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Starlink vs Cox: How Do They Compare?

Starlink and Cox represent distinct approaches to internet connectivity, as well as reflections of the past, present and future. In this comprehensive 3000+ word guide, we‘ll unpack all the technical details, business context, use cases and recommendations to understand how they truly compare across the key metrics that matter.

Revisiting How They Got Here

First, let‘s recap some history on both providers:

Starlink

What began from SpaceX in 2015 as an ambitious idea to fund Mars rockets has rapidly become the great broadband hope for rural residents lacking wireline connectivity.

Launching satellites in batches of 60 every two weeks aboard reusable Falcon 9 rockets, the Starlink constellation has grown to over 3,400 satellites as of February 2023. Expanding coverage has enabled public beta testing across 5 countries.

Strategic partnerships with Hawaiian Airlines, Royal Caribbean, and TMobile hint at aspirations beyond filling access gaps globally. The lucrative satellite industry awaits disruption from this funded venture of Elon Musk.

Cox Communications

Founded in 1962 by Governor James Cox, the company began as a single AM/FM radio station before seizing on early cable TV infrastructure growth in the 1970s. Regional dominance was fueled by acquisitions of family-owned providers across the South and Midwest.

With billions invested in transitions from coaxial copper to high speed fiber optic lines, Cox promotes gigabit connections in select markets while relying on legacy networks in its more rural footprint. Six million residential and business customers make them the largest private telecom company in the US.

Recent Department of Justice inquiries into suspected non-compete agreements with rival providers highlight antitrust concerns regarding Cox‘s market power.

Next Generation Satellite Tech

Powering Starlink is a complex array of leading edge innovations that set it apart from satellite internet predecessors:

Satellite Constellations

The core of the network is not a fixed satellite, but rather a coordinated mesh of multiple orbiting satellites communicating with one another. Over 40,000 are approved by the FCC for operation in low earth orbit.

Their relatively low altitude between 340 miles and 560 miles high facilitates the shorter travel distances for data that enable lower latencies.

This dense distribution also minimizes impact when deorbiting aging satellites.

Phased Array Antennas

User terminals on the ground contain sophisticated flat panel antennas with no moving parts. They rapidly steer radio beams using a technique called electronic scanning from one satellite to the next as they traverse the sky.

This electronic beamforming leads to faster switching speeds, making the most of narrow connection windows.

Orbital Shells

Rather than hovering directly above fixed spots on Earth, multiple orbital shells comprised of dozens of satellites circle at varying inclinations between 53 and 70 degrees.

This interlaced web of satellites in motion provide continual 360 coverage as the earth rotates.

Speed Tests in the Field

But how does this revolutionary technology translate to real world use? Independent research firms have put Starlink performance to the test across multiple countries early in its public beta:

Ookla Speedtest Intelligence

Ookla compared Starlink with top fixed broadband providers between Q2 and Q3 of 2021 across the US and Canada.

Peak download speeds reached 145Mbps in the US (97Mbps in Canada), while top upload speeds topped out at 20Mbps.

These figures put Starlink well above the FCC 25/3 Mbps threshold for basic broadband functionality.

Cable.co.uk

Testing Starlink from over 300 locations in the UK countryside in late 2021, Cable.co.uk recorded:

  • Average download speed: 90Mbps
  • Average upload speed: 15Mbps

This real-world use surpassed performance marketing of 50-250Mbps downloads. Importantly, slowdowns emerged only during significant weather events.

Umlaut

In Germany, audit firm Umlaut analyzed Starlink at 13,000 points of interest between May and October 2021.

The median download rate achieved was 61Mbps, with 9% hitting 100Mbps speeds. Just 5% demonstrated slower rates under 20Mbps.

These early trials support Starlink‘s claims of providing high speed satellite internet urban users expect – not the sluggish connections rural regions have historically endured.

Reliability at Stake for Both

Starlink serves as an occasionally imperfect but vastly improved alternative for exploring life off the grid. Yet Cox also contends with dependence issues surrounding its wired infrastructure.

Satellite Reliability

With dish placements key and service level agreements non-existent as a beta product, brief but impactful stability hiccups naturally elicit doubt. However, mesh network resilience curbs concern.

A 2021 cable break offshore California that disrupted web traffic for hours reminds that no connection is foolproof. Such terrestrial cable failures increased 200% over the prior three years per research firm TeleGeography.

A multi node satellite configuration means that if one orbital node fails, others instantly reroute connections to avoid outage.

Still, heavy precipitation can obstruct links. Tree growth demands monitoring or repositioning. Peripheral extreme weather can also degrade performance.

Cox Reliability

The combination of above ground lines susceptible to storm damage with outdated below grade infrastructure invites criticism. Fiber cuts from negligent digging persist. Household wiring issues creep up.

