It wasn't so long ago that satellite internet was thought of as a niche service - typically used by those in rural and remote areas with limited connectivity options. Today, it's a hot topic - not only for current and prospective users but for those intrigued by what the technology can do to address global connectivity.
And while SpaceX (Starlink) and Amazon (Project Kuiper) may dominate recent headlines on the topic, Viasat has been hard at work on a revolutionary new type of satellite constellation. ViaSat-3 is a trio of high-capacity satellites in geostationary orbit designed to make broadband services available globally.
For those more familiar with land-based internet services like cable or fiber, the surge in satellite internet may seem a bit confusing. But consider this: More than a third of the world's population - nearly 3 billion people - have never been online. Beyond the need for basic service, there are many areas throughout the U.S. and worldwide with slow or inadequate service from traditional, terrestrial providers. Satellite internet is perfectly designed to fill those niches, since it can reach almost anywhere.
And while satellite internet has been helping fill those connectivity gaps for decades, changes in technology and the ability to build satellites with far greater capacity are making it an even better choice not just for rural and remote sites, but for many other places and applications as well.
Here's a look at what satellite internet is, where it's going, and how it has the capability to connect the unconnected around the globe.
What is satellite internet?
Satellite internet is wireless connection created by signals transmitted between a satellite and an antenna (or dish) on a home or business. It functions unlike land-based internet services such as fiber, cable, or DSL, which transmit data through wires. It's also different from wireless networks like LTE or 5G, which depend on nearby towers for connectivity. It can also be used at a temporary location like a construction site or emergency shelter, or on moving objects like aircraft, ships, trains, and more.
What are the benefits of satellite internet?
For one, its vast coverage. Satellite internet can be used just about anywhere, providing a high-quality connection to more places than nearly any other type of service. That includes off-the-grid locations with no other options, and rural and remote sites with limited options or poor connectivity. Of course, for applications such as aircraft or ships, it's just about the only way to gain a connection over water or other remote areas.
For many people and businesses, satellite internet can enable them to work and shop from home, stay in touch with loved ones, and take advantage of smart home technology, an internet phone (VoIP) and everything in between.
Since satellite internet networks primarily rely on a connection from space, it makes it highly resilient and less likely to be damaged in extreme weather or other emergencies.
Today's satellite internet is also much faster than previous generations, with available download speeds on the Viasat network up to 150 Mbps in some places. And as we add newer, more advanced satellites with global coverage, the service is expected to only get better and faster - as well as available in many more places.
How does satellite compare to other internet service providers?
Satellite broadband can reach where fiber and cable can't or won't go. In many rural areas where DSL exists, the homes and businesses are so far from the DSL hub that the service is very slow or not available at all. In North America, Viasat has coverage over all 50 states, as well as Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and even air and maritime routes all the way to Europe.
If you're suffering from slow or spotty internet service, do your homework and weigh the pros and cons of your options to see if satellite internet would be a good fit.
A look at how satellite internet coverage compares to that of other terrestrial providers
How does satellite internet work?
With satellite internet, radio waves connect to satellites orbiting the Earth. When you hit "send" or open a webpage from a computer or cellphone, that data goes through a modem attached to an antenna, which is then relayed to the satellite. The signal containing the data goes back down to a facility connected to the internet via fiber. It then transmits the data back to the satellite, then to a satellite dish on a home or business, and subsequently to the device.
How is satellite internet installed?
For a Viasat system, a professional installer will come to your home and attach a small dish to your home or business - typically on the roof or side of the building. This is connected via a cable through a small hole drilled in the wall to a device inside that creates a Wi-Fi network just like any other internet service provider. It can also be connected to stationary devices via Ethernet. An installation typically takes under three hours.
Who is satellite internet for?
Satellite internet is ideal for people and businesses in rural or remote areas, but it can also help connect people in urban or suburban areas who are outside the cable and fiber zone for whatever reason. Traditional internet service providers - which provide internet via cables or fiber - often can't justify the cost to build the infrastructure needed to serve sparsely populated areas. But satellite requires minimal equipment, typically just a modem, antenna dish, and some cable. All that's needed is a clear view of whatever part of the sky the satellite is in (in North America, that means the southern sky, since our satellites orbit above the equator).
It's also ideal for construction sites, emergency shelters, and communications at natural disaster sites and for other temporary uses, often in tough-to-reach areas.
And it's a good backup solution for businesses that use cable/fiber as their primary service.
Can I stream video on satellite internet?
Absolutely. In fact, because we know streaming is a high-demand service, Viasat's plans are designed with streaming in mind.
Can you get Wi-Fi with satellite internet?
Yes. Setting up a home Wi-Fi network with satellite internet is essentially the same as with any other internet service. Most Viasat residential subscribers get our Viasat Wi-Fi Gateway included with their installation. It combines a modem and wireless router that powers a home Wi-Fi network.
What is gaming like on satellite internet?
You can play many video games with satellite internet, but some games may have performance issues, or use up a lot of data. Mobile games like Candy Crush Soda Saga generally work best, as do single-player and certain multiplayer games that don't rely on split-second reactions. Due to the higher latency of satellite, fast-paced online games with multiple players in real time can have issues on any satellite internet.
I have cable internet. Should I switch to satellite internet?
For those who currently have business or residential service through cable or fiber, it likely makes sense to stay with that service. These traditional ISPs typically offer a nice mix of availability, speeds, and prices and for now, are generally more affordable than satellite internet.
But new advances in satellite technology point to changes for many internet users in the future. As Viasat and other companies work to connect the world, those in already-served areas may stand to benefit from faster speeds and greater availability of service.
Those benefits extend to businesses, too. Viasat can be a good option as a primary service, and it's also a strong solution as a back-up, redundancy connection. When a primary ground-based connection suffers an outage for whatever reason, a satellite backup on standby can immediately kick in to help keep a business' digital doors open.
The ViaSat-3 constellation is expected to deliver even faster speeds, boosting internet services and video streaming for homes, small and medium businesses, airlines, shipping, energy facilities and many more enterprise operations in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia Pacific region.
And even as Viasat readies the launch of the ViaSat-3 constellation, it's already hard at work on the next generation of broadband satellites, with the aim of continually expanding and improving the service for people around the world.
Keep an eye on this fast-moving technology as it continues to improve service offerings across the globe.