The drawbacks of satellite broadband

The drawbacks of satellite broadband

Tuesday, 16 April, 2019

If you don’t have access to Virgin Media cable services, your choice of TV channels could be increased hugely by installing Sky.

Similarly, problems with sluggish internet connections can also be solved with a satellite dish.

With 100 per cent UK coverage, satellite broadband connects off-grid properties to the information superhighway, even if there’s no phone line installed.

For that reason alone, some rural residents may be tempted to investigate satellite broadband provision.

However, receiving internet data from space does have a number of drawbacks…

1. Cost. Some satellite internet services are available for the price of a normal broadband account, but data caps will be low – as little as 10GB per month.

After each month’s allowance has been used up, connection speeds may be throttled back to frustratingly slow levels.

More expensive packages provide higher data caps, but costs will also rise towards £100 per month. Setup fees tend to be higher than with a 4G dongle or landline broadband, too.

2. Speed. Sending data to space and back is much slower than it would be from hardwired connections or wireless 4G masts a few kilometres away.

This is mainly caused by latency – the delay between information being sent and a response being returned.

Latency soars as each data request travels 36,000km to reach a satellite hovering in geostationary orbit over the equator, while the response also has to travel 36,000km.

It’s hard to provide accurate average speeds for satellite broadband services, given the ever-changing influence of factors like weather, but connections will usually be slower than 4G.

Theoretical maximum speeds presently achievable via a perfect satellite connection stand at 50Mbps download and 6Mbps upload.

3. Reliability. A fractional realignment of your satellite dish (possibly caused by high winds or strain on its mountings) could impact on its performance.

Snow, rain and wind have a marked effect on connection quality or speed, while trees surrounding a satellite dish might also cause interference.

4. Practicality. The huge distances data travels to and from satellites means latency is too high to support online gaming.

Streaming media might be a struggle as well, and that’s before taking into account how binge-watching the latest box set would munch through data allowances.

When monthly caps are in place, internet access becomes something to be minimised wherever possible.

Think of it as the difference between tap water and gas. Both are piped into your home, but there’s only one which could be wasted without pangs of guilt, or higher bills.

Satellite internet services are relatively uncommon, with a limited choice of providers resulting in less price competition than the UK’s competitive landline broadband sector.

Finally, you’ll need to be sure installing a satellite dish (or a second dish if you’ve got Sky) won’t require planning permission or approval from your landlord or freeholder.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!