To say that Starlink has taken Australia by storm is quite the understatement. In a little over two years of operation, it has managed to rise to become Australia’s most popular satellite-based internet service provider.
Incumbent players like NBN Sky Muster are now playing catchup while current subscribers are left wondering whether they should be switching to Starlink or not (*cough* they probably should *cough*).
Before we dive into how NBN and Starlink stack up against each other, here’s a closer look at some key figures:
|NBN Sky Muster||Starlink*|
|Total Subscribers||~ 95,000||~ 120,000|
|No. of Satellites||2||5,000+|
|Coverage||All of Australia||All of Australia + 60 other countries|
|Pricing (AUD)||$34.95 – $204.95||$139 (Residential)|
So, without further ado, let’s break the two down to help you decide the most suitable option based on your needs.
How NBN & Starlink Work
Before I begin explaining what NBN and Starlink do, it’s important to note that we are talking about Sky Muster whenever I’m referring to NBN-related services.
NBN, which is operated by the Australian government, is comprised of multiple wired and radio communication components.
Local internet service providers (ISPs) then work with NBN to access the data network and offer various internet services to consumers and businesses alike.
Those ISPs (and consequently customers) access said network via fiber, HFC cable, fixed wireless, and satellite connections – with the last one being Sky Muster.
Back in 2015/2016, NBN launched two satellites, dubbed NBN Co 1A and 1B, into Earth’s geosynchronous (GEO) orbit.
Those two satellites roam our planet at a distance of about 35,786 kilometers above the equator, north of Australia.
By having two satellites deployed, NBN can ensure that at least one is always covering the entirety of the Australian continent.
The end user is connected to those satellites via a network of 7 ground stations and a satellite dish, which is commonly installed on one’s roof.
Ground stations, also known as gateways, serve as the main communication hubs between the satellite network and the terrestrial internet infrastructure. They send and receive data to and from the satellites.
When a user sends a request (e.g., clicking on a web page link), data from the user’s device goes to their satellite modem, which transmits the signal to the dish. This signal, called an uplink, is sent to the satellite.
The satellite relays this request to one of the ground stations, which connects to the internet to fetch the required data. The ground station then sends this data back to the satellite, which in turn sends it to the user’s satellite dish — this is the downlink.
Said data is then passed to the user’s satellite modem and then to the user’s device, thus allowing him or her to browse the internet.
Starlink operates fairly similarly to Sky Muster, with two clear distinctions: its satellites are located much closer to Earth at a distance of about 550 kilometers – commonly referred to as low-earth orbit (or LEO).
And since Starlink’s satellites are much closer to our planet, it needs to launch substantially more of them to provide the necessary coverage.
In fact, Starlink just crossed the inaugural mark of 5,000 launched satellites, of which close to 4,000 remain operational.
Those satellites normally have a lifespan of around 5 to 6 years whereas NBN’s satellites will remain in operation for up to 15 years.
Lastly, Starlink users are provided with a hardware kit containing a dish (also referred to as dishy), router, and various cables for power supply (pictured above).
The setup process itself is very straightforward (whereas Sky Muster will often require a professional installer). We published a detailed article on Starlink’s installation process here.
NBN Sky Muster plans can generally be categorized into three tiers, namely a Regular, Plus, and Premium option.
The regular ones are normally capped at 12 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speed. Furthermore, data consumption is heavily limited, too.
The more upscale plans not only offer higher speeds (up to 100 Mbps) but are sometimes not capped as well.
Starlink offers a total of seven different internet plans. These are called Residential, Portability, Roam, Best Effort, Business, Aviation, and Maritime.
As such, Starlink caters to both consumers as well as businesses. NBN, on the other hand, is solely focused on the consumer market.
Another major difference is that Starlink enables you to be mobile – for example, by subscribing to Roam. The hardware itself can be transported anywhere Starlink is licensed to operate.
The expected performance is certainly the biggest differentiator between the two services. But first things first.
NBN Sky Muster claims that users can expect download speeds of 12 Mbps for the regular and 25 Mbps when being subscribed to the Plus plan.
In rare instances, download speed can shoot up all the way to 100 Mbps if the network isn’t busy. You’ll likely experience those types of speeds during the night when everyone’s asleep.
Additionally, upload performance normally varies between 1 Mbps to 5 Mbps. Lastly, latency will hover around 600 milliseconds.
As I’ve mentioned above, that’s grounded in the fact that NBN’s two satellites are roaming Earth’s orbit at a distance of ~ 36,000 km, which means it takes the signal substantially longer to travel to and from the satellite.
Lastly, Sky Muster plans are also capped, depending on the chosen tier. For instance, SkyMesh, one of NBN’s authorized resellers, offers the following options:
Resellers oftentimes differentiate between peak and off-peak hour (1 am – 7 am) usage after which subscribers will be capped at 256 Kbps.
With that said, resellers do also offer uncapped plans, which oftentimes coincide with getting the highest possible speeds as well.
Starlink, on the other hand, claims that users subscribed to the Residential plan (also called Standard) can expect download speeds of 90 Mbps to 240 Mbps.
Additionally, uploads can be as high as 25 Mbps while latency varies between 25 ms to 60 ms. Those subscribed to its Priority options, i.e., Business and Maritime, could even see speeds of up to 275 Mbps.
The Standard plan provides users with unlimited internet while Starlink’s Priority options are capped (the cap itself is dependent on what tier you choose).
However, once you reach the Priority cap, you’ll simply be degraded to Standard network prioritization, meaning your performance will be equal to those of Residential users.
