Satellite Internet


A satellite internet service originates on earth, but it is bounced off a satellite orbiting the planet in order to distribute the service to customers. It is a two-way dish network, which is one better than a dish TV system. With satellite TV, you receive a signal through a space satellite into a dish connected to your house. A satellite internet service allows you to beam data up to the satellite as well as receive it.

Usually, satellite channels are encrypted. The encoding of the signals in satellite systems also enables account control and access security as well as ensuring privacy.

How Does Satellite Internet Work?

The satellite that facilitates the transmission is in a geostationary orbit. That means that it is directly above the same point on earth. It is positioned at just the right height that it is still moved by the earth’s gravitational pull as the planet revolves. It is high enough away that gravity won’t drag it back down to earth. This height is at 22,300 miles above the surface of the earth.

Transmissions through the air operate on a radio frequency. Most satellite systems use the Ku-band frequency. That frequency band runs from 14,000 MHz to 14,500 MHz. A few services use other frequencies in the Ka-band, the L-band, and the C-band.

Technically, satellite internet is a wireless service. However, there is a difference between this and the mobile LTE data service for phones and Wi-Fi. Each of these data communications systems follows a different set of communication standards and so they are not able to interact directly.

When a connection goes from a satellite service customer through to a friend using a mobile device, the signal passes through an access point onto the internet. That requires the system of the internet service provider to automatically translate data coding over to a different standard. In order to reach a mobile device, the internet signals then have to switch over onto another carrier service, which requires data to be re-encoded following another protocol. So, connections between satellite and other wireless systems occur regularly, but they do not involve direct communication.

Wi-Fi is a short-range wireless technology that generally only operates within a home or the premises of a business. Satellite technology involved beaming signals thousands of miles into space, whereas a single Wi-Fi transmitter’s signal degrades within a matter of feet.

Some airborne internet systems are able to switch between satellite and mobile wireless. For example, airplane wireless services connect to mobile wireless towers when they are over land or close to the coast and operate on satellite signals when the travel across oceans.

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Is Satellite Internet Reliable?

Early satellite systems were vulnerable to atmospheric conditions and could even break up in heavy rain. Modern systems are much more robust and offer a reliable service.

Although data travels at incredible speeds, it faces a 44,000 mile round trip to get from a customer’s dish to the service provider’s access point and vice versa. With most satellite services, once that initial hop from the customer to network operations center completes, signals are switched over onto the regular internet. This brings the service cost down because earth to satellite communications is expensive. This dual phase of transmission can slow down connection speeds as little.

Switching over to cabled internet also improves service reliability. Any communications system that travels over fixed media is more reliable than wireless systems. Reducing the satellite element in a connection to the shortest possible distance removes the risk of interference and data loss.

What is the Best Satellite Internet?

There are very few satellite internet providers in the market right now. However, as technology advances, there will be more options available. At the moment, the company with the widest coverage is called HughesNet.

What is the Fastest Satellite Internet?

Although HughesNet reaches more states than any other satellite internet provider in the United States, it is not the fastest service. The highest internet speeds available via satellite are currently offered by ViaSat, which enables speeds of up to 100 Mbps.

How Do I Get Satellite Internet?

Despite being space-age technology, satellite internet is very easy to sign up for. There are a number of satellite ISPs available to businesses and the general public. Usually, the service provider will also provide and install a satellite dish for each customer.

In the USA there are four satellite internet providers but they don’t all offer national coverage. These are:

  •         HughesNet
  •         ViaSat (formerly Exede)
  •         X2nSat
  •         Big Bend Telephone Company

Of these three services, HughesNet and ViaSat are considerably larger than X2nSat. HughesNet and ViaSat cover 53 and 50 states respectively, while X2nSat only offers service in seven states. Big Bend Telephone company is only active in one state.

How Do I Install Satellite Internet?

A big advantage of satellite dish systems is that they are easy to install. The service doesn’t require any telephone or cable internet connections, so it can be delivered literally anywhere. Satellite internet customers don’t need to know how the technology gets set up because the service provider usually sends a technician out to do all of the work.

The typical installation process involves erecting a dish, pointing it at the right part of the sky, connecting a cable to it and leading that cable through to a socket in the home. Once a computer is connected to the dish, it can be tuned.

The dish needs a “line of sight” to the orbiting satellite. This doesn’t mean that it needs to be possible to actually see the satellite from the dish. However, it does mean that there cannot be any obstructions between the dish and the satellite.

The location of the satellite is of great importance. One that is low on the horizon is going to be difficult to reach with a direct signal. For this reason, satellite communications services deploy several satellites.

