In the nineties and even at the beginning of the following century, having an Internet connection was no less than a luxury. But today, we can get an internet connection in several ways and most of us can easily connect to the internet through cellular networks, cable connections, telephone lines, or through some other way. More devices are getting connected to the internet and in the coming future, we can see more Internet users, thanks to ever-improving architecture to offer internet connectivity in every corner across the globe. When most internet connections that we use nowadays rely on cables, we watch television that relies mostly on satellite communication that offers a stable and more reliable connection compared to wired networks.
Even if we are using cellular networks, and it might apparently seem wireless, the cellular towers are communicating with each other through cables and the backbone of the entire internet network relies on submarine cables that connect continents and countries together. It requires a lot of maintenance, and the connections are undoubtedly complex. What if we could replace everything with satellite communication to minimize the number of wires to access the internet! Satellite internet exists, but not exactly the way we want it to be. Satellite internet connection is not as good as most other modes of internet and I will talk about that today.
I will talk about the pros and cons of satellite internet connection in several aspects, and those are responsible why satellite internet connections are not that popular but still used in certain areas across the world.
So, without any further delay started with the advantages and disadvantages of satellite internet. But before that, let’s talk a little about how satellite communication works. I will not go deep but will talk about the bare minimum to understand satellite communication for accessing the internet.
How do satellites work?
Satellites are devices that communicate with the devices within the line of sight on the surface of the earth using radio frequencies. When there is some kind of signal that needs to be transmitted across the globe from one region to the other, the electrical signal first needs to be converted to radio signals that will be broadcasted by the ground station to the satellite. After the radio signals are received by satellite, it is then again broadcasted by the satellite, which is hence received by the receiver that is present on the ground. That’s basically how satellite communication takes place.
In satellites, there are large parabolic dishes, which reflect the signals to one single point. That’s how satellites transmit and receive radio signals from one geographical point to the other. There are different types of satellites, however, I will talk about communication satellites that are used for the purpose of communication and obviously, for the purpose of sending and receiving signals across the globe. The geostationary satellites, which always remain at the same point relative to the earth, are placed at around 36,000 kilometers from the ground and they have an orbital period of 24 hours, keeping them at the same point with respect to the earth. As the rotation of such satellites is synchronous with that of earth, they are called geosynchronous satellites.
So, let’s talk about several aspects associated with Internet access and how satellite internet play around with each of them. These geosynchronous satellites are used for the purpose of communication however, there are also different other satellites like low Earth orbit satellites, which are placed at a height between 180 and 2,000 Km above the ground, which are used especially for military requirements and also for observation purposes, including weather data collection. The Medium Earth orbit satellites, at a height above 2,000 Kms, and less than 36,000 Kms, are specially used for navigation purposes. So, our discussion will be limited to geosynchronous satellites, as those are used for communication purposes and internet access is one of them.
Let me first talk about those aspects where satellite internet communication is better than most other modes of communication.
When it comes to accessing the internet, the first thing that comes to our mind is speed. When it comes to speed, it is kind of arguable, if I ask you to qualify the speed of satellite internet in one word. For some users, it can be fast however for most users, speed is something that is not satisfactory when it comes to comparison with cable and FTTH connections.
However, if you have been using dial-up connections that are almost obsolete now, satellite Internet connections are at least 10 to 30 times faster than dial-up connections. So, if you are looking for a very high upload and download speed satellite internet connection is not for you.
However, if you are using a cable connection, the internet speed is likely to vary depending upon how many other users accessing the internet at the same time. In the case of satellite internet, that is not going to happen and you will get a dedicated uplink and downlink channel for all your online activities.
The download speed on satellite internet might not be that disappointing, however, the upload speeds can. We already use the downlink in satellite communication to access high definition channels on your TVs, but for sending signals, we require very powerful transmitters, most regular consumers can’t afford it. The internet is all about constant upload and download, and thus, the experience will be disappointing to say the least.
Whether you are deep in the forests of Amazon or on the top of Mount Everest, or any other remote location at any part of the earth, cellular towers are not available and forget wired internet connections. It doesn’t matter where you are as we can always get satellite internet at any part of the globe, as long as you are within the line of sight of the satellite.
So, if a satellite has a line of sight all over India, you can be at any remote part of India, but that will not affect your internet connectivity or the speed in any way. So, even if you are in the middle of the ocean you can still stream your favorite shows, and chat with your friends if you have the proper transceivers to send and receive signals and maintain constant communication with the satellites in space.
