Satellite internet: What it is and how it works
Satellite internet uses a satellite in space, a satellite dish at your home, and the provider’s Network Operation Center (NOC) to provide you with internet services, even in hard-to-reach rural areas. Thanks to its advanced technology, satellite internet offers high-speeds that greatly surpass dial-up internet.
Sitting over the equator, satellites can send and receive signals through “spot beams” that cover most of the US. As long as you’re within one of these beams and other users aren’t using all the data capacity, you can get satellite internet service.
There are two main choices for satellite internet: Viasat (formerly Exede) and HughesNet. Either can set you up with a small satellite dish pointed toward its satellite in the southern sky and a modem/router for your home.
Data transfers from your home internet devices to the satellite in space and then to the NOC back on Earth—and back. All of this happens in a fraction of a second.
For more on the ins and outs of satellite internet, check out “How Does Satellite Internet Work?”
Satellite internet FAQ
What equipment will I need for satellite internet to work?
To use satellite internet, you’ll need an internet-ready device (like a computer, tablet, or gaming console), a modem/router, and a satellite dish. You probably already have internet-ready devices at home, and your satellite internet provider can set you up with a modem/router and satellite dish.
Which modems and routers work with satellite internet?
Both HughesNet and Viasat have their own modems because satellite internet modems don’t have industry standards. While they also have modem/router combos, you can buy your own router, such as the NETGEAR Nighthawk. Almost any modern router will be compatible.
How fast is satellite internet?
Viasat has a wide range of plans with maximum download speeds from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps. All HughesNet plans come with up to 25 Mbps. Most satellite internet plans have 3 Mbps upload speeds.
How does satellite TV work?
Satellite TV works in a relay system similar to satellite internet, but it uses a set-top box and a TV instead of a modem and internet-ready device.
How can I get high-speed internet in rural areas?
Satellite internet is available in almost every rural area in the US. Satellite internet plans come with download speeds from 12 Mbps to 100 Mbps, and 25 Mbps is the current FCC standard for high-speed internet.
What is satellite broadband?
Satellite broadband is another term for high-speed satellite internet. The FCC standard for broadband requires a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps.
Is satellite internet good for gaming?
Because of the distance satellite internet data has to travel—22,000 miles to outer space and back twice—lag is unavoidable. Any game that requires rapid response, like Call of Duty and other first-person shooters, will be unplayable with satellite internet’s delay.
Is satellite internet a good option?
Satellite internet is a great option when DSL, cable, and fiber internet aren’t available. It comes in high speeds up to 100 Mbps, but it can be a bit pricey. Data caps and lag associated with satellite internet make it less than perfect as well, but it can get the job done and is certainly better than no internet at all.
Is satellite internet better than DSL?
Depending on the provider, DSL and satellite internet speeds are on par with each other. Satellite is more widely available, but DSL usually has higher data caps. Refer to our Satellite vs. DSL vs. Cable section to determine which internet type is best for you.
Can you stream with satellite internet?
Yes, it’s easy to stream with satellite internet. You may notice some lag if you’re skipping around the video, but once a show starts streaming, it will download at a normal pace. Both HughesNet and Viasat have options to help you save data when you stream so you don’t use up your data allowance too quickly.
Satellite internet: Fact vs. fiction
FICTION: Satellite internet is slow.
While satellite internet can’t deliver the gigabit speeds of some fiber-optic internet providers, its top speeds still reach up to 100 Mbps, which is competitive with many cable and DSL providers. Eight of the twelve residential satellite internet packages available qualify as broadband. Most performance issues with satellite internet aren’t caused by low speed—they’re caused by high latency.
FACT: Satellite internet has high latency.
Latency, sometimes called lag, ping, or ping rate, is the time it takes a digital signal to travel from your computer to your provider’s server and back.
With satellite internet, the signal travels farther than it would with a cable, DSL, or fiber connection because it literally goes to space and back. Traveling that extra distance takes extra time. That’s why satellite internet has higher latency than other types of internet technology.
You’ll notice the latency the most during real-time online activities like video chatting.
FICTION: Satellite internet is expensive.
Satellite internet prices are comparable with other types of internet. Most internet packages offered in America range in introductory price from about $45 to $150 per month, and it’s the same with satellite internet.
Even after the introductory price expires, the long-term prices still fall in line with industry norms on almost every package.
FACT (sometimes): Bad weather interferes with satellite internet signals.
Bad weather occasionally interferes with the signal, but that issue is often blown out of proportion. Despite the potential for weather interference, satellite internet customers gave their providers higher customer satisfaction scores for reliability in 2018 than any other internet customers gave their providers.
FICTION: You can’t play video games on satellite internet.
Latency can make online gaming problematic, but it can still be done. The trick is to choose the right games and optimize your setup. Check out “Your Guide to Gaming on Satellite Internet” for more details.