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Starlink vs EarthLink: How Do These Internet Providers Compare?

Introducing a New Age of Satellite Internet Connectivity

Satellite internet access has long served as a niche connectivity option mainly for rural users beyond the reach of terrestrial broadband infrastructure. But historically, weaknesses in speed, latency, and capacity have prevented satellite networks from competing head-to-head with cable or fiber for most residential use cases.

Now with launches of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites already underway, innovators like SpaceX‘s Starlink aim to transcend the limitations of earlier satellite internet generations. By combining cutting-edge phased array antennas with global constellations of higher capacity satellites in closer proximity to earth, companies race to usher in a new era defined by greatly enhanced user experiences.

The Technology Behind Starlink‘s Next-Gen Satellite Internet

Instead of residing in far-off, high-altitude geostationary orbits, Starlink‘s network consists of thousands of compact satellites deployed around 340 kilometers above earth in LEO. Communicating with custom-designed flat user terminal antennas, this much tighter orbit helps Starlink achieve latency on par with terrestrial internet providers.

The entire system operates as a massive, space-based mesh network. As one LEO satellite passes beyond reach of a user‘s dish antenna, built-in laser interlinks allow packets to seamlessly hop over to the next satellite coming into view. This clever handoff keeps customers connected at all times.

Starlink‘s user terminal serves as an active component enabling LEO broadband‘s full potential. Its proprietary phased array antenna consisting of hundreds of tiny steering elements tracks satellites as they traverse the sky overhead. Sophisticated motors pivot and tilt the dish to orient towards spacecraft beaming the strongest signals from above, completely automatic and self-adjusting.

LEO Broadband Promises New Possibilities

This combination of innovative antenna technology paired with satellites in closer, faster-moving LEO orbits unlocks exceptional capacity. Early customers already report 100+ Mbps speeds, but Starlink expects to double throughput as the network evolves. LEO‘s abundance of bandwidth opens the door for uses like online gaming, video streaming, and video calls previously unreliable or impossible with older satellite internet generations.

While Starlink LED the charge deploying initial LEO broadband, competitors like OneWeb race to launch competing satellite fleets at scale. Even tech billionaire Jeff Bezos backs Amazon subsidiary Kuiper with proposals for 3,200 high performance LEO spacecraft. With multibillion dollar infrastructure investments underway, experts forecast as many as six emerging LEO internet providers serving hundreds of millions of subscribers before the end of the decade.

EarthLink Relies on Existing Infrastructure

Compared to the next generation satellite technology powering Starlink, EarthLink lacks widespread infrastructure of its own and instead depends on local network partnerships. By leasing broadband capacity from cable, fiber, and DSL providers in given regions, EarthLink links their offerings together into bundled service packages.

The Physical Infrastructure Behind EarthLink

In neighborhoods where EarthLink taps upgraded fiber optic lines, customers enjoy the internet‘s gold standard connectivity with speeds exceeding 1 Gbps. These high-capacity buried cables route data using pulses of light beamed through flexible glass fibers.

Meanwhile, in areas still served by copper telephone wires, basic DSL connections relying on analog signal modulation provide a fraction of fiber‘s performance. These twisted pair copper lines originally built for analog voice calls struggle to deliver modern broadband applications.

The type of infrastructure leased by EarthLink varies not just by region but even neighborhood-by-neighborhood within the same metro area. Unlike Starlink beaming uniform connectivity from space, EarthLink subscribers might get stuck on a slow DSL loop literally around the block from a address benefiting from a fiber buildout just down the street.

How Satellite and Landline Networks Compare

When considering established broadband providers like EarthLink versus revolutionary satellite options including Starlink, how do the two technologies compare from a usage experience standpoint?

Satellite Internet Gains Ground in Subscriber Race

Despite only launching service in late 2020, by mid-2021 Starlink rocketed to claim 7% of the entire U.S. satellite internet market according to research firm Teal Group. Meanwhile, incumbent cable and DSL providers like those enabling many EarthLink plans lost millions of subscribers last year in the face of stiffening broadband competition.

Company 2021 Subscribers 2020-2021 Growth
Starlink 400,000 +383,000
EarthLink 1 million -32,000

Early trends show consumers rapidly migrating to next generation options. Although Starlink lacks insight into EarthLink‘s churn rate, its own cancellation rate held steady below 1% each month indicating very sticky customers.

Speed and Latency Benchmarks

According to June 2022 FCC test data, Starlink delivers median download speeds of nearly 97 Mbps nationwide coupled with latency falling between 31 to 94ms. On the other hand, EarthLink‘s speeds vary widely depending on local infrastructure tying each subscriber to physical line limitations.

Metric Starlink EarthLink
Download Speed 97 Mbps 25 Mbps-1 Gbps
Peak Speed 200 Mbps 1 Gbps
Latency 31ms-94ms 15ms-45ms

When comparing network metrics, Starlink beats any form of traditional satellite internet while lagging just behind certain fiber optic connections EarthLink provides. However, LEO satellite falls short of consistency matching leading cable or fiber.

Network Uptime and Reliability

According to NetIndex explorer tracking quality of broadband providers, in the second quarter of 2022 Starlink received an uptime score of 99.57%. Analysis of user tests found latency variation spiking up to +40ms during peak usage times as capacity constraints impact performance predictability.

EarthLink‘s reliability rides on the backbone of infrastructure providers from region to region. Where robust fiber optic wiring brings huge capacity, users see outstanding 99.99% or better uptimes. Unfortunately, in outdated DSL zones underlying maintenance and component faults drag scores down well below 99.9% availability in the most recent reporting.

LEO Broadband Promises Connection Equality

Unlike the patchwork infrastructure enabling EarthLink‘s inconsistent performance, emergent space-based networks promise to transcend geographical limitations bringing connectivity opportunities to previously underserved groups.

Rather than focusing deployments in densely populated metros, Starlink steers capacity first toward rural and remote locales currently dealing with sluggish DSL or no wired connectivity at all. By blanketing the entire globe from orbit, LEO satellite stands to close the digital divide.

Experts forecast as much as 70% of future internet subscribers may connect through satellite platforms by 2030. Between Starlink‘s head start and analysts predicting the company‘s technology maintaining a multi-year edge as others attempt to replicate their success, they have pole position to continue capturing customers escaping last-generation landline internet.

The Right Fit Depends on Your Needs

When Starlink‘s satellite service reaches your address off waitlists, its exemplary performance provides a tailored fit for rural users. LEO broadband unlocks speed and reliability difficulties plaguing past satellite internet generations.

Suburban families may benefit from Starlink‘s mobility allowing seasonal relocation capabilities lacking with stationary wired options. RVers and vacation home owners appreciate the ability to pause service and restart anywhere a vista to the sky emerges rather than relying on a single hooked-up property.

On the other hand, city residents sit squarely in the heart of both cable and telco fiber turf. Unless moving toward the urban fringe where wireline connectivity remains sparse, metropolitan users shouldn‘t bother competing with demand from Starlink‘s ideal remote niches. Big ISPs focus investments on reinforcing infrastructure exactly where population densities concentrate most.

Regardless of setting, beware leaning on EarthLink unless you confirm local offerings first. Too much rides on the luck of leasing agreements with third party area providers to expect consistent results otherwise. Partner fiber may deliver blazing speeds to certain city blocks while leaving the next neighborhood clinging to outdated DSL without explanation.