What is satellite broadband?

Satellite broadband relies on signals sent from an Earth-orbit satellite in space, which are captured by a satellite dish attached to the user’s home. It provides broadband to homes that are unable to access traditional broadband services and may live in hard-to-reach areas. Satellite broadband is quite literally out of this world!

How does satellite broadband work?

Unlike traditional broadband, satellite broadband beams down from space to a dish attached to your house, in a similar way to satellite TV. Satellite broadband relies on signals sent from orbiting satellites in space. The ground station beams a laser to the satellite before it is sent back down to a satellite dish. Satellites in space therefore act as the ‘middleman’, transmitting signals between the ground station and the satellite dish. From the dish, signals are emitted to a WiFi router installed within the users’ home.

Although, most regular satellite communications work through radio waves, which is largely how we connect mobile phones calls and access mobile internet. Compared to radio waves, laser communication is much ‘quicker’. Although both technologies operate at the speed of light, lasers function on a much higher frequency, which means they can deliver larger amounts of data at once over a broader bandwidth – a bit like expanding a country lane into a motorway.

Satellite broadband is an alternative to traditional broadband services and offers network connectivity to those that cannot get standard internet access. Ofcom found that 6% of the population are currently excluded from the digital landscape. Therefore, satellite broadband is working towards eradicating digital exclusion by offering connections to those in hard-to-reach areas.

The new space race

The biggest player in the satellite broadband game currently is Elon Musk with Starlink, which is operated through SpaceX. Since 2019, the Tesla CEO has been launching small satellites into low orbit, with the end goal of having 42,000 floating around the planet.

Second in line is UK consortium OneWeb, who have very similar goals. They don’t have as many satellites, but they’re intended to orbit at greater altitude. This means that OneWeb would need far fewer satellites to achieve global coverage.

As Starlink and OneWeb’s satellites don’t have to be physically connected to the dishes on the ground, the hope is that one day everyone in the world – regardless of where they are – will be able to access the internet, with reliable connections and high speeds.

Satellite orbiting Earth

Who can benefit from satellite broadband?

In a lot of rural areas with low populations, high-speed, fibre optic broadband can be hard to come by. Satellite broadband does not rely on wires and cables to carry information from one place to another. Therefore, it can provide network connections to customers who are unable to access standard internet. Satellite broadband is therefore a great solution for those that live in remote areas, where wired connections are not readily available .

How reliable is satellite broadband?

Satellite broadband is still relatively new and as the technology continues to expand, the reliability of satellite broadband is set to improve. In the meantime, those who are experiencing unreliable or slow internet connections due to their remote location can explore other options such as mobile broadband which is a more convenient and affordable option, it’s also portable and does not require costly satellite installation.

What are the advantages satellite broadband

Satellites don’t have any physical connection to the ground and doesn’t require miles of cabling, which is great news if you live in a notorious countryside blackspot. Rural UK households may benefit from satellite broadband, as satellite coverage means as there are less restrictions on the areas that it can reach, unlike cable broadband which requires a wired connection to your home.

Starlink provides an interactive satellite availability map, which displays the locations that are currently covered by their satellites. This satellite map also shows the areas that are on the waiting list to have access to broadband generated by Starlink satellites in the future. As developments and innovations continue over the coming years, it will become more widely available all over the world.

What are the disadvantages of satellite broadband?

One of the main disadvantages of satellite broadband is cost, especially in comparison to traditional broadband or mobile broadband. It’s also not yet up to much speed, which is bad news for streamers and those requiring gaming broadband.

How fast is satellite broadband?

At the moment, most satellites use radio waves, which travel at a slower rate compared to light waves. The use of radio waves may mean that there can also be delays in the transmission of information, as satellite signals have a long way to travel from space to Earth. This means that satellite broadband has high latency, which is bad news for gamers or streamers as this causes delays and users may experience frustrating lag.

Does the weather affect satellite broadband?

Satellite dishes can be considered weather resistant to an extent, as they can withstand rain and satellites emit heat which can help prevent a build-up of snow in colder months. Although satellite systems can still be affected by extreme weather, as poor conditions can weaken the signals. This is because satellite signals can be deflected or dispersed which may result in a short-term internet outage.

What is an alternative to satellite broadband?

Satellite broadband is not the only option, depending on your location and usage requirements you may find an alternative broadband connection might be more suitable.

Fibre optic broadband

For those who live in an area with availability, fibre broadband is a great option as it can deliver superfast speeds through fibre cable technology, such as M125 Fibre broadband which has download speeds of up to 132 Mbps. Perfect for speedy streaming and online gaming.

Use our postcode checker to find out if Virgin Media is available in your area.

Mobile Broadband

Another alternative to satellite broadband, is mobile broadband. This option allows you to connect your device to a phone network and get access to the internet via a wireless connection. This is also the perfect option for those looking for broadband at home and on-the-go.

Date Published: 16th December 2022
Article Updated: 25th January 2023

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