Traffic from Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites tripled this year: report

Global internet traffic from Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites nearly tripled this year, according to an analysis published Tuesday by the tech infrastructure firm Cloudflare. 

U.S. traffic from Starlink grew by more than 150% this year compared with 2022, Cloudflare said in the end-of-year report. And traffic increased this year by more than 1,600% in Brazil, where Starlink began service last year, Cloudflare said. 

The Starlink customers in Brazil have included several illegal mining operations, which otherwise have few options for connecting with one another in the remote parts of the Amazon, The Associated Press reported in March. 

The rapid expansion of the service shows how Musk continues to increase his global influence through the service despite his many controversies. Starlink’s traffic grew much faster than global internet traffic as a whole, which rose 25%, Cloudflare said. 

“They’re continuing to make their service available in more and more places, which will just drive more and more traffic onto their network,” David Belson, Cloudflare’s head of data insight, said in a phone interview. 

Starlink, a division of Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, has not confirmed Cloudflare’s growth numbers. SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the numbers. 

Starlink uses thousands of low-orbit satellites to deliver internet service to portable dishes. It’s especially popular in rural areas, including in certain schools, though satellite internet remains a small share of global internet usage. 

SpaceX has previously said Starlink has more than 2 million active customers and is available in more than 60 countries. 

Starlink has inspired concerns about Musk’s growing international influence even as some people have hailed it as a breakthrough in satellite internet technology. Musk’s control of Starlink has given him a personal say in the course of the Russia-Ukraine war — at one point he denied Ukraine the internet access it wanted to aid in an attack on the Russian navy — as well as in the Israel-Hamas war. 

Musk, the CEO of SpaceX and Tesla and the owner of the social media app X, defended his decisions about Ukraine after U.S. senators objected to his influence. 

“Our terms of service clearly prohibit Starlink for offensive military action, as we are a civilian system, so they were again asking for something that was expressly prohibited,” he wrote on X in September. 

The terms of service state that Starlink can be used in “times of crisis. However, Starlink is not designed or intended for use with or in offensive or defensive weaponry or other comparable end-uses.” 

SpaceX is building a military-specific version of the service called Starshield for the U.S. military, which also is a customer of its rocket service. 

Cloudflare, which has a window into internet traffic through a variety of widely used services, said Starlink remained the market leader in satellite internet. While it was not the first to offer such a service, Starlink has succeeded in regions “that were previously unserved or underserved by traditional wired or wireless broadband,” Cloudflare said. 

A map on Starlink’s website displays dozens of countries where it says service is “coming soon,” including India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey and most of Africa. Some African countries, including Musk’s native South Africa, ban the import or use of Starlink kits unless users obtain government licenses first, Business Insider reported in September. 

But Starlink will soon have more competition, Cloudflare said in its report. Amazon is building a competing service called Project Kuiper with plans to launch satellites next year. Two European firms merged in September to create another competitor, Eutelsat OneWeb.