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Satellite broadband

According to Ofcom, 97% of UK homes 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, 97% of UK homes 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
Matthew Brewer
Broadband and mobile expert
Last Updated
24 APRIL 2024
5 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?

Download speeds for satellite broadband vary depending on:

  • The provider you choose
  • The satellites they use
  • How many people are using those satellites to transfer data.

With some satellite broadband services you could expect download speeds of up to 30 Mbps. This is faster than standard ADSL broadband but significantly slower than the UK median download speed of 54.9 Mbps, recorded in March 2022.

Some newer satellite broadband providers offer superfast connections that rival fixed fibre connections. Elon Musk’s Starlink, for example, says that the majority of its users experience speeds of over 100 Mbps.

Satellite latency

The problem with satellite broadband isn’t so much speed, but latency. This 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.

Latency won’t be too restrictive if you’re just web browsing or sending emails. But 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.

However, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites are now available, with Space X’s Starlink service attracting 42,000 UK customers, mainly in rural areas, according to Ofcom. These satellites orbit closer to Earth (between 340-620 miles above the earth’s surface) so offer lower latency.

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 £80 per month.

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, with 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, 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 some satellite broadband providers. 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. That said, the technology is improving all the time.
  • 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. 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?

There’s no government help currently available to help with the costs of installing satellite broadband.

Are there any data usage limits for satellite broadband?

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.

What are the alternatives to satellite broadband?

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 uses 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, with the government aiming to make 5G coverage available in all populated areas by 2030.
  • 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.

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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