It’s no secret that Australia is a massive country, so making sure that everyone has access to fast internet is always going to be a massive challenge.
Satellite internet plays an important role in ensuring that the majority of Australians have access to fast internet regardless of where they live. In country towns and rural areas internet options are limited. NBN fibre to the node or curb infrastructure may not be available and the distance to the nearest exchange may be too far for ADSL which leaves satellite internet as the only option remaining for broadband internet access.
There are currently two main players in the Satellite internet space in Australia:
- Sky Muster (NBN)
- Starlink (SpaceX – Elon Musk)
This article compares Sky Muster and Starlink satellite internet providers and provides the key pros and cons of each service.
What is NBN Sky Muster Satellite internet?
As mentioned in our article on different types of NBN connections, Sky Muster is the satellite internet provided by NBN Co which is the Australian government owned national broadband network provider.
There are currently two Sky Muster satellites that provide internet to remote parts of Australia. To access Sky Muster, a satellite dish must be installed on your house so you can receive the signal from the satellite. Satellite connections are much slower than the other NBN connections but the technology is improving all the time. NBN Sky muster internet is currently available in speeds up to 25Mbps.
A network of 10 ground stations, each featuring two 13.5 metre satellite dishes which broadcast the internet signal to the orbiting Sky Muster satellites. The ground stations have been built in specific locations across Australia to maximize both the availability and capacity of the system.
What is Starlink Satellite Internet?
Starlink is a satellite internet provider owned and operated by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. It is available in 36 countries globally and has recently become available in Australia. You can check Starlink satellite coverage.
Starlink’s main advantage over conventional satellite internet providers is that its satellites orbit the earth at much lower altitudes which means that it is able to deliver faster internet with low latency.
Starlink’s key market is rural and remote areas due to most of the world’s rural population having little to no access to the ‘normal’ fibre optics-based broadband internet. It is not as cost competitive in cities as there are usually numerous wired and wireless internet options available in urban areas. We have already written an overview of Starlink internet but this article goes on a much deeper dive.
How does Starlink and Sky muster work?
Sky Muster and Starlink are very different types of satellites but they operate in similar ways.
Sky Muster and Starlink satellites are both in orbit above the earth and communicate with ground mounted satellite dishes called ground stations. The ground station has a high speed internet connection and sends the signal up to the satellite which then re-transmits it to your house via the satellite dish or receiver on your home.
The diagram below is a simplified view of how satellite internet services work.
How does Starlink compare to NBN Sky Muster?
What do Sky Muster and Starlink satellites actually look like?
As you can see from the images below, Sky Muster satellites look like the conventional communications satellites that you see on TV from time to time. Starlink satellites look a bit like a yacht from the future. Both satellites are powered by solar panels as you can see in the pictures.
NBN Sky Muster satellites are one of the largest communications satellites
Size and Weight
NBN Sky Muster satellites are one of the largest communications satellites in the world. On the other hand, Starlink Satellites are tiny in comparison. The table below summarises the size and weight of the both the satellite types.
|NBN Sky Muster
|26 metres long, 12 metres wide, and 9 metres tall.
|Roughly the size of a dining table ie. 2 metres long and 1 metre wide.
Number of Satellites
At the time of writing, there are currently 2,750 Starlink satellites in orbit and SpaceX have been granted permission for up to 12,000 satellites to be launched. There are roughly 400 Starlink satellites above Australia at any one time.
The image below shows all the Starlink Satellites above Australia. Pretty amazing! You can track the Starlink Satellites in real time at this interactive website.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sky Muster has only 2 satellites above Australia in high orbit which can cover the whole country.
|Satellites over Australia
|2,750 and growing
|2 (only available in Australia)
Sky Muster satellites have a very high orbit which means that each satellite is able to cover a huge area. Sky Muster only needs 2 satellites to cover the whole of Australia.
On the other hand, Starlink satellites orbit the earth at a much lower altitude which means that there needs to be hundreds of satellites to cover the whole of Australia.
NBN Sky Muster vs Sky Muster Plus – What’s the difference?
NBN Sky Muster comes in two flavours: Sky Muster and Sky Muster Plus. The main
With standard Sky Muster all downloads will count towards the monthly quota whereas with Sky Muster Plus only video streaming and VPN traffic between midnight and 4pm counts towards the monthly data quota. Sky Muster Plus is also faster than standard Sky Muster.
Examples of video streaming that count towards your monthly data allowance between 4pm and 12am midnight, include: Netflix, ABC iView, Stan, FOXTEL, You Tube, Tik Tok, Play On and embedded video on newspaper and magazine websites.
