Abstract related to the idea of data

xFi Complete, Unlimited Data, And Wacky Pricing

Many internet service providers try to rent customers combination modem/routers for $10-$20 per month. I generally advise people who are slightly tech-savvy to save money by buying their own modems and routers. Recently, I realized there’s an exception to my advice that applies to Xfinity Internet customers.

On many Xfinity plans, there’s a 1.2TB per month cap on data use.1 The options an Xfinity customer has for removing the cap depend on whether a customer is renting an xFi modem. Customers that don’t rent a modem have to pay an extra $30 per month for unlimited data. Customers that already rent an xFi modem for $14 per month can pay an extra $11 ($25 per month) for xFi Complete. With xFi Complete, customers get unlimited data by default.

Here’s a table from Xfinity’s page on Xfi Complete that describes various options:

Table showing attributes of plans with xFi Complete, xFi standard, and self-purchased equipment

While the large majority of Xfinity customers won’t exceed 1.2TB of data use, tech-savvy customers that own their own equipment likely use more data than the average customer. Oddly enough, renting a modem with xFi Complete is cheaper than buying your own equipment and upgrading to unlimited data.2

Starlink Aiming For Global Coverage By September

Gwynne Shotwel, SpaceX’s president and COO was recently quoted by Reuters:

We’ve successfully deployed 1,800 or so satellites and once all those satellites reach their operational orbit, we will have continuous global coverage, so that should be like September timeframe.”

Shotwel’s comments were made during a conversation with Macquarie Group, an investment banking company.

While Starlink may have global coverage before the end of 2021, I expect it will take longer for Starlink to offer service in the majority of countries. The company has plenty of logistical and regulatory hurdles to deal with.

Earth and space

Upcoming Starlink Update

Yesterday, Starlink shared an update email with subscribers in the company’s beta program. The email mentioned several recent improvements to Starlink’s product. An upcoming, major update was also mentioned:

Today, your Starlink speaks to a single satellite assigned to your terminal for a particular period of time. In the future, if communication with your assigned satellite is interrupted for any reason, your Starlink will seamlessly switch to a different satellite, resulting in far fewer network disruptions.

It sounds like the new feature may be rolled out gradually with most users getting the update sometime this month:

This feature will be available to most beta users in April and is expected to deliver one of our most notable reliability improvements to date.
Stary Sky

Starlink First Impressions

I joined Starlink’s beta and recently got the service up and running. While I’ll write a detailed review eventually, I thought I’d share my first impressions now.

Like others in the beta, I paid about $500 for my satellite dish (Dishy as Starlink calls it) and router. Taxes and shipping added about $100 more.

The Dishy, a basic mount, a router, and cords all showed up in one giant box:

Starlink starter kit box

Setup was incredibly easy. Here’s how simple Starlink’s instructions were:

Starlink setup instructions

Most of the cords were already plugged-in where they belonged. Within about 15 minutes of opening the box, I connected a computer over Wi-Fi and ran a test finding a download speed of about 35Mbps. I ran about a dozen tests in total, and I think that first test found the lowest speed of them all. Here are the results from the first test I ran over a wired connection:

Test result showing 30ms ping and 78.5 Mbps download speed

Starlink suggested I should expect download speeds between 50Mbps and 150Mbps during the beta. Nearly all of my tests showed speeds in that range, but typically in the lower end of the range (50-100Mbps).

While people often focus on speeds, I think speed is an overrated performance metric. Once a connection exceeds something like 20Mbps, further speed increases have vastly diminishing returns.1

Latency is where Starlink shines. My tests consistently showed latency below 50ms. That’s roughly on-par with the typical latency for cable or DSL connections. It’s also about an order of magnitude lower than the usual latency for satellite internet.

I continue to be excited to see where things go with Starlink. I’ll share more as I continue to trial the service.

