The very first satellite was launched into space in 1957. A lot has changed since Sputnik 1 made that incredible journey beyond the confines of Earth’s atmosphere. Today, satellites are used to transmit all kinds of information to various locations. In some instances, this includes Internet service. If you’re new to satellite Internet, considering it for the first time, or just curious about it, we’ve got facts and answers for you. Today, we’re taking a deep dive into satellite Internet and what you’ll want to keep in mind as you make your Internet service decisions.
What Is Satellite Internet?
In a nutshell, satellite Internet is a way of getting Internet service to you via your Internet service provider (ISP) with some help from a large round ball of technology orbiting the planet. Instead of using traditional cable wires to deliver the signals, a satellite serves as the go-between to get the signal to your location with the help of some additional equipment.
How Does Satellite Internet Work?
Satellite Internet is a fairly simple technology to use once everything is set up. It starts when the ISP sends a signal to a satellite perched up in space. The signal is then sent to a satellite dish at your location, usually one that’s in a high place outside like the roof or a wall. The dish is linked to a modem, and the modem is connected to your PC, laptop, or any other Internet-connected device. It’s also possible for satellite service to be delivered without a dish, but the same concept applies otherwise. If a dish isn’t used, a satellite antenna may be used instead to improve signal strength.
Who Provides Satellite Internet Service?
HughesNet is one of the better-known satellite internet service providers. They offer or promise download speeds of at least 25Mbps. Viasat offers download speeds that range from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. These are two of the main satellite service providers in the United States right now, but there are some others. One of these is Starlink. This provider handles satellite Internet a bit differently on the satellite positioning side of things, although the concept is still largely the same.
What Kind of Equipment Does Satellite Internet Require?
If you sign up for satellite Internet service, your ISP should give you the equipment you need to get set up. Some providers include this equipment as part of the overall fee while others charge a separate fee for it, which could be a one-time fee or come in the form of monthly rental fees. The main pieces of equipment needed for satellite Internet include:
- A modem
- A wireless router
- Network cable
As we mentioned above, some providers also include a satellite dish as part of the required equipment or a satellite antenna. If you get a dish, it needs to be placed in a higher area that’s free of obstructions like nearby trees or buildings.
The modem for satellite Internet is one that’s designed to convert the satellite-delivered signal to one your network adapter can “read” or interpret. That is what allows the signal to be delivered and used by any device tapping the signal. The wireless router is what sends the signal to various locations throughout your home or office. An Ethernet cable can also be used if you prefer a physical connection for an often-used device like a desktop or laptop. That may also be preferred if there’s a need to improve signal strength.
Why Is Satellite Internet Important?
On a basic level, satellite Internet is important because it’s another option for receiving Internet service. While there are many competitors in the Internet service world, it’s good to have options when determining what’s likely to be beneficial for you. Satellite service is also important because satellite-delivered Internet has the potential to overcome some of the physical limitations of broadband and fiber Internet. Typically, as long as you have access to an ISP providing this type of service and the equipment needed, you’ll be good to go with satellite service.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Satellite Internet?
As with any type of Internet service, there are some pros and cons that go along with satellite Internet. It’s important to be aware of the main ones commonly associated with satellite service to determine what’s best for your needs.
- Widely available in most areas
- In some instances, broadband-level speeds are possible
- More cost-effective and practical than relying on mobile hotspots
- Fairly quick recovery after service interruptions
- More expensive compared to cable Internet
- Data caps typically apply, which could mean coverage fees
- Slower than fiber and some other broadband options
- Susceptible to interruptions during bad weather
What Myths Surround Satellite Internet Use?
As long as we’re talking about satellite Internet’s common pros and cons, let’s take a moment to dispel some of the myths often associated with this type of service or at least provide some important clarifications.
- Speed: At one time, satellite Internet was notoriously slow, but this isn’t the case anymore. Satellite Internet isn’t the fastest option, but the speeds aren’t super-slow either. In fact, the speeds common today are definitely a step up from what’s typical with Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) and often comparable to what’s possible with cable.
- Latency: Satellites are typically located about 22,000 miles or so above the planet. So, yes, there’s a natural delay in signal delivery. However, it’s usually not very noticeable or disruptive unless you’re playing a game or streaming in high definition (HD).
- Weather: Yes, heavy snowfall and severe rain storms can cause signals to fade or disappear entirely, but service usually comes back quickly once the storm passes and things calm down weather-wise.
- Cost: Satellite Internet isn’t the cheapest option and it can be more expensive than some cable plans. That said, average monthly costs associated with satellite service have dropped, so it can be more affordable.
What Are the Limitations of Satellite Internet?
Satellite Internet, in general, does have some limitations worth considering, which we largely covered above. That doesn’t mean it’s not a beneficial option or one worth considering. In fact, it can be an effective way to stay connected if we’re talking about more basic Internet needs. However, there’s more of a lag time with data delivery, as we also discussed above, because of the distance involved. Some of the inherent challenges of satellite service will always be with us, such as the potential for weather interference. That said, the technology behind satellite Internet has come a long way.
Traditional satellite Internet service has some appealing advantages, especially in rural or remote areas without broadband service or places where DSL is the only other option. Whether or not you’ll benefit from satellite service for your Internet needs depends largely on what you need.
For instance, if you’re more of a casual browser who mostly checks email and does some shopping online, satellite Internet could work well for you. On other hand, if you regularly stream in HD or you’re an avid gamer, satellite Internet can have some limitations you simply won’t like.
Now, there is a newer approach to satellite-based Internet service that’s gaining momentum. It’s what Elon Musk is doing with Starlink, a service option we briefly mentioned above. In this case, the satellites are in a lower orbit, which improves reliability and minimizes some of the limitations of satellite Internet. As long as you do your homework and consider what matters most to you, you should have everything you need to know to make a well-informed decision.