Starlink is a satellite internet service, which was launched in November 2020 by space exploration company SpaceX.
Starlink first became available in the United States but has since expanded into 60 other countries across the globe.
And it took Starlink a mere 2.5 years to reach amass a subscriber base of 1.5 million. This means that the service now likely generates well over $1 billion in annual revenue.
The promise of Starlink is the enabling of fast and reliable internet anywhere on the globe. Starlink achieves this feat by launching thousands of satellites into earth’s low orbit.
By being closer to earth than the satellites of classic satellite internet providers, some of which I’ll cover in this article, and by utilizing substantially more of them, Starlink is able to offer substantially faster download and upload speeds, on top of lower ping times.
However, the reality doesn’t always match the theory. In late 2022, as subscribers were growing exponentially, some users reported the slowing of speeds. Nonetheless, most of them seem to be largely satisfied.
With that being said, Starlink is certainly not the only game in satellite internet town. In the following article, I will list the 8 biggest competitors Starlink currently faces.
Lastly, I just want to note that this is merely a business-related comparison and thus not an endorsement of either service presented here.
Hughes Network Systems, the company behind HughesNet, is a Maryland-based satellite internet provider owned by EchoStar.
It was, for the longest time, the biggest satellite-based internet service provider (ISP) as measured by subscriber count.
However, its subscriber numbers have since shrunk to below 1.3 million, which means that Starlink has surpassed it.
With that said, the firm generates roughly $2 billion in annual revenue right now. It competes with Starlink in a variety of markets, most notably in the consumer space.
HughesNet’s personal plans offer download speeds of up to 25 Mbps, which are reduced to 1 to 3 Mbps after data caps are met.
Much like Viasat, the lower speeds and latency are a result of how HughesNet operates. Its ‘constellation’ is comprised of two geostationary satellites, which consequently are located further away.
HughesNet the service was first unveiled in 1996 as DirecPC. Eventually, in 2012, it was reintroduced as HughesNet after launching a broadband service that year. Apart from the United States, HughesNet also serves fast parts of Latin America, including Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador.
Viasat is the second largest broadband satellite internet service in the United States, boasting a subscriber base of 590,000 customers in the United States alone. Apart from consumer plans, it also sells to B2B customers, including airlines, maritime firms, defense, and small businesses.
The company offers various satellite internet plans, with download speeds of up to 150 Mbps and download caps totaling 500 GB. Meanwhile, latency can be as high as 600 MS, which is up to 10 times higher than what Starlink provides.
Meanwhile, its internet services are made possible by two geostationary satellites, namely ViaSat-1 (launched in 2012) and ViaSat-2 (deployed in 2017). Those two satellites enable Viasat to offer broadband internet to consumers in the United States as well as Mexico and Brazil.
Its newest satellite, the ViaSat-3, hasn’t fared too well thus far. The satellite, which was deployed in July 2023, experienced a malfunction and may not become functional, thus leading to hundreds of millions in losses.
Interestingly, Viasat and Starlink also share some common history in court. Viasat, together with its reselling partner Dish Network, sued SpaceX in 2021 to prevent additional Starlink satellite launches. The two competitors claimed that the FCC failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as it did not carry out any environmental assessments.
OneWeb is Starlink’s biggest competitor in the low-Earth orbit (LEO) industry. The firm completed its 648-satellite-strong constellation back in March 2023.
Meanwhile, the constellation is roaming earth in a distance of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) versus Starlink’s 550 kilometers (340 miles). As a result, latency for OneWeb’s internet is slightly higher (since the signals satellites emit have to travel further).
It will utilize that constellation to offer a variety of different services largely aimed at B2B customers. More precisely, it competes with Starlink in the small business, maritime, government, and aviation industries.
Check out our detailed comparison of OneWeb vs. Starlink here
Unfortunately, the road to commercialization hasn’t always been smooth. After raising almost $3 billion in funding, OneWeb had to file for bankruptcy in early 2020.
