and see how they differ.

Year Founded2015 (officially announced)1975 (U.S. government – NORAD)
FounderElon Musk (SpaceX)Robert Maurer, Donald Keck, Peter Schultz
HeadquartersRedmond, WashingtonNA
TechnologySatelliteGlass Fiber Cables
Max Download Speeds200 Mbps1 Gbps
Upload Speeds10 – 20 MbpsSymmetrical (the same as your download speed)
Coverage Area48 U.S. states43% (U.S.)

Let’s start by looking at the most glaring difference between Starlink and fiber Internet, which is the technology used to transmit data over the distances required.

Starlink: What to Know

starlink vs fiber
After equipment installation, it may take 12 hours for the Starlink system to attain optimum performance.

Starlink is a satellite provider that uses a constellation of fast-moving LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites that communicate with the new “Dishy McFlatface” dish. That’s a cute name coined by Elon Musk, but the ground terminals go way beyond cute. A Starlink dish is a technological work of art, going way beyond normal consumer devices. We could do an entire article on this aspect of Starlink alone. There is a link in the sources at the end of this article so you can check it out for yourself.

Starlink is a subsidiary of SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company focused on taking humans to Mars via the Moon. But SpaceX’s Starlink mission is focused on life here on Earth and the availability of the Internet to citizens everywhere. They also plan on tapping the mobile phone market with their Internet constellation, boasting global coverage by 2023. It’s important to remember that Starlink is still in its developmental stages, and it will be some time before we can really see what its full potential might be.

One of the keys to Starlink’s success will be the v2.0 satellites that are the next generation of their technology. With the smaller and lighter v1.5 satellites operational since 2021, Starlink now has the challenge of getting the larger and heavier v2.0 into orbit. This will most likely be accomplished with a switch from the Falcon 9 rocket to the Starship model.

The v2.0 satellites have the ability to communicate with each other through the use of lasers. This will be another factor in Starlink’s success, as the LEO satellites are moving quickly around their orbit at around 7km per second. This could turn out to be the edge Musk needs to compete with the speeds and high latency problems of satellite Internet. In theory, the information could be sent through the vacuum of space much faster than through fiber cables.

Fiber Optics: What to Know

Fiber cables contain tiny glass fibers capable of carrying multiple signals of light at high speeds. Multiple cables can be bundled into trunk cables to carry even more information. The cables can be run underground, or above ground as needed. The signals moving through the fibers are made of pulses of LED or laser light instead of electricity.

Last Mile

One aspect of your fiber Internet to consider is the “last mile” concept. The large fiber trunk cables are run by your ISP to your neighborhood, but the final run that connects each home, known as the “last mile” is the most expensive for the ISPs and can have serious effects on the speeds you actually get. At this point, the ISPs have several options. They can use existing copper, send a wireless signal, or run fiber to your home. Be sure to check which method is used to get an accurate representation of the speeds you can expect.

Fiber: Key Features

starlink vs fiber
Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information by sending pulses of infrared light through an optical fiber.

Speaking of speed, fiber optic technology has blown the other previous methods of transferring data to customers out of the water. It’s faster than the copper cable, and much faster than DSL that uses existing phone lines.

Fiber carries the information through glass fibers smaller than human hair, via LED and laser light pulses in binary form. The fiber comes in two general types – single mode and multi-mode. The core is surrounded by a coated cladding, which is contained inside a strength member and an outer jacket to protect against damage from environmental forces. Single-mode fiber (SMF) is used for longer distances when running fiber service.

Differing Technologies

Satellite is a relative newcomer to an Internet connection. It’s been around since 2003, when the first commercial-ready Internet was set up by Eutelsat. Fiber, on the other hand, has been experimented with since Edison and Bell. As far as Internet service goes, the first use of fiber technology for the public was in 1988.

If Fiber Is So Good, Why Are We Looking for Alternatives?

So why do we need Starlink? Well, there are two reasons: One, fiber is very expensive for the ISP to run over long distances. The cost of the installation of trunk cable and last mile infrastructure has to be offset by the amount of revenue that can be generated by the project. Namely, how many customers will it bring them when the work is done? Secondly, there just isn’t fiber available everywhere. As a matter of fact, if you look at the land area, fiber is very limited, mostly to populated areas and benign types of terrain.

It’s highly unlikely that fiber systems will be a viable choice for ISPs in need of reaching users who live far from “town,” or in rugged landscapes around the globe. So, if Starlink or any of the other companies working on improving satellite Internet can come through on their promises, it will mean sufficient Internet for every part of Earth.

  • If Elon Musk’s visions work out, Starlink satellite could, in theory, reach 40% faster speeds than fiber.
  • Fiber has the edge over Starlink when it comes to weather. Satellite signals like those of Starlink can be disrupted by rain, snow, high winds, and other weather anomalies.
  • Fiber ISPs install “dark” fiber when burying cable to prepare for future service add-ons to the system. The “dark’ cable is not used initially but can be activated to extend the service to future customers.
  • Starlink has plans available for RV, Maritime, and businesses that can bring the Internet to users where it was previously thought impossible.
  • Fiber is still the best alternative, considering price, reliability, speed, and low latency.
  • Starlink satellites use Krypton-fueled thrusters to deorbit once their lifecycle has ended.
  • In 2022, Starlink became available over Ukraine to substitute for the infrastructure destroyed by the Russian invasion.

Well, if Elon Musk can come through on the projections he’s made for the future of Starlink, it could mean better Internet for a lot more people in more places. And as the demand expands and gives fiber providers the financial incentive to branch out their infrastructures to include more and more customers, the reliable and speedy world of fiber will continue to grow.

The real bottom line, at least for now, is that if you have access to fiber, that is your best bet for quality Internet. On the other hand, if fiber is not available in your area, then Starlink satellite is certainly a viable option.

It’s also worth thinking about the next step in technology that could be on the horizon, and which we haven’t even heard of yet. Put yourself in the shoes of Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell and imagine what they would think if they saw where their efforts have gotten up today.

Up Next…

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best choice when comparing Internet technologies?

If you have the option, fiber is your most reliable and fastest choice. If fiber is not available to you, then you may have to go with satellite.

Is Starlink better than fiber?

The short answer is no – if you can get fiber then that is your best bet. If fiber is unavailable, then satellite is an option.

Is Starlink available in 2022?

As of September 2022, Starlink is available in some areas of the U.S.  and 39 other countries around the world.

How do I know if I can get fiber Internet?

All of the fiber Internet providers have pages on their websites, where you can enter your address or zip code and see if their service is available.

How difficult is Starlink to set up?

Starlink has a phone app that walks you through the simple process step-by-step. The hardest part of setting up Starlink will be waiting for your kit to arrive after you’ve ordered.

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