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What is Satellite Internet?

If you live or work out in the middle of nowhere then you’ll have few internet connection options. One of those options is dialup, and the second is usually satellite.

Satellite internet is a wireless connection that involves 3 satellite dishes; one at the internet service providers hub, one in space and one attached to your property. In addition to the satellite dish you also need a modem and cables running to and from the dish to your modem.

Once you have everything connected, the ISP will send the internet signal to the dish in space which then relays it to you. Every time you make a request (new page, download, send an email, etc) it goes to the dish in space and then to the (ISP’s) hub. The completed request is then sent back through space, to your dish and then to your computer.

Why Use Satellite Internet?

The only reason why you might use satellite internet is if you live in an area where other internet options such as cable or DSL isn’t available. If you’re on dialup then satellite internet will be an “upgrade” in the sense that satellite internet is considerably faster.

Other than that, though, there isn’t much of a reason to use satellite internet. Look at these pros/cons and you’ll see what I mean.

Satellite Internet Cons

  • The weather affects the signal path. During bad wind or rain storms you should expect poor quality internet, assuming you have internet at all.
  • Poor latency or high ping rate. Latency and ping rate is essentially the same thing; they both test how long it takes to communicate between another computer, device, service or server in a network.

In the case of satellite internet, it’s how fast you send and receive files (the delay or how much lag there is). Since you have to send data to space, to your ISP and back again, satellite internet has poor latency, or a high ping rate. So satellite internet is not good for you if you’re a gamer or if you intend to use VoIP services.

  • Minor obstructions can affect your signal. Your dish need to point south (where all the orbiting dishes are), and anything in the way of your dish’s signal such as branches or buildings can affect the quality. This can be a major pain if you live out in the woods.
  • Bandwidth limitations. Each month you’ll have so much bandwidth you can use up before your ISP throttles your connections (slows it down). This is in accordance to their (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptable_use_policy) Fair Use Policy. Some ISPs do daily bandwidths instead, which is slightly better, as you don’t have to wait as long as an entire month if you use up your bandwidth right away.
  • VPNs aren’t compatible with satellite internet. They require a low latency, high bandwidth setup which is the complete opposite of what you’ll get with satellite internet.
  • Satellite internet is relatively expensive. You’ll pay around $100 per month for speeds of 2 Mbps. To put this into perspective, this is twice what I pay per month for 25x faster cable internet.

Satellite Internet Pros

  • Satellite internet is faster than dialup. It’ll depend on what package you buy, but you can expect satellite speeds to be 10x to 35x times faster than dialup.
  • Satellite internet connections can handle high bandwidth usage, so your internet speed/quality shouldn’t be affected by lots of users or “peak use times.”
  • You don’t need a phone line for satellite internet.

As you can see, the cons of satellite internet (far) outweigh any pros. It’s not the greatest or most reliable option, and it’s incredibly expensive. Some of the cost may be due to the technology, but it’s also a supply and demand thing. There isn’t much (internet) supply in the middle of nowhere, so the demand (and costs) are going to be high to reflect this.

That being said, it’s hard to complain about or knock satellite internet when it’s really the only option you have (if you have other options such as DSL or cable, you should choose one of those instead). It is faster than dialup, and it’ll provide internet access to areas that the other connections won’t. The bottom line — it’s better than not having internet access at all.