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Starlink vs CenturyLink: How do satellite and fiber optic internet providers compare?

High-speed internet access has become an essential utility for homes and businesses. While most rely on cable or DSL, fiber optic and satellite internet offer intriguing alternatives, especially if you live in a rural area. Two of the major players in these next-generation internet services are Starlink and CenturyLink. But how exactly do these two stack up? This comprehensive guide examines the differences between Starlink‘s satellite internet and CenturyLink‘s fiber and DSL networks.

A Brief Background

First, let‘s look at what each of these companies offers. Starlink is the satellite internet division of SpaceX. It launched its first low-Earth orbit satellites in 2019 and currently promises download speeds between 50-250 Mbps. Starlink aims to provide high-speed satellite internet access to remote areas around the world.

CenturyLink, on the other hand, is one of the largest telecommunications companies in the U.S. It provides phone, TV, and internet services to millions of homes and businesses in over 35 states. CenturyLink offers both fiber optic and DSL broadband, with speeds up to 940 Mbps with fiber.

History and Market Share

Starlink is still in the early stages, having launched about 3,500 satellites so far out of a planned 42,000 constellation. It currently serves over 400,000 subscribers. CenturyLink has been around since 1930 through various mergers and acquisitions. It inherited an extensive existing infrastructure and currently serves around 4.5 million internet subscribers. So while innovative, Starlink has some catching up to do.

Availability and Expansion Plans

A key consideration is what areas currently have access to these services. Starlink is optimized for rural areas with limited internet options. It is now available in portions of North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Expansion plans aim to reach remote regions in Africa and South America too.

Meanwhile, CenturyLink’s fiber network covers over 15 million homes and businesses across parts of 17 U.S. states so far. Availability depends on your location. its older DSL infrastructure blankets even more areas but offers slower speeds.

Technology and Speed Comparison

Starlink satellites orbit the planet at ~350 miles up, facilitating high-bandwidth communication with users anywhere a dish has line-of-sight access to orbit. This allows for cable-like speeds even in places without fiber infrastructure. Early reports from beta testers indicate real-world download speeds reliably over 100 Mbps. Latency is higher than fiber at around 45ms but improved satellite routing should help minimize lag issues.

CenturyLink’s fiber optic network utilizes underground glass cables and laser-based signals, allowing for near-instant data transfer over long distances. Fiber customers can expect blistering speeds up to 940 Mbps for downloads. DSL runs on telephone lines and tends to provide only 10-100Mbps downloads. Fiber also has the latency edge at ~15ms vs 45ms for Starlink currently.

So while Starlink is impressively fast for satellite, CenturyLink fiber still wins on raw bandwidth and latency when available. But DSL is certainly slower than Starlink.

Reliability and Uptime

The interconnected satellite mesh aims to provide consistent coverage anywhere with clear line-of-sight sky access. However, major solar weather events can temporarily degrade service as satellites reset orientation. CenturyLink fiber is more physically shielded from disruptions, but network equipment can also rarely go down. Overall both seem fairly reliable, with fiber infrastructure having a slight uptime edge.

Cost Comparison

Starlink installation involves mounting a small satellite dish with clear sky access. Upfront hardware costs $599. The monthly subscription fee is $110. It also has portability benefits, working anywhere with open sky access. Professional installation can cost $100-300 more if you’d like help getting set up.

CenturyLink usually sends a professional technician for free installation of fiber or DSL modems when you start new service. Fiber broadband packages start around $65 per month for speeds up to 940 Mbps. Actual pricing varies by region, so check availability for your area.

Pros and Cons of Each Service

Starlink Pros:

  • Available almost anywhere with sky access
  • No other installation needed
  • Fast speeds rivaling cable & fiber
  • Single hardware investment

Starlink Cons:

  • Requires clear line-of-sight sky access
  • Higher latency than fiber
  • More vulnerable to solar weather disruption
  • Monthly service costs add up over time

CenturyLink Fiber Pros:

  • Blazing fast gigabit speeds
  • Low latency for gaming and streaming
  • Fixed infrastructure is reliable

CenturyLink Fiber Cons:

  • Limited availability in many regions
  • Installation complexity if DIY
  • Generally pricier monthly fees


For rural users or those with geographic barriers to wired broadband infrastructure, Starlink satellite presents an appealing solution for reasonably fast internet. But for anyone with access to CenturyLink’s fiber optic network, the incredible speeds, low latency, and competitive pricing make it hard to beat. DSL offers good budget internet in covered zones too. So fiber reigns supreme where available, but Starlink fills an important niche case. Evaluate their coverage maps and performance against your needs to see which provider is the best fit. The competitively priced satellite and fiber networks are both helping connect more users to better broadband.