Miscellaneous notes

  • After setting up my service, I decided to grab the Starlink app in case I missed anything important. The app worked fine, but I didn’t learn anything new from it.
  • Starlink’s communication style is refreshingly informal. It’s the opposite of the corporate-bullshit speak that’s typical from ISPs. E.g., the Starlink beta was named “The Better Than Nothing Beta.” I’d love to see Starlink keep up the current vibe as the service matures.
  • The router has one available Ethernet port (separate from the port used to connect to Dishy).
  • The router’s design is unique (Cybertruck-esque).
Speed abstract

Will Starlink Double Speeds This Year?

When I got invited to Starlink’s beta, the company included this message in my invitation email:

During beta, users can expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s and latency from 20ms to 40ms in most locations over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.

Yesterday, a Starlink user tweeted a screenshot showing a download speed of 130Mbps and a latency of 44ms. Here’s the reply Elon Musk left:

It’s an audacious goal. While some tests with Starlink have already shown sub-20ms latency, that kind of performance is far from typical. Getting speeds to 300Mbps this year would be a real accomplishment.

In the last several months, Musk has made a handful of bold predictions. He has claimed humans will probably land on Mars in the next 6 years and that Tesla will be capable of Level 5 autonomous driving by the end of 2021. While I don’t think either of those predictions will come to fruition, I find Musk’s speculation about Starlink’s performance more plausible. I think there’s about a 50% chance the prediction will look basically correct a year from now.

Internet abstract

Dawson On Measuring Speeds

Doug Dawson of CCG Consulting shared an excellent blog post this morning titled The Fantasy of Measuring Speeds. He gives an excellent overview of why two people who live in the same city might experience different speeds despite subscribing to the same plan offered by an internet service provider.

Dawson argues that lots of important information is thrown away when we pretend that a single measure of speed can explain the quality of a service a provider offers. Internet services don’t even offer individual customers a fixed speed:

What’s the right speed on a broadband network? The speed that can be obtained at 4:00 in the morning when the network is empty or the speed at 8:30 in the evening when the network is bogged down with the heaviest neighborhood usage?

If you’ve never done it, I suggest you run multiple speed tests, back-to-back. I am on a Charter cable network and I ran speed tests for any hour recently and I saw reported speed varying by as much as 50%. What speed is my broadband connection?…The FCC is about to embark on a grand new scheme to force ISPs to better define and report broadband speeds. It’s bound to fail. If I can’t figure out the speed on my cable modem connection, then the FCC is on a fool’s mission.

The trouble with the FCC’s approach is that the agency wants an ISP to report actual speed by clusters of homes – today it’s by Census block and soon it will be polygons. But this is a waste of everybody’s time when nobody can even define the speed for an individual home.

I strongly recommend the full post.

While I largely agree with Dawson, I take a more optimistic stance. Transitioning from collecting data at the census-block level to collecting data at the level of polygons may bring incremental improvements. I’d like to see that transition, even if it won’t solve underlying issues with the FCC’s approach.

Farmer with tablet

Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase 1 Results

Today, the FCC announced the winners of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase 1 auction. In this reverse auction, the FCC had up to 16 billion dollars in funds available for compensating companies building out broadband networks in underserved areas.

The excerpt below comes from the FCC’s press release:

Auction results released today show that bidders won funding to deploy high-speed broadband to over 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses, almost 99% of the locations available in the auction. Moreover, 99.7% of these locations will be receiving broadband with speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps, with an overwhelming majority (over 85%) getting gigabit-speed broadband.

While up to 16 billion dollars was available in this phase, only 9.2 billion dollars were allocated. The leftover funds will be added to the pot of money available in the next RDOF phase.

Winning companies in this phase of the auction will have funding awarded over the next ten years (contingent on companies meeting certain milestones).

