Starlink has grown at a record pace. In 2022 alone, the service added over 850,000 subscribers, which caused reported speeds to drop in certain areas.
Therefore, Starlink is set to become the latest internet service provider (ISP) to introduce data caps for some of its users.
In this article, I will explain what Starlink’s data cap policy looks like, when it’s going into effect, how it stacks up against the competition, and whether it’s actually that big of a deal.
Starlink’s Data Cap Explained
Starlink, as part of its newly unveiled Fair Use Policy, will assign a variety of different soft data caps, depending on the plan you’re subscribed to.
The policy is only applicable to those who are subscribed to Business/Priority and Maritime/Mobile Priority.
Here are the available plans offering Priority Access data and how much they cost:
If you are subscribed to Residential/Standard, then you will consistently experience what Starlink defines as “Standard” data (around 100 Mbps of download speed, on average).
Those who exceed their Priority access will then have the option to purchase additional data at $0.50/GB for Priority or $2/GB for Mobile Priority.
Users that have opted into RV (now called Roam) or Portability are automatically excluded from Priority Access and will thus always experience the lowest speeds (called Basic Access).
Once the Priority threshold is exceeded, download and upload speeds will decrease. However, this means that Starlink technically still offers unlimited data and thus only applies a soft data cap.
In fact, (Mobile) Priority subscribers will be downgraded to Standard access, meaning they experience the same speeds as Residential users while Roam subscribers will always receive the lowest priority.
In the end, Starlink is introducing the data cap to provide a faster browsing experience to all of its 1.5 million+ subscribers.
Starlink is thus implementing the cap to “ensure our customer base is not negatively impacted by a small number of users consuming unusually high amounts of data.”
Does Starlink Have Data Caps Right Now?
Yes, the soft data cap went into effect in April 2023. Interestingly, this is the third time Starlink revised its guidance on the implementation date.
Initially, the Fair Use Policy was slated for a December 2022 launch. Starlink then revised the launch to February 2023 first only to delay it to its current date in April.
Then, in the beginning of May, Starlink revised its offering to now include plans with Priority data (Business and Priority Mobile/Maritime), Standard data (Residential), and Best Effort data (Roam, Best Effort).
Some users have speculated that Starlink just wants to train its subscribers to monitor their consumption and thus not take up too much bandwidth.
They assumed that Starlink may continue delaying the implementation until it resolves its speed issues in North America.
Starlink’s Data Cap vs Competitors
By definition, Starlink is always going to have a tough time competing against land-based options like fiber. So, let’s rather focus on how it stacks up against its satellite-based competitors.
In the United States, Starlink largely competes against two geostationary satellite operators, namely HughesNet and Viasat.
Both companies impose different types of data caps on their customers. HughesNet, depending on the plan you opted into, is capped at 15 GB to 200 GB.
Speed will be severely decreased once you hit that data cap. However, HughesNet offers a 50 GB Bonus Zone from 2:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m., which adds at least some additional capacity to the user’s cap.
Similarly, Viasat is capped between 12 GB to 150 GB, depending on the plan you have chosen. Afterward, users will also experience severely diminished speeds.
In any of those two cases, Starlink offers a much better deal with the 1 TB cap. Ultimately, Starlink is much cheaper on a per-byte basis than any of its US-based competitors.
Across the pond, it doesn’t look much different either. Whether it’s Freedomsat in the United Kingdom or Telstra in Australia – Starlink beats them all on data allowance.
One aspect that remains to be seen is how fast Starlink’s deprioritized performance will end up being and whether it’s still faster than competing services.
Strategies to Mitigate Data Usage
While the 1 TB cap may seem restrictive, it is (at least in my opinion) fairly generous and should be plenty enough.
First and foremost, the fact that you are cognizant of your consumption, with the information being a few clicks away only, likely leads to less ‘wasteful’ usage.
With that out of the way, there are a few best practices you should be following in order to stay under the limit.
First, it is advisable to download any sort of media, but especially video, at a lower resolution (4K vs. 720p, for example).
Many streaming media platforms, such as Netflix or YouTube, do allow you to adjust video qualities.
On a device level, it’s also advised to turn off any automatic background downloads of applications.
Back in January 2023, Starlink introduced a sleep mode feature, which you could activate during the day to further limit usage.
Another option, especially if you’re subscribed to Mobile Priority, is to conduct downloads when connected to fiber or 5G.
How Likely Are Customers to Exceed Their Cap?
Now, this question can only be answered on an individual basis. For example, it makes a huge difference if you’re two or six people under the same roof.
Personally, my parents and I, whenever I’m home visiting them for a month, never exceed more than 150 GB per month.
And that includes somewhat data-heavy work (I’m a product manager and regularly download data and reports, for example) and loads of streaming (not on 4K, though).
That sentiment is largely shared among other users on Facebook and Reddit. In one example, a Reddit user reported that he and his family of 5 other people ‘only’ used about 400 GB per month.
The key, as I’ve outlined in the previous paragraph, is to either limit your media consumption or compromise on quality.
In any case, what gets measured ultimately gets improved, meaning it should be manageable to stay under the cap just by virtue of you being aware of data consumption.
However, if you’re a business (i.e., subscribed to Priority), then staying below the cap may be a lot tougher.
With that being said, you’ll only be downgraded to Standard access, meaning you can still expect download speeds of around 100 Mbps – plenty enough for the majority of activities.