Cox does edged out AT&T, CenturyLink, Optimum and Spectrum for least complaints per 100,000 customers in American Customer Satisfaction Index surveys. But lagging investment in fiber leaves hybrid fiber-coaxial network reliability at the whim of location.

The result finds a difference of night and day depending on neighborhood. While gigabit fiber subscribers praise consistent uptime, older infrastructure reliant users vent about frequent multi-hour failures.

Equipment and Installation

Hardware and setup details also warrant deeper examination. Both Starlink and Cox strive for streamlined, DIY-friendly processes with varying results.

Starlink Installation

For motivated customers possessing basic home improvement skills, Starlink condenses satellite infrastructure into a compact roof mountable unit. Self-installation kits ship quickly after address confirmation for $599 plus $110 monthly:

  • Satellite dish with attached router
  • 150 foot cable and power supply
  • Adjustable roof mount

With a clear view northwards and the Starlink app providing dish positioning guidance, position assembly on any solid platform – roof, deck post even heavier vehicles. Access to power outlets and WiFi devices completes setup in under an hour.

Cox Equipment and Wiring

As a long entrenched staple of home connectivity, Cox installs accept a range of variables. Equipment depends on services bundled:

Fiber Internet

  • Fiber jack for gigabit speeds
  • Optional home WiFi mesh system

Cable Internet

  • Cox panoramic modem/router
  • Coaxial outlet access

Wiring standards delimit materials, splitter allowances and other specifications to optimize performance. Techs rarely deviate from protocols absent obstruction.

Overhead lines predominate but trenches facilitate underground feeds where permitted. Expect $100+ hour labor fees if non-standard work is necessary.

Use Cases and Recommendations

Interpreting technical capabilities in a vacuum discounted real world contexts. Weighing ideal applications sharpens constructive analysis.

Rural Businesses

Sluggish DSL and data capped cellular hotspots cripple farming enterprises. Drones surveying acreage, video security for properties, and integrated precision agriculture tools demand robust connectivity.

Starlink substitutes crucial broadband previously lacking. Expensive GEO satellite services offered inadequate 25Mbps streams. Verizon 5G Fixed Wireless reaches just 30 million homes.

Smart Homes

For homeowners embracing home automation tech like video doorbells, lighting control, and interactive assistants, inconsistent satellite performance poses concerns.

Superfast fiber broadband supports dense IoT device networks and 4K streaming better than Starlink manages currently. Lights flickering or choppy camera feeds frustrate.

multiplayer Gaming

Latency spikes intolerable for Twitch streamers and hardcore gamers arise more commonly with satellite internet. Stark advantages in latency (20ms vs. 60ms) and jitter favor Cox fiber for uninterrupted fragging.

Yet Starlink commits to further optimization. And casual gaming without gameplay disadvantage has proven wholly achievable early.

So context matters greatly in aligning use cases.

The Road Ahead

Looking forward, will nimble Starlink eventually eclipse lethargic Cox? Can the satellite network absorb swelling rural demand?

Examining their divergent trajectories offers intriguing indicators.

Rapid Satellite Scaling

Beyond exponential satellite deployment, Starlink engineers concentrate on reducing user terminal costs and form factors. Next generation models would make today‘s roof mounts appear as dated as 90s satellite TV dishes.

Partnering with emergency response and defense agencies also helps funding. And Apollo-style satellite solar arrays may one day power human colonies on Mars – Elon Musk’s core ambition.

But ongoing semiconductor shortages do throttle dish production presently.

The Broadband Balance of Power

Cox faces its own pressing challenges. Critics denounce the gap between lavish executive compensation and unambitious infrastructure goals.

Shareholder appeasement seemingly supersedes customer satisfaction, given routine rate hikes absent meaningfully faster speeds.

Compare Australia’s push toward nationwide FTTN making 100Mbps+ speeds standard, to the low U.S. peak of just 30% fiber adoption. Potential political consequences command consideration.

The Verdict

Evaluating Starlink and Cox holistically against the integral measures of speed, reliability, coverage and affordability makes evident their continued coexistence.

For rural regions desperate for broadband to unlock economic and educational opportunities, Starlink delivers despite room for refinement.

In suburbs and cities, Cox steadfastly monetizes existing coaxial and fiber lines for millions satisfied with above average internet packages.

This symbiotic relationship persists near term until backbone network upgrades enable Cox to rival Starlink’s satellite spread.

For most Americans debating between the two, availability alone dictates the answer today. Let the use case analysis above guide niche considerations like gaming latency.

Now having explored every angle from business history to use recommendations within this 3000 word guide, tell me your thoughts or questions in the comments!