Is Satellite Internet Worth It?

Its sky high (like 22,000 miles high) latency gives satellite Internet a bad rap, but its negative reputation is not always deserved. Without a doubt, satellite Internet is worth its downsides for some, although definitely not all, users. This short guide examines the pros and cons of the controversial rural Internet option to discern who wins and who loses with satellite Internet.

CONS

  • Latency: Satellite Internet transmits via geosynchronous satellites that orbit earth at about 22,000 miles above sea level. Travelling 45,000 miles round trip takes time, even for radio waves. Users should expect a latency of between 500 and 1500 ms, a time period that causes noticeable lags in real-time gaming, video conferencing, and video streaming.
  • Sensitivity to weather: Moisture in the air diminishes radio signals, so both rain and snow negatively affect satellite reception. Because providers must install satellite dishes externally, strong winds can cause physical damage to exposed satellite equipment.
  • Slow with VPNs: It is possible to use a virtual private network (VPN) with satellite Internet, but because encrypted data is resistant to acceleration software, it will cut your download and upload speeds in half.

PROS

  • Availability: Thanks to a century-long history of line laying, dial-up, which transmits over landlines, is still the most universally available connection in all rural locations. Many rural users default to this outdated connection based on availability alone, but satellite Internet provides a faster connection with roughly the same availability. All you need to qualify for service is a clear view of the sky where your provider’s satellites orbit. Also, because at 22,000 feet satellites orbit at the same speed as Earth, users can establish a permanent, direct line of communication between their dish and the orbiting hub.
  • Speed: A satellite connection boasts an average download speed of 10 Mbps and an average upload speed of 2 Mbps [1]. This means downloads are 180 times faster than dial-up and uploads are 60 times faster than dial-up.

LOSERS

  • Gamers lose with satellite, since its latency is far too high to play online games in real time. Look to mobile broadband as an alternative.
  • Some environments are less hospitable than others to satellite transmission. If you live in a place with extreme weather (rain, snow, or wind), satellite Internet will not often reach its advertised speeds.

WINNERS

  • If your only other Internet option is dial-up, choose satellite. Even with latency slowing down the user experience, satellite is exponentially faster than dial-up. With satellite you can easily download and upload email attachments, stream video and music, use video calling, and perform loads of other functions you couldn’t with dial-up.

OVERVIEW

You know better than anyone what’s good for you. Use these basic facts about satellite to decide if you’ll win or lose with the Internet technology.

Download speed: 5-15 Mbps

Upload speed: 1-2 Mbps

Latency: 500-1500 ms

Cost: $50-$90/month

There are plenty of great local providers out there that provide regionally targeted service. Be sure to check out local options before turning to one of the three national providers: HughesNet™, dishNet™, and Exede™.

[1] http://www.speedtest.net/isp/viasat-exede 

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