Satellite Internet ServiceLearn about 2-way Satellite

OVERVIEW

Satellite internet service is available anywhere as long as one has electricity and (in North America) a clear view of the southern sky. Service providers are generally specialized satellite providers.

The first satellite internet services offered a few decades ago required that the user have a dial-up connection for uploaded data and the download was handled by the satellite. Two-way satellite data transfer was only made available to consumers about ten years ago. Satellite internet services operate independently of telephone or cable networks.

PERFORMANCE

Satellite internet has come a long way in recent years. For the longest time, satellite internet services were limited to a maximum download speed of about 1.5 Mbps, but the newer generation of satellites have changed this significantly. Speeds of up to 150 Mbps are now available with unlimited data. Satellite providers have been racing to expand their footprint, improve capacity and increase speeds for customers so service should only improve over time. The main competitors in the United States are ViaSat, HughesNet and Starlink.

Both Hughes and ViaSat offer internet service through high-capacity satellites in geostationary orbit about 22,000 miles above the equator. They offer residential satellite internet service with speeds of up to 30 Mbps. Both companies are in the process of deploying new high-capacity, high speed satellites with speeds of up to 150 Mbps. As of writing the first of the three Viasat-3 satellites is operational and 100+ Mbps speeds are available in select areas.

Unlike "traditional" satellite providers, Starlink offers "constellation internet" through a large network of small non-geostationary satellites in "low Earth orbit" (an altitude of less than 1,000 miles). The orbital altitude difference gives Starlink a low-latency advantage over traditional Satellite internet operators and their ability to launch new satellites at a relatively low cost has allowed them expand their network more easily and offer higher speeds of up to 150 Mbps for residential users. That said, since their launch in 2020 Starlink has operated at capacity in many areas and in cells with high subscription rates, congestion and service slow-downs have started to effect service.

In response to competition from Starlink and the growing need for higher speed service, both ViaSat and Hughes have planned launches of new high capacity satellites. While current service from Hughes' Jupiter 2 Satellite is capped at around 30 Mbps, their Jupiter 3 launch is expected to increase available speeds to 150 Mbps and significantly increase their subscriber capacity. The launch of the first ViaSat 3 satellite has already provided similar improvement to their speed and capacity is some areas.

With all satellite internet service, performance can be impeded by bad weather and any physical obstructions that may prevent a clear signal. Also, since the satellites have a finite throughput, speeds may also be reduced during times of high usage.

Satellite internet is not ideal for consumers who require highly responsive service such as that required for online games or high frequency stock trading since there is a slight delay (latency) during transmissions. Even Starlink's low-latency service cannot compete with wired and fiber-optic providers. You can read more about satellite internet in our article "Satellite Internet: Is it for You?".

INSTALLATION

Satellite Internet requires about $600.00 in specialized equipment and the proper installation of a small satellite dish.

For Hughes and ViaSat regulations require that a qualified technician install the dish, but a technician is not required if a specialized self-targeting mobile satellite dish is used. Starlink equipment is self-installed by the end user.

COST

Traditional satellite internet service can range from $50.00 to $90.00 per month depending on service options and speed plus the cost of the equipment and in some case an activation fee of about $100. Starlink residential service ranges from $110 to $135 per month depending on whether the user requires system mobility.

TIPS

There are still satellite internet providers offering plans through older and much slower satellites, but the prices are similar to those offered by the more advanced services. These shouldn't really be considered as viable option except where access to the newer high speed internet satellites is unavailable.

Satellite internet is fully mobile meaning you don't have to stay close to home to have access. It can be a perfect solution for an RV or the summer cabin where access to wireless internet service is difficult. In situations where a dish frequently needs to be moved or access is required while travelling, more expensive mobile satellite dishes may be required.

Be sure to evaluate all options before choosing a satellite internet provider.

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