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Satellite broadband

According to Ofcom, 96% of the UK have access to superfast broadband. But what if you’re one of the households that can’t get a decent wired broadband connection?

If you live in a rural or remote area and can’t get access to ADSL, fibre optic, mobile or cable broadband, there is another option: satellite broadband.

According to Ofcom, 96% of the UK have access to superfast broadband. But what if you’re one of the households that can’t get a decent wired broadband connection?

If you live in a rural or remote area and can’t get access to ADSL, fibre optic, mobile or cable broadband, there is another option: satellite broadband.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
4 JANUARY 2023
8 min read
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What is satellite broadband?

Satellite broadband is a satellite internet service for those who don’t have access to traditional fixed line broadband – typically, households in rural and remote areas of the UK.

Satellite broadband is transmitted using a wireless connection via a satellite dish, similar to those you use for satellite TV. The difference is that with a satellite internet service, you can send and receive information.

To use satellite broadband, you’ll need a satellite dish and a transmitter attached to your property with a clear line of sight directed towards the south. This connects wirelessly to a geostationary Earth-orbit satellite that receives and sends a broadband signal to your home.

How fast is satellite broadband?

The download speeds for satellite broadband vary depending on the provider you choose, the satellites they use and how many people are using those satellites to transfer data. With some satellite broadband services you could expect download speeds of between two megabits per second (Mbps) and 30 Mbps, which is on a par with standard ADSL broadband but significantly lower than the UK median download speed of 50.4 Mbps, recorded between November 2019 and March 2021.

Some newer satellite broadband providers offer superfast connections that rival fixed fibre connections. Konnect, for example, claims to have average downloads speeds of 75Mbps and its satellites cover roughly 75% of the UK. Meanwhile, Ookla reported average download speeds of around 85Mbps by the end of 2021 for Elon Musk’s Starlink.

The problem with satellite broadband isn’t so much speed, but latency. Internet latency is the delay, or lag, between requesting online information and receiving it. Satellite broadband suffers from high latency because of the time it takes for a broadband signal to travel to Earth from the geostationary orbit, 22,300 miles up in space.

While latency won’t be too restrictive if you’re just web browsing or sending emails, it could prove a hindrance if you’re live-streaming, gaming or video calling on VoIP services (phone services over the web), such as Skype.

According to Ofcom, UK broadband customers are starting to benefit from the introduction of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites, with Space X’s Starlink service now active across much of the UK. These satellites orbit closer to Earth (between 340-620 miles above the earth’s surface) and could help resolve the latency issue for satellite broadband users.

How much does satellite broadband cost?

The cost of satellite broadband depends on the package you choose, but typically it’s one of the more expensive ways to get connected. Prices range from around £20 a month up to more than £100 and packages with higher data allowances tend to cost more. Deals at the lower end of the spectrum can be restrictive in terms of data usage, some offering only a few gigabytes (GBs) per month.

Although there’s no line rental to pay, hardware, installation and set-up costs can be very pricey, with the most expensive options costing several hundred pounds.

What are the advantages of satellite broadband?

  • Availability – pretty much wherever you are in the UK, satellite broadband will be available as it can reach places that cables can’t. All you need is an outside wall to install a satellite dish that has a clear view of the sky to the south. That makes it ideal for remote rural areas where fixed line broadband is painfully slow or even non-existent.
  • No phone line required – you don’t need a fixed line connection for satellite broadband, so a landline isn’t necessary and you won’t need to pay for line rental.
  • Faster download speeds now available – you can now access superfast download speeds and beyond from satellite broadband providers such as Konnect and Starlink. This could be especially enticing if you live in an area with a slow and unreliable wired connection.

What are the disadvantages of satellite broadband?

  • High latency – the biggest issue with satellite broadband is the time lag it suffers due to the distance the signal has to travel. While this is unlikely to affect general web surfing too much, it could be frustrating for online gamers and anyone streaming a movie. That said, the technology is improving all the time as satellite broadband providers regularly upgrade their hardware.
  • Download and upload limits – although there are some unlimited satellite broadband deals out there, many packages include a data cap, or only allow unlimited downloads at off-peak times.

  • Expense – the cost of satellite internet tends to be higher than fixed line broadband, and you usually won’t be able to take advantage of any discounted deals or bundles that let you buy broadband, phone and TV together in one package.

How does the weather affect satellite broadband?

Satellite data signals have to travel long distances, so any disturbance can cause disruption in the connection. The signal can be interrupted by a heavy storm or blizzard. Also, in some cases, snow can pile up on your satellite dish and cause a break in your connection. Weather impacts are usually only temporary though.

Can I get help with satellite broadband installation costs?

The government’s Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme ended in December 2019. This offered grants worth up to £350 to help with installation costs, to rural homes and businesses that were unable to get download speeds of at least 2 Mbps.

However, the government is investing in satellite broadband in remote areas in the UK, as part of Project Gigabit, a £5bn investment to deliver fast, reliable connections to rural and remote areas of the UK. Trials launched in 2022 in rural areas such as the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and the Lake District.

As part of Project Gigabit, UK homeowners in rural areas can also band together and apply for vouchers worth up to £4,500 to help cover some of the costs of installing gigabit-capable broadband in their area.

Are there any data usage limits for satellite broadband?

Unlike the range of fibre optic packages that offer unlimited data, most satellite broadband packages will have a monthly data usage cap, or might only give you a certain amount of data at top speed under fair usage policies.

This means you’ll need to work out how much you’re likely to download and upload each month before taking out a contract. Some satellite broadband providers offer contracts with an unlimited off-peak period, which can be used for larger downloads.

What are the alternatives to satellite broadband?

Even if you can’t get access to fixed line broadband, it’s worth considering other broadband options before deciding on satellite.

  • Mobile broadband – if your area is covered by a 4G mobile network, mobile broadband could offer a cheaper and faster way to get connected. Ofcom reports that in 2021, 69-80% of premises in rural areas had access to 4G coverage indoors. It works using the same data networks you connect to on your smartphone, and you’ll be able to take your internet connection with you wherever you go. The rollout of 5G will make speeds even faster, but coverage across the UK is still quite limited, especially in rural areas.
  • Community broadband – if you live in a rural community, it might be more economical to pool your resources with your neighbours and split the cost of installing a high-speed fibre optic line, which will give you faster broadband than satellite would. Vouchers are available to help eligible communities with the costs of installing gigabit-capable broadband from the UK government’s Project Gigabit.

How will the gigabit broadband rollout affect take-up of satellite internet?

In his March 2020 Budget, then Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced that £5 billion would go towards rolling out gigabit broadband – which is 40 times faster than standard superfast broadband – in the 20% of the country that’s hardest to reach.

Project Gigabit has included investment in satellite broadband for remote and mountainous locations, where it is more difficult and expensive to upgrade the network to faster fibre and cable connections.

At Comparethemarket, we don’t currently offer comparisons on satellite broadband products. If you’d like to compare alternative broadband options, head to our broadband comparison page.

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