A satellite stationed above the United States has a high profile for customers in the USA than one over Europe or the Far East. A low profile creates problems for locations near to mountain ranges. Customers who are surrounded by forests or tall buildings might also experience difficulties in receiving a satellite service.

The usual way around the problem of an overshadowed vicinity is to place the dish on a high pole. Fortunately, the big satellite operators have several satellites over different locations in the USA. This means that if the line of sight is blocked to one satellite, it might be possible to get a connection to another satellite positioned in the opposite direction.

Pros of Satellite Internet

  • Ease of Installation – The satellite internet provider doesn’t have to run private cables to each customer or pay to access a local telephone network.
  • Availability – Remote rural areas, ships, and planes might not get any internet access without the option of satellite communications. Satellite internet services are available anywhere within the signal footprint of a communications satellite. In the United States, that means everywhere.

Cons of Satellite Internet

  • Speed – Delays (called “lag” in the industry) become particularly noticeable during high-volume data transfers.
  • Set up costs – A private dish costs more than a modem. Satellite systems are more expensive to set up than regular wire-based internet services.
  • Service charges – A satellite internet service is usually the most expensive form of connection.

Who Should Use Satellite Internet?

The lag encountered in satellite internet connections, which is also called “high latency,” shouldn’t be too noticeable for web page access. However, in some cases, for example, interactive gaming, interactive chat apps, video streaming or real-time VoIP services, the slow download and upload speeds of satellite internet would not be ideal.

A satellite-based system is the most expensive form of internet service. You would probably only consider this option if you need to get the internet in a location that other service methods could not reach.


1. Is satellite good for streaming?

Satellite internet services are not ideal for video and audio streaming because of the delays on the connection causing slow download speeds. Getting high-speed internet over satellite for interactive video communications can be very expensive.

2. Is satellite good for gaming?

The lag on connections means that satellite internet is not a good choice for online gaming.

3. Is satellite secure?

Satellite internet providers bundle encryption into their service. This is both to prevent unauthorized use of the network and to protect the privacy of customers. Satellite internet is just as secure as any other type of internet service technology.

4. Is satellite internet faster than DSL?

Satellite systems are considerably slower than DSL services. Probably only the traditional dial-up phone-based service is slower than satellite.

5. Is satellite better than cable?

Any wire-based transmission is going to give faster speeds than wireless technology, such as satellite. Data traveling over a fixed medium, such as cable experiences much less packet loss than air-based systems. Packet loss slows down connections because data has to be retransmitted to make up for the missing segments.

6. Is satellite better than fiber?

Fiber-optic systems offer the fastest internet speeds available on earth. By contrast, satellite is probably the slowest medium available. However, very high-speed fiber networks are usually only available in urban areas. In terms of service area, satellite does a better job than fiber.

7. Is satellite better than wireless?

Satellite is a specialized form of wireless service. In a typical wireless internet service, the connection carries through the air between your home box or phone to a nearby radio antenna. These are the same installations that mediate cell phone signals. As the satellite internet signal has to travel up into space, it takes a lot longer to reach the access point of the service provider. It is better to use a standard wireless service where it is available. However, if there are no antennas within range, satellite might be the only option to get internet access.

8. Average cost of satellite internet plans?

In most of the USA, your options are limited to HughesNet or ViaSat. Neither company imposes data caps, but they do have monthly data usage thresholds, at which point your service speed drops.

HughesNet offers four plans that range in price from $59.99 to $149.99 per month. The minimum contract period on all of the HughesNet plans is two years. All of these plans offer the same speed of 25 Mbps. However, you speed drops when you pass a data throughput threshold. This is 10GB on the cheapest plan and 50GB on the highest package.

ViaSat has eight plans, which offer speeds from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. On all plans, your speed drops if you exceed a level of data usage each month. With the cheapest plan, that threshold is at 40GB and the highest plan’s data threshold is 150 GB. ViaSat prices range from $70 to $200 per month.

9. What is the cheapest satellite internet?

Both HughesNet and ViaSat offer introductory offers and service period lock-ins that reduce the monthly cost of their services. Currently, the cheapest plan of HughesNet is available for $49.99 per month if you pre-pay for a year in advance. The lowest price ViaSat offers is an introductory offer on its lowest plan, which comes to $50 per month for the first three months.

Choosing an Internet Service

Satellite probably won’t be at the top of your list of internet options. The high cost and slow speeds of this connection type mean that it is usually only suitable for people who have no other type of service available in their locations.

Another issue that you will face is that you don’t have many companies to choose between when your state might only be serviced by one satellite service the concept of working out which are the best satellite internet providers becomes moot. The narrow market also means that you don’t have many speed options when it comes to satellite services. The quality of satellite internet and the number of companies offering it will improve over the coming years.

Check out our guide on How to Choose an Internet Service Provider