Results

Below, I share the full list of 180 winners sorted by the funding awarded.1

CompanyAmount
LTD Broadband LLC$1,320,920,718.60
CCO Holdings, LLC (Charter Communications)$1,222,613,870.10
Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium$1,104,395,953.00
Space Exploration Technologies Corp.$885,509,638.40
Windstream Services LLC, Debtor-In-Possession$522,888,779.80
AMG Technology Investment Group LLC$429,228,072.90
Frontier Communications Corporation, DIP$370,900,832.80
Resound Networks, LLC$310,681,608.90
Connect Everyone LLC$268,851,315.90
CenturyLink, Inc.$262,367,614.20
Etheric Communications LLC$248,634,963.10
California Internet, L.P. dba GeoLinks$234,889,665.70
Consortium of AEG and Heron Broadband I$194,378,552.00
NRTC Phase I RDOF Consortium$156,714,678.20
Segnem Egere Consortium$152,854,440.70
NexTier Consortium$126,287,693.30
RDOF USA Consortium$112,044,022.70
Prospero Broadband Consortium$100,366,008.80
Point Broadband Fiber Holding, LLC$78,414,413.10
Mercury Wireless, Inc.$68,310,842.00
Co-op Connections Consortium$61,485,589.50
Consolidated Communications, Inc.$58,873,337.50
Frontier Communications Northwest, LLC$57,202,650.80
Talkie Communications, Inc.$57,065,010.20
Citynet West Virginia, LLC$53,516,858.30
Consortium 2020$48,918,960.90
Computer 5, Inc. d/b/a LocalTel Communications$48,818,171.30
Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation$46,055,343.40
Bay Springs Telephone Company, Inc.$41,871,850.10
Continental Divide Electric Cooperative$38,004,786.20
Cal.net, Inc.$29,169,982.60
Commnet Wireless, LLC$28,436,936.10
GigaBeam Networks, LLC$28,067,881.20
Cincinnati Bell Inc.$26,887,580.40
Aptitude Internet LLC$24,655,295.20
Armstrong Telephone Company – Northern Division$22,009,640.50
Grain Communications Opportunity Fund II, L.P.$19,172,673.60
Arrowhead Electric Cooperative, Inc.$18,462,273.10
RHMD, LLC$18,303,843.20
Paul Bunyan Rural Telephone Cooperative$16,307,892.10
Direct Communications Rockland, Inc.$15,745,252.70
Connecting Rural America$14,180,599.00
Blackfoot Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$12,703,077.60
Halstad Telephone Company$12,141,118.40
South Arkansas Telephone Company$11,387,245.50
Pine Belt Communications, Inc.$11,126,003.10
Centre WISP Venture Company, LLC$11,086,348.40
Micrologic Inc.$10,036,047.70
Emery Telephone dba Emery Telcom$9,822,853.00
Digital Connections Inc. dba PRODIGI$8,583,001.40
Rural American Broadband Consortium$8,471,858.10
Chariton Valley Communications Corporation$8,070,272.00
Northern Arapaho Tribal Industries$7,799,035.00
Hamilton County Telephone Co-op$7,796,825.30
St. John Telco$7,116,876.00
Cox Communications, Inc.$6,636,520.50
Reedsburg Utility Commission$6,439,594.10
Savage Communications$6,090,479.10
Hawaii Dialogix Telecom LLC$6,009,953.00
Tennessee Cooperative Group Consortium$5,981,516.90
Peoples Telecom, LLC$5,668,121.40
Cherry Capital Connection, LLC$5,620,840.40
Pioneer Wireless, Inc$5,543,142.00
Atlantic Broadband Finance, LLC$5,407,684.70
Hotwire Communications, Ltd$5,150,040.00
Shenandoah Cable Television, LLC$5,059,616.50
Wisper-CABO 904 Consortium$4,974,442.30
Midcontinent Communications$4,960,473.00
Visionary Communications, Inc.$4,450,264.40
DoCoMo Pacific, Inc.$3,706,235.00
Daviess-Martin County Rural Telephone Corporation$3,565,039.40
Rivers High Group$3,540,398.10
Great Plains Consortium$3,427,873.30
Cellular Services LLC.$3,294,968.60
City of Farmington$3,179,884.50
4-Corners Consortium$2,598,030.00
Pine Cellular Phones, Inc.$2,303,742.10
Mediacom Communications Corporation$2,254,655.00
Hankins Information Technology$2,171,844.50
BEK Communications Cooperative$2,157,719.00
TruVista Communications, Inc.$2,059,050.80
Minnesota Connections c/o Consolidated Tel Company$2,040,278.70
Horizon Communications, Inc.$2,033,292.00
Custer Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$1,954,488.00