Examples of Virtual Private Network traffic that count towards your monthly data allowance between 4pm and 12am midnight include: accessing the internet through products like Nord VPN, Norton Secure VPN, Pure VPN and/ or VPNs proprietary to workplaces and companies.
In early 2023, NBN will be conducting a trial to offer completely unmetered Sky Muster plus plan that will offer burst speeds of up to 100mbps download and 20mbps upload. This is an exciting development for NBN satellite internet in Australia and we will keep you up to date with the latest news.
Standard Sky Musters plans are offered at NBN 12 (12Mbps) and NBN 25 (25Mbps) whereas Sky Muster Plus plans are advertised with a minimum download speed of 25Mbps with a burst speed of up to 50Mbps and an upload speed of 5Mbps.
On the other hand Starlink claims download speeds of 100Mbps to 200Mbps and upload speeds of around 25Mbps. These figures are confirmed by Ookla’s speed test results where the average Starlink speeds in Australia were 138Mbps for download and 22Mbps for upload.
Sky Muster plan data allowances range from 150GB to 300GB. Sky Muster Plus has an unlimited data except for streaming video and VPN during peak periods. It can appear to be a bit confusing to be honest. At the time of writing, I couldn’t find a legitimate fully unlimited data Sky Muster plan.
Starlink, on the other had, only has one plan for residential customers and it includes unlimited data use.
As discussed in our Ultimate Guide to the NBN, latency is the time it takes to send data and receive a response and is measured in milliseconds (ms). In the case of a satellite internet system, the data has to travel a lot further than a typical fibre to the node or curb system.
Poor latency (the higher the number the worse the latency) is a common issue associated with satellite internet.
Because NBN satellites orbit the earth at such a great height, it takes time for the signal to be sent and received between dish and satellites, which can result in bad latency. Sky Muster satellite latency is around 600ms.
Starlink is able to achieve much lower latency because its satellites are a lot closer to Earth. Typical values for latency for Starlink are between 20ms and 40ms.
The Starlink residential plan costs $139 per month in Australia with a $924 setup and hardware fee and $115 in shipping and handling. So you are looking at almost ~$1200 to get setup including your first month. Starlink is significantly more expensive than Sky Muster.
NBN Sky Muster on the other hand is much cheaper and comes in many different shapes and sizes.
Sky Muster plans start at around $35 per month for 50 to 100GB of data. Sky Muster Plus plans are a bit more expensive and start at around $70 per month.
|150GB to 500GB
|$35/month to $70/month
|Sky Muster Plus
|25 Mbps to 50 Mbps
|Unlimited except for VPN and streaming
|$70/month to $135/month
|100 to 200 MBps
|$139/month + $924 setup + $115 shipping
Starlink vs Sky Muster – Which one should I choose?
Starlink and Sky Muster really cater to two totally different markets and whether you choose Starlink or Sky Muster really depends on your situation.
If you play games, work from home regularly or stream heaps of online video content then Starlink is probably better for you.
If you are a small consumer of the internet and are prepared to put up with some buffering and lag in order to save some money then you will be able to find a Sky Muster plan to suit your needs.
If you are currently a Sky Muster customer and are frustrated with the speed or lag then it might be worth giving Starlink a go.
Is Starlink better than Sky Muster?
The short answer is yes. Starlink is faster, has unlimited data and no and has lower latency so it is technically better than Sky Muster but it can also be much more expensive than Sky Muster depending on how you use it.
Is Starlink viable in the long term?
That’s a tough question to answer. What Elon Musk has achieved in getting Starlink off the ground is nothing short of amazing but maintaining a network of satellites and launching new satellites is a very expensive operation. Time will tell if Starlink reaches a point where it has enough customers worldwide to be profitable.
As wireless mobile networks continue to improve and become cheaper in price they are a real threat to companies like Space X. A mobile phone tower is much cheaper to install and maintain than a satellite.
What do you think? Let us know.
Some real world data
A friend of mine lives on a semi rural property about an hour out of Newcastle. He doesn’t have access to cable based internet so is forced to use Satellite internet.
He was with NBN Sky Muster and was getting download speeds of 5-15Mbps and a latency of 800 to 1200ms.
He recently changed to Starlink and is now getting download speeds of 50 to 150Mbps with a latency of 30 to 60ms.
The improvement is quite remarkable and he was on quite a high data plan with Sky Muster so is paying about the same per month for both of the services.