Soon after, the UK government, where OneWeb is headquartered, and Indian conglomerate Bharti Global each invested $500 million into the firm to become its joint majority owners.
Two years later, OneWeb merged with France’s Eutelsat in a transaction that valued the former at $3.4 billion.
Interestingly, there’s some overlap between Starlink and OneWeb, too. After sanctions against Russia due to the conflict in Ukraine, OneWeb contracted SpaceX to launch its remaining satellites into space.
Telesat, which was first established in 1969 by the Canadian government, competes with SpaceX and Starlink in a variety of different domains. It currently operates a geostationary satellite fleet in C-, Ku- and, Ka-bands aimed at corporate, telecom, and government customers.
This enables Telesat to not only provide satellite internet services across a variety of different applications, such as aviation or maritime but also broadcast TV signals.
And since 2017, Telesat has also entered the LEO satellite game. Dubbed Lightspeed, the planned constellation of 1,600 satellites is set to bring high-speed internet to consumers across the globe. It launched its first satellite back in January 2018, which is now used for live demonstration purposes.
Telesat, to deploy the constellation, went public on the NASDAQ stock exchange in late 2021. The IPO would enable the firm to raise the necessary $5 billion it needs to deploy the satellites. Meanwhile, the firm already generates around CA$750 million on an annual basis (2022).
5. Kuiper Systems
Kuiper Systems is a project by e-commerce giant Amazon, which plans to eventually launch a total of 3,236 satellites into earth’s low orbit (at 590 to 630 km or 370 to 390 miles distance). The offering, also dubbed Project Kuiper, was first announced in 2019.
Right now, no satellites have been deployed by Amazon and its three launch partners, namely Blue Origin (founded by Jeff Bezos, so no surprise right there), United Launch Alliance (ULA), and Arianespace.
Read how Project Kuiper & Starlink stack up against each other here
Furthermore, Amazon announced that it would invest $10 billion into the project. Unfortunately, information regarding pricing, hardware, and general availability is still limited.
Kuiper Systems does share one other similarity with Starlink, though. Rajeev Badyal, its president, held a similar role at Starlink from which he was fired back in 2018.
Telstra Group Limited, first established in 1975, is Australia’s largest telecommunications company by market share. Starlink itself has been available in Australia since April 2021 and achieved total coverage roughly 1.5 years later (11/2022).
With annual revenues of more than AU$21 billion, it isn’t surprising that Telstra provides nearly any connectivity service imaginable. Its offerings range from mobile 5G internet plans all the way to IoT solutions aimed at businesses.
The firm’s satellite internet solutions are solely aimed at enterprise customers. These are made possible by the more than 60 satellites the firm operates. And despite the fact that most of its revenue is derived from Australia, its satellite internet service does offer global coverage.
Interestingly, Starlink and Telstra are not just rivaling each other but have since become frenemies of sorts. In July 2023, Telstra announced a partnership with Starlink to boost connectivity in rural areas.
Freedomsat is one of Starlink’s largest competitors in the United Kingdom as well as across markets in the Middle East, Africa, and South America.
Another traditional satellite internet provider, Freedomsat offers download speeds of up to 30Mbps in the UK. It utilizes a small satellite dish and modem, which are both installed by the firm’s own employees.
Its various plans, which are aimed at consumers and businesses alike, are all data-capped and thus do not offer unlimited surfing.
Freedomsat, apart from selling satellite internet, also offers fiber and 4G broadband plans to consumers.
8. NBN Sky Muster
NBN Sky Muster, which is owned and operated by the Australian government, is powered by two geostationary satellites – both of which are are positioned 35,786 kilometers above the equator, north of Australia.
The state-funded service offers a variety of different internet plans while promising download speeds of up to 100 Mbps. However, performance will be significantly worse if you opt into one of its cheaper plans.
Starlink has since led to a significant shedding of NBN’s subscriber base. In recent months, NBN has lost over 50,000 subscribers, most of whom have likely switched to Starlink.