American Heartland$1,821,520.00
FiberLight, LLC$1,772,705.80
Bandera Electric Cooperative, Inc.$1,689,601.50
LICT Corporation$1,675,826.80
NBVDS Investment, L.L.C.$1,655,443.40
Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$1,629,930.50
ACT$1,622,136.00
Siuslaw Broadband, LLC dba Hyak Technologies$1,611,684.90
HomeTown Broadband, Inc.$1,424,229.00
Hughes Network Systems, LLC$1,273,784.00
Union Telephone Company$1,264,770.00
Roseau Electric Cooperative, Inc.$1,228,494.00
Safelink Internet LLC$1,197,661.50
Pembroke Telephone Company, Inc.$1,053,063.00
Fond du Lac Communications Inc.$1,046,123.00
Wikstrom Telephone Company$983,637.00
SLIC Network Solutions, Inc.$978,722.00
Altice USA, Inc.$849,880.00
DTC Cable, Inc.$834,597.00
Nova Cablevision, Inc.$785,400.00
Farmers Mutual Telephone Company$759,822.00
Scott County Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$755,841.60
Horry Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$729,554.50
Terral Telephone Company$716,381.20
Worldwide Technologies, Inc.$700,874.20
Somerset Telephone Co., Inc.$669,564.00
AB Indiana LLC$668,304.10
Albion Telephone Company, Inc.$599,795.70
Palmetto Telephone Communications, LLC$570,024.00
Federated Telephone Cooperative$537,399.00
Daktel Communications, LLC$531,894.00
Redzone Wireless, LLC$507,752.00
MEI Telecom, Inc.$479,789.10
Zito West Holding, LLC$457,596.00
Baraga Telephone Company$444,490.80
Lakeland Communications Group, LLC$408,952.00
Heart of the Catskills Comm. Inc., dba MTC Cable$398,574.00
LigTel Communications, Inc.$385,924.00
Citizens Vermont Acquisition Corporation$373,680.00
Allen’s T.V. Cable Service, Inc.$371,348.10
Plains Internet, LLC$345,624.00
Reservation Telephone Cooperative$337,080.00
Miles Communications LLC$316,641.00
Mountain View Telephone Company$298,572.00
RC Technologies$263,796.00
QCOL, Inc.$235,146.00
Socket Telecom, LLC$232,768.80
St Paul Cooperative Telephone Association$190,908.00
Easton Utilities Commission$189,047.60
Newport Utilities$159,492.00
Mountain West Technologies Corporation$141,801.20
One Ring Networks, Inc.$137,715.00
Hamilton Long Distance Company$128,560.30
Bruce Telephone Company, Inc.$113,745.00
Winnebago Cooperative Telecom Association$104,637.80
WC Fiber, LLC$98,189.50
Net Ops Communications, LLC$69,676.40
Enduring Internet$65,690.00
Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association$63,903.00
Northeast Missouri Rural Telephone Company$60,126.00
Skywave Wireless, Inc.$57,660.00
MARQUETTE-ADAMS TELEPHONE COOPERATIVE, INC.$55,378.00
yondoo Broadband LLC$54,833.80
Pioneer Long Distance, Inc.$50,994.00
All West Communications, Inc.$46,648.00
XIT Telecommunication & Technology$43,254.50
Corn Belt Telephone$42,237.00
WTC Communications, Inc.$40,845.20
Consortium 904$40,470.00
MCC Network Services, LLC$36,204.00
Pinpoint Bidding Coalition$31,254.00
Wood County Telephone Company d/b/a Solarus$28,848.00
NMSURF, Inc.$26,964.00
KanOkla Telephone Association$26,538.00
Yucca Telecommunications Systems, Inc.$26,221.00
IdeaTek Telcom, LLC$23,590.60
Home Communications, Inc.$15,540.00
Barry Technology Services, LLC$14,502.00
LR Communications, Inc.$13,974.00
Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company$12,447.00
PVT NetWorks, Inc.$12,039.00
Baldwin Telecom, Inc.$11,370.00
H&B Communication’s, Inc.$11,301.60
NTS Communications, LLC$8,923.00
W. T. Services, Inc.$8,785.70
Computer Techniques, Inc. dba CTI Fiber$8,509.00
Sandhill Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$6,396.00
Taylor Telephone Coop., Inc. dba Taylor Telecom$5,466.00
Comcell Inc.$4,644.00
Peoples Communication, LLC.$4,140.00
Plateau Telecommunications, Inc.$3,150.00
Coleman County Telephone Cooperative, Inc.$3,142.80
Bloosurf, LLC$1,860.50
Wildstar$1,790.00
Unified Communications Inc.$1,604.00
Carolina West Wireless, Inc.$460.00
Satellite illustration

