What is satellite broadband?

Satellite broadband is a perfect example of a descriptive term; it means exactly what it says – broadband delivered via satellite. To use satellite broadband, you’d need a receiver box inside and a satellite dish outside your home or office. In other words, exactly the same kind of set-up that you’d use for satellite TV services. You don’t need a landline of course, and it’s actually quite easy to set-up – although it also tends to be expensive to install a satellite broadband connection.

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Why would you want to use a satellite broadband service?

The only real reason would be because you can’t get broadband by any other means. In other words, if you are in an area that can’t be reached by fixed-line cables (even fibre) and are not covered by 4G or 5G signals. This could certainly be the case in a particularly remote or mountainous regions of the UK and Europe.

You might also need satellite broadband if you are always moving around a relatively remote region where any kind of connection is rare. Or if you are located on a relatively small or under-served island, on a boat at sea, or want to connect to broadband in an aircraft. This is exactly how ferries, cruise liners, other sea-faring vessels, and passenger aircraft services offer Internet connectivity. You might also have a fairly specialist requirement – if you run a road transport fleet that travels across international boundaries and though areas where there is little or no coverage, and you need to provide Internet access to vehicles.

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Satellite broadband explained

Satellite broadband works by picking up signals from geo-stationary satellites that are in a fixed position, around 22,300 miles above the surface of the Earth. These satellites are always positioned directly above the equator, which enables them to cover the widest possible range. As they move with the earth’s rotation, dishes can point directly at them and never have to track them as they move.

This means they are always in the same place relative to the surface of the planet, so they can be used reliably to transmit and receive signals. The same kind of satellites are used for TV services, for weather forecasting and to provide GPS tracking.

They are already quite numerous, and more are being put into the sky all the time, so there is no shortage of space on the satellite network and it’s a form of broadband that could grow considerably over the next few years to meet demand for mobile connectivity that is not dependent on ground-based fixed and radio networks.

Indeed, satellite it is a highly promising area of the broadband market. More satellites will be going up over the coming months and years, and many may be positioned at a lower altitude, which will help to allay some of the issues that satellite broadband has with latency. In the not-too-distant future, it may be a more attractive option.

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Is satellite broadband worth it?

Satellite broadband is only really worth it right now if you really need it. It costs more to deploy and subscribe to and it will not give you fantastic speeds. If there is no other option, however, it’s ideal. But it is not something you are going to choose over other forms of connectivity. If they are available, fixed line and 4G/5G will win hands-down every time.

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What are the negatives of satellite broadband?

Basically, performance and cost. It’s not that fast at the moment. You might get the same sort of performance that you’d get from a standard ADSL2+ line, perhaps around 30Mbps download speeds. Atmospheric and physical factors – such as a very dense area of foliage, inclement or stormy weather, or radio waves – can have an influence.

You may suffer from uneven reception and delays. This can be a real problem with satellite. You may be used to TV signals cutting out now and again when there is a poor connection or stormy weather, and the same thing can happen with satellite broadband. It can get frustrating if you are trying to do serious work, use video, conferencing, or cloud-based services.

That said, when it works, it should be pretty reliable most of the time. Speeds will improve as well as the technology is still maturing, but for now, the top out at around 30Mbps for downloads and can often be a lot less. We have already noted that it costs more in terms of set-up and subscriptions.

There is not a lot of choice available and there are also limits on how much data you can download – and that’s not going to be ideal, if you really want to use the Internet in anger – or you want to do things like conferencing and collaborative working. If you want a high data allowance, it is going to be quite expensive. If you just need to do email and web surfing, it should be fine the subscriptions at this level should not be prohibitively expensive.

In short, if you are in a really remote area and it’s the only way to stay connected, it’s a good choice. If there are other options available, they will almost certainly, always be better.

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Who offers satellite broadband?

Nine of the big-name broadband service providers offer satellite services. It is quite niche market, and suppliers of satellite broadband tend to be specialists in satellite and/or wireless connectivity. Some have their own services and others aggregate for the actual supplier.

While it is quite specialist, there is a reasonable choice of services available for both business and consumer use. Some of the best known suppliers include Freedomsat, Konnect (which is run by big European satellite company Eutelsat), and Prime Satellite. You will find that not all providers are UK-based – as satellite reception can’t be restricted to a particular geographic area, they don’t need to be based in any particular country to serve the needs of their customers.

Specialist services are also provided by the companies that own and operate the satellites – like Eutelsat and the UK’s Inmarsat – who offer specific services for use in the aviation and maritime industries, or by the government of military.

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