What is Satellite Internet? 

The vast majority of us rely on a standard fiber/cable-based broadband internet connection. One in which an internet provider sends internet signals to our homes through cables and wires, and then we either connect our devices directly to a modem with an ethernet cable or utilize a WiFi router to spread the signals wirelessly around our homes. 

However, that setup requires an internet provider to send the signals from a central location to the modem in our homes, and that gets more and more difficult the further away from the hub you are. 

This is the reason why it’s often quite challenging for people in rural parts of the country to get adequate internet access. This leaves many people with only two options – one being dialup and the second being satellite internet. For those unfamiliar with what exactly satellite internet is, we’ve put together a quick overview. 

What is It? 

Satellite internet is essentially wireless internet that is sent from satellites orbiting the earth in space. 

It is the only sort of broadband connection now available to those in remote locations in all 50 states, according to CNET. It falls short of fiber or cable connections in terms of internet speed. However, satellite broadband can be quite useful in situations where reliable internet connectivity is hard to come by.

A lack of internet access is a major problem, and one that the White House is actively working to address. Advancing satellite internet access and capabilities is one way to help expand access. 

How Does Satellite Internet Work? 

Satellite internet uses three satellite dishes: one in space, one on the customer’s property, and one at the hub of the internet service provider. You also need a modem and cables connecting the satellite and modem.

It functions similarly to Satellite TV. An internet service provider launches satellites into orbit around the planet. The signal is subsequently transmitted from the service provider using a satellite on the ground to the orbiting satellite, which then sends the signal to a receiving dish to catch the signal. The receiver is often installed on your house or place of business in an area with the most clear view of the sky. To convert the incoming signal into a usable internet connection, you’ll attach a modem to that dish.

Infographic on Satellite Internet

Where is Satellite Internet Available? 

Over 99% of Americans have access to satellite internet, including most (but not all) rural residents. You don’t need to have your home wired or cabled to a land-based internet network because the internet signal is transmitted from satellites. People who reside in remote areas without that kind of internet access will find it useful as a result. Nevertheless, some people living in remote areas won’t be able to use satellite internet. People who live in steep canyons or other remote areas of Alaska cannot get satellite internet.

How Does It Compare? 

Satellite internet has reached standard broadband speeds thanks to recent advances. Although it is still more expensive than the majority of other popular internet access methods. Alternative choices typically provide faster and lower latency connections. We’ve talked before about needing an internet hotspot and Wifi, but satellite is more widely available.

Both DSL and cable internet are widely used; depending on your plan, DSL download speeds can range from 3 to 50 Mbps while cable download speeds can range from 10 to 940 Mbps. Typically, satellite internet speeds range from 12 to 100 Mbps.

This may change soon though as technology keeps advancing. Elon Musk owns a satellite internet service named Starlink, and he once promised that the company would be able to deliver speeds up to 300 Mbps, once all of its infrastructure was completed. While those speeds don’t seem to have yet been achieved, advances are being made everyday. 

Pros and Cons 

Pros: 

  • Available in rural areas where other types of internet service are not. 
  • While not extremely fast, it is faster than dial-up which is the only other option for many people.
  • More and more providers are popping up, including major companies like Amazon. 
  • Technology is advancing rapidly, meaning faster speeds and more reliable service are on the horizon. 

Cons:

  • Data restrictions that vary by carrier can lead to expensive bills and slower speeds when limits are exceeded. 
  • High latency due to the far distance the data travels. 
  • There are some geographical limitations like heavily wooded areas or deep canyons that can interfere with signals. 
  • High jitter. 

Satelitte Internet Providers

HughesNet and Viasat are the two satellite internet providers that have been around the longest, but as mentioned above, Starlink is a newer player from SpaceX and Elon Musk, and Amazon is also trying to get in the game with Project Kuiper.

According to CNET reviews, HughesNet is best among satellite internet providers for speed reliability. It scores well with its consistency of internet service with download speeds. 

CNET rates Viasat as the best among satellite internet providers for versatility of plans. It allows customers to pick a package that best meets their needs. 

Starlink is rated as having the best potential among satellite internet providers. With tons of investment and dedication from SpaceX to continue improving the service, the future is bright for Starlink, and it already offers faster download speeds and lower latency than is typically seen from competitors.  


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