Oversubscription Rates For Satellite Internet

Today, Doug Dawson published a blog post titled Understanding Oversubscription. In the post, Dawson gives a good introduction to how and why internet service providers oversell their services.

In the post’s comments section, a question was raised about oversubscription rates with satellite internet services. Conveniently, there’s enough publicly available information to make a back-of-the-envelope estimates of the oversubscription rates for HughesNet and Viasat, the largest satellite internet providers in the United States.

HughesNet Oversubscription Rate

HughesNet’s JUPITER 1 and JUPITER 2 satellites have a combined capacity of about 320Gbps.1 The last annual report for HughesNet’s parent company reported roughly 1.4 million subscribers in the Americas.2 I can guesstimate HughesNet’s oversubscription rate with the help of a few simplifying assumptions:

  • All 1.4 million customers in the Americans are served by JUPITER 1 and JUPITER 2
  • No other customers are served by JUPITER 1 or JUPITER 2
  • On average, customers subscribe to plans with 25Mbps speeds

With those assumptions, HughesNet has an oversubscription rate of about 109.3

Viasat Oversubscription Rate

Viasat’s 2020 Annual Report states that the company has 590,000 subscribers in the U.S.4 Based on some information on Viasat’s website, I can infer that the company’s active satellites have a combined capacity of about 375Gbps.5 Viasat serves a good number of customers outside of the U.S., which complicates the analysis. I’ll pretend half of the capacity, about 188Gbps, is available to U.S. customers. With these assumptions and an average speed of 25Mbps, I can roughly guesstimate Viasat’s oversubscription rate at about 78.6

More On Starlink Terminal Costs

A Business Insider article (paywalled) came out a few hours ago and suggested SpaceX is paying STMicroelectronics about 2.4 billion dollars to manufacture a million Starlink terminals. Business Insider kept the identity of its source confidential, but the source is described as someone “known to Business Insider.”

The source is quoted saying:

The production agreement specifies 1 million terminals at a price of roughly $2,400 each.

$2,400 is a significantly higher price tag than I would have expected for a terminal, but I’m not sure how seriously to take the new information. While I think it’s true that STMicroelectronics is manufacturing Starlink terminals, the full details of SpaceX’s arrangement weren’t communicated in the Business Insider piece. I wouldn’t be surprised if millionth terminal’s marginal cost ends up well under $2,400.

Satellite Dish

Starlink’s Terminal Costs

Starlink beta testers can purchase a user terminal and a router for about $500. Starlink probably sells these terminals at a significant loss. In a tweet shared earlier this month, Elon Musk wrote:

Lowering Starlink terminal cost, which may sound rather pedestrian, is actually our most difficult technical challenge.

In a recent earnings call, Pradman Kaul, CEO and President of Hughes Network Systems, gave some perspective on the cost of Starlink’s terminal in comparison to conventional terminals for satellite internet:

The big advantage we would have over Starlink is the economics…Our antenna in Jupiter [Hughes’ terminal], it costs $40 to $50. I think most people would agree that, today, the phased array antenna [what Starlink uses] costs are around $1,400, $1,500. So the economics just going to not be a big advantage for them. In fact, it’s going to make our offerings much more attractive.