Although satellite internet has been around for quite a long time now, there are still not many things that are known about it. Richard Myers discusses some misconceptions and what the service can do for you.

Satellite internet is basically a form of internet connection that is established thanks to the communication between a satellite dish and a geostationary orbiting satellite located over 20,000 miles above the equator. Orbiting satellites receive and transmit information in connection with a network operations centre (NOC). This NOC is what is connected to a private network or the internet. All the communications made from the dish to the world wide web will go through the NOC.

To put it as simply as possible, the NOC is the one that is connected to the internet and that sends information to the satellite. The user will have his dish connected to the satellite, thus having a connection to the internet.

All satellite-based data communication is similar to the land data provider connection that you usually use. As soon as the system is properly configured, it is very similar to regular data services and offers almost the same features.

Satellite internet history

The truth is that technology has advanced a lot in the past few years but, everything started with Sputnik 1, the first satellite launched. This led towards the appearance of Telstar 1, the first commercial communication satellite.

The geostationary satellite, which basically means that it remains fixed while Earth rotates, first appeared as an idea presented by Arthur C. Clarke, a science fiction writer. The first successful geostationary satellite was Syncom 3, launched by NASA in 1963.

Microsoft’s Teledisc was among the first projects to test out satellite Internet with moderate success. The main idea behind Teledisc was to create broadband satellite constellations with the use of many low orbiting satellites. Although the project was eventually abandoned in 2003, the same year highlighted the launch of the very first successful satellite aimed towards consumers by Eutelsat.

Two satellite internet options

One thing that many people do not understand is that there are actually two types of satellite internet that are available at the moment. The one that is really common is the two-way data communication system. It includes:

  • A satellite dish of two by three feet - sizes may vary but this is what is really common.
  • Coaxial cables connecting modems and dishes.
  • Two modems - one for downlink and the other for uplink.

The one-way satellite internet system is basically the same as the two-way option but it does not have the uplink modem. Instead, a regular computer modem is used for upload purposes. This means that besides the satellite internet connection, you need to also have a regular modem based internet connection. As you can imagine, this is not actually beneficial but in the event that budget problems exist the one-way option is cheaper.

The two-way satellite internet technology utilises a maximum of 5,000 communication channels at the same time. Through IP multicasting, data is taken from one point to many others at the exact same time. Data is, of course, sent in a compressed format.

Main advantages and disadvantages

Satellite internet is a wonderful opportunity for people who live in a remote area where no other internet connection options are available.

This type of internet is around 10 times faster than regular dial-up but it is slower than broadband. It is also one of the most expensive internet connection options because of the initial investment. In the event that you want to use satellite internet, make sure that you find your plan to include some free services like a free dish or free installation. That will help you to cut down on costs.

The big disadvantages are costs and internet speed. However, we need to understand that there is no need to have access to a regular broadband internet connection. This means that you can install satellite internet almost anywhere. The only real necessity is to have a clear view to the south. This means that the dish has to be pointed towards the south and the view should not be stopped by trees, mountains and so on.

The latency problem

Whenever talking about how satellite internet works, we need to refer to latency. Latency refers to the time that is necessary for data to reach the satellite and get back. This is what we regularly refer to as ping time.

Due to the different communications that have to be established, there is a latency that is noticeable of around half a second. This does not mean what many think. The common perception is that there is a lot of delay and that satellite internet is slower. That is not actually the case.

In reality, a file of 1MB will be transferred in the exact same time on terrestrial and satellite connections. The reason why it takes longer with satellite internet is that there is that half second that is necessary to initiate the transfer.

For most internet users this is not a problem. However, in the event that you play online games, you will not have a really good experience because of that delay. Satellite latency makes it virtually impossible to have great online gaming sessions so make sure that you take that into account if that is the type of activity you want to go through with the connection.

Rain problems

Communication with satellites is always affected by the presence of moisture and precipitation. This includes snow and rain.

Rain fade is the term that is used to describe the interference between data points. When C and L band frequencies are used, rain fade effects are diminished. However, when Ka and Ku frequencies are used, rain fade becomes really problematic.

The good news is that satellite internet providers are nowadays improving the system, making it much easier to avoid a large part of the associated moisture problem. Also, when the satellite dish is larger in size, many of the rain problems are minimised. Providers will basically take various factors into account when they install an internet connection. Just choose one that has a reputation to minimise these moisture problems.