This is also where the closeness and vastness of Starlink’s satellite constellation comes into play. The signal from the user’s dish to the satellite and back takes substantially less time to be transmitted, thus resulting in much lower latency figures.
And since Starlink operates thousands of satellites, it can offer substantially more bandwidth. Each NBN satellite, for reference, has a total throughput of 80 gigabits per second (= 10 gigabytes per second).
That bandwidth has to then be shared among the roughly 95,000 subscribers of Sky Muster. So, if every subscriber were to access the internet at the same time, they’d experience download speeds of around 0.11 Mbps (10 Gbps / 95,000 subscribers).
While that’s obviously not the case, this simple calculation still highlights why NBN subscribers are capped at around 25 Mbps.
Meanwhile, each first-gen Starlink satellite offers 20 Gbps of bandwidth. The newer Gen2 version even boasts up to 80 Gbps.
Not only are Starlink’s satellites more powerful but the bandwidth itself is being shared among fewer users.
That’s because Starlink is splitting up each coverage area into so-called cells (often in the shape of a hexagon), so there’s only limited radiofrequency (RF) energy that is transmitted or received by a satellite’s antenna.
And since dozens of satellites are likely above a user at any given time, they can even pass the signal onto another one to provide additional bandwidth (commonly referred to as inter-satellite links or ISL).
Ironically, Starlink’s growth in Australia may very well lead to an improvement in Sky Muster’s performance.
NBN’s total subscriber count has dropped sharply over the last few months, which means that fewer users will have to compete for the same amount of bandwidth.
As a result, and should NBN or its resellers not allocate that bandwidth elsewhere, users will experience faster speeds.
And since NBN’s satellites boast a lifetime of 15 years, they’re going to remain in operation until around 2030. That available bandwidth, in the end, will have to be allocated somewhere.
For the sake of comparability, I’m only going to list the prices of Starlink’s stationary plans (since NBN Sky Muster does not offer any mobile options), more specifically Residential and Business.
As stated in the previous chapter, NBN is working together with authorized resellers who are dealing with customer queries, conducting installation, and ultimately invoiceing them.
Therefore, prices may vary greatly depending on the reseller and plan that you choose. Here’s an overview of the pricing (in AUD and per month) for some of the most popular resellers:
- Sky Muster: $34.95 – $89.95; 12/1 Mbps download/upload speed; 155 GB – 260 GB
- Sky Muster Plus: $49.95 – $84.95; 25/5 Mbps download/upload speed; Unmetered 25 – 65 GB
- Sky Muster Plus Premium: $99; burst download speeds up to 100/10 Mbps; unmetered data
- Faster (12/1): $34.95 – $199.95; 12/1 Mbps download/upload speed; 85 GB – 305 GB
- Fastest (25/5): $39.95 – $204.95; 25/5 Mbps download/upload speed; 85 GB – 305 GB
- Sky Muster Plus Medium: $65; 25/5 Mbps; 50 GB limit during peak & uncapped during off-peak
- Sky Muster Plus Large: $95; 25/5 Mbps; 75 GB limit during peak & uncapped during off-peak
- Sky Muster Plus Unmetered: $100; burst up to 100/10 Mbps; unmetered data
- nbn 12/1: $34.95; 60 GB limit
- nbn 25/5: $54.95; 210 GB limit
- nbn 25/5 (Partially Unlimited): $74.95; 50 GB peak video/VPN while all other usage is unmetered
- nbn 25/5 (Completely Unlimited): $99.95; burst speeds up to 100 Mbps
Some resellers are charging a hardware fee on the equipment as well. For example, activ8me offers routers for $84.95, $144.95, and $164.95, respectively (if you choose to not use your own).
On the other end, Starlink pricing is much more straightforward. The comparable Residential plan costs $139 (AUD) per month. The Business (or Priority) tier will put you down $374 per month.
Hardware fees equal $924 for the standard rectangular kit. However, Starlink is currently discounting its hardware and offering it for $399.
Starlink has discounted its hardware multiple times already, previously offering it for as little as $199 in selected areas.
If you want to use the more potent High Performance dish, which offers a greater field of view and temperate resistance, among others, then you’ll have to pay $2,999 (down from $3,740).
NBN Sky Muster terms are ultimately dependent on the reseller you choose. With that said, most of them have very friendly cancellation policies.
SkyMesh, for example, offers the right to terminate a contract within 14 days of the date of the notice.
The cancellation periods normally range from 14 days to 30 days. In order to terminate the contract, you’ll have to pay any outstanding balance.
Starlink’s contract terms are very straightforward and similarly subscriber-friendly, providing you with all kinds of flexibility.
You can cancel your contract at any given time. All you have to do is pay any outstanding fees that you’re owed.
And if you cancel within the first 30 days, then you’ll be refunded the cost of the hardware. Plus, those on its Mobile plans (e.g., Roam) can pause service at any given time.
My Personal Verdict
Running this site obviously makes me somewhat biased. Nonetheless, I still think that switching to Starlink is almost a no-brainer for anyone currently subscribed to a Sky Muster plan.
If anything, your latency will drastically improve, which should make activities such as gaming or video conferencing substantially more enjoyable.
And SpaceX is constantly improving the service, whether it’s by launching more satellites or securing partnerships with the likes of Cloudflare.
I’d presume that even if every current Sky Muster subscriber would switch to Starlink, then its network is still resistant enough to offer substantially higher download and upload speeds.
And the best part (at least in my humble opinion)? You could always (temporarily) switch to Roam and use the hardware kit for a camping trip to the Outback…