What is satellite broadband?

Sky has been beaming TV into our homes via satellite since the 90s, and more recently it got into the broadband game with no small degree of success. So if we talk about satellite broadband Sky is likely to come to mind before anything else.

But there is another kind of satellite broadband. While it remains relatively obscure in comparison to most home broadband services it has a unique advantage which could make it a very interesting alternative to fixed line and mobile internet.

What is satellite broadband?

While Sky broadband is a broadband service offered by a satellite TV operator, satellite broadband is a very different beast. This is internet access delivered via satellite signals, bypassing phone lines and mobile cell towers and relying instead on communication between an orbital relay and a dish on the ground.

The big plus is that sat broadband is available absolutely anywhere, provided you can mount a dish with a clear view of the sky you’ll be able to get satellite broadband in your area. That’s potentially a killer feature for anyone living in a location where fixed line and mobile broadband is very slow or not available at all. And since it doesn’t use a phone line you don’t need to pay line rental to BT or anyone else!

What you need to know about satellite broadband

How fast is satellite broadband?

At present consumer satellite broadband speeds top out around 30Mb. While easily outpaced by fibre optic and cable, that is a faster than the maximum 17Mb of ADSL, and definitely a big improvement if your only option otherwise is dial-up internet. Upload speeds are better than ADSL, too, providing a maximum of 6Mb.

What equipment do I need for satellite broadband?

You need three bits of hardware to get online with satellite broadband:

  • Satellite dish

This will need to be mounted somewhere with a clear view of the sky. Note that the dishes can be more prominent than a Sky minidish.

  • Satellite modem

This is like any other home broadband modem, except it's connected to the dish outside your home (with a cable that an engineer will usually install, though self-install may be an option).

  • Wireless router

A standard home router shares the connection and provides networking capabilities. This can be supplied by the ISP as part of your satellite broadband plan or you can choose to use your own hardware.

How much does satellite broadband cost?

The monthly cost of satellite broadband deals starts at around £20-25 per month, with higher tiers offering a more generous data allowance cap. If you’re willing to pay over £50 per month then unlimited data packages are available.

While these prices can seem high, keep in mind that you do not need to pay for a phone line on top of it so they actually compare quite favourably with a fixed line broadband contract, which almost all require land line rental in the region of £15-£17 per month extra.

Up front costs are high, however. Setup fees may be about £50 but then you also need to pay for the satellite dish and other equipment, which can cost £200-£300. As an alternative to purchasing some providers offer hardware rental for a monthly fee.

Is satellite broadband right for me?

Satellite broadband’s ability to work anywhere throughout the UK (and parts of Europe) is a big selling point, however there is one major drawback which makes it less suited to certain activities - satellite has very high latency.

Latency is the time between transmission of data and receiving a response, and it can have a huge impact on the performance of certain applications and services. 

Online gaming, for example, needs low latency to perform at its best otherwise the ‘lag’ introduced by high latency makes a game unplayable. Streaming media and VOIP (such as Skype) can also be badly affected, causing buffering and delays. 

Satellite broadband can have a latency of 700 milliseconds or more, which is very high and enough to render online games unplayable. In comparison, fixed line broadband can comfortably achieve a latency well under 100ms, perhaps less than 10ms with fibre and cable.

Satellite broadband is a definite upgrade if you can only get dial-up internet, and if your online activity generally involves web browsing, email and downloading or uploading the latency will not be noticeable, but it’s not suitable for things like online gaming, remote desktop access and streaming video. For those you’d still be better off with a slower ADSL broadband link.

The other satellite broadband - Sky broadband and TV deals

If you live in an area where ADSL or fibre optic broadband is on offer then you can sign up for a broadband deal from Sky. It doesn't provide satellite broadband but does use a dish to beam down an enormous number of TV channels.

Sky broadband packages are based around BT’s network so as with TalkTalk, EE and BT themselves you have the option of ADSL up to 16Mb or fibre optic up to 38Mb or 76Mb. Sky broadband deals are totally unlimited, with no download caps or fair usage limits, and you get a free Wi-Fi router and nationwide Wi-Fi access through The Cloud.

If you’re interested in TV and broadband Sky offers good value bundles with a variety of packages and the ability to customise with additional channels (which can be added or removed at any time without penalty).