According to Ofcom, around 95% of the UK can get access to superfast broadband. But what if you’re one of the households that can’t receive fixed or mobile networks? How do you get online?
If you live in a rural or remote area and can’t get access to ADSL or cable, there is an option: satellite broadband.
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?
Satellite broadband download speeds typically range between two megabits per second (Mbps) and 30 Mbps, depending on your satellite broadband provider. While this is nothing compared to fibre optic speeds, it’s on a par with standard ADSL broadband.
However, the problem 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, 22,200 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, however, there are plans to launch Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites in the next few years. These will orbit closer to Earth 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. Prices range from around £20 up to around £87, but can be higher. Typically, packages with higher data allowances tend to cost more.
Although there’s no line rental to pay, hardware and set-up costs can be very pricey, up to around £600.
What are the advantages of satellite broadband?
- Availability – 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.
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.
- 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?
It’s no longer possible to get state help with installation costs, as the Government’s Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme ended in December 2019. This offered grants worth up to £350, to rural homes and businesses that were unable to get download speeds of at least 2 Mbps.
Are there any limits?
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. 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 do 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. 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 very limited.
- 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.
How will the gigabit broadband rollout affect take-up of satellite internet?
In his March 2020 Budget, 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.
This could eventually mean that satellite broadband is phased out as more than 5 million more homes and businesses will be able to benefit from better connectivity, particularly those in rural areas.
At Compare the Market, 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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