So, even in rural areas where it is really difficult to deliver wired internet connection, there can be a single station that will communicate with satellites, and that will eventually offer wired internet connection to all the houses in the region. All the houses can also have their own ground station to access the internet, but that might not be available, if other constraints are taken into consideration.
Communication at almost every time
Natural calamities like earthquakes, storms can wreak havoc on the existing infrastructure that is used to deliver the internet to all the parts of a city or the country. Additionally, if there is no power for a few days, due to extreme natural consequences, the cellular towers can also stop functioning.
However, in the case of satellite communication, earthquakes, storms will hardly have any kind of impact on your internet access. However, if the sky is cloudy and it is raining heavily, the signal can degrade and there might be no internet access for certain hours, until and unless the weather is restored back to normalcy.
You might have already observed this phenomenon with Direct To Home or DTH networks, where you cannot watch your favorite shows if it is cloudy or it is raining heavily in your area. But otherwise, you can access the internet at every time when most other internet connections might stop working and succumb to the fight with nature.
Now, let’s have a look at those aspects where satellite internet connection does not perform well.
When it comes to using the internet, one of the most important aspects after speed is latency. That is the amount of time between sending a packet of data and the time it reaches its destination. Thus, the lower the latency the better is the experience of using the internet.
In the coming future, when the Internet of Things or IoT will dominate, low latency is something that most users will crave for. As the satellites are located at very high altitudes, it will take a lot of time for the signals to reach the satellites and then again reach the ground station from the satellite.
Furthermore if the packet has to go through multiple servers the problem will worsen as the packet will have to be transmitted through the satellite several times before it reaches the destination. So if you are planning to have a multiplayer gaming session with your friends, forget that with the existing infrastructure of satellite internet connection.
As it requires setting up a ground station to access satellite internet, it is highly expensive if compared to other modes of accessing the internet using fiber optics or by using a cable connection. Additionally, the internet is a form of two-way communication, where data needs to be transmitted to and fro and thus, both the uplink and downlink speeds need to be in sync with each other for a seamless connection.
Satellite communication is expensive, and so is the case with satellite phones. I will not talk about any particular provider, but on average, the amount you have to pay for getting a high-speed FTTH or cable connection with very low latency will fetch you an average satellite internet that you will regret just after a few days.
One solution is to set up a ground station and connect several houses to that station for offering satellite internet. That will cut down the expenses for every house, and will eventually mitigate costs, but that is not the solution to the other problems, which I have already discussed, and will keep discussing in the next points.
VPNs and Tor networks are not compatible
I already discussed the problem of high latency with satellite internet, and the use of VPNs and Tor networks makes the situation worse. In the case of both VPN and Tor networks, the signal has to go through multiple servers, and thus, the same set of data needs to be transmitted back to the satellite several times and that will eventually increase the latency and most connections will timeout meanwhile.
So, VPNs and Tor networks are practically incompatible with satellite internet connections. So if you want to go anonymous on the internet by using VPN and Tor networks, satellite internet connection is not for you.
Tough to get a service provider
If you want to get access to the internet, and you want to use cellular networks, it isn’t hard to get one. You just need a phone and a SIM card to get started. If you are looking for a wired internet connection you need to communicate with a local internet provider, and you can easily get an Internet connection that way.
However, depending upon your location, getting a service provider that offers satellite internet connection is relatively tougher and there are several locations, where no service provider is available to offer you satellite internet connection. Even after you get a service provider, there will be tough contracts, and in most cases, you cannot change your plan or give up on your satellite internet connection all of a sudden.
In most satellite internet connection plans, the lock-in period is high, which means, you will have to use the internet connection for quite some days before you can change your mind of switching to a different mode of internet access. It is mainly because setting up a ground station and offering you a satellite internet connection isn’t that cost-effective.
So yes, there are several problems with satellite internet connections and that is the reason why they are not widely used by consumers worldwide. However, it is still popular among users, who live in rural areas and also by companies that require 24-hour internet connection, or maximum uptime that can’t be assured by most other service providers, even in emergency situations. Due to lower bandwidth and high latency, satellite internet isn’t a great choice for normal consumers.
SpaceX satellite internet connection proposition
FCC or Federal Communications Commission has approved SpaceX to use 4,225 satellites around the globe to specifically use them for broadband internet connection. As 4,225 satellites will be enough to blanket the earth, we can expect better connectivity in all the areas across the globe. The framework will not only cater to end-users, but it will also act as a secondary framework to connect several servers across several continents. Very high-frequency spectrums, around 40 GHz will be used for the purpose, and we might see SpaceX implement this plan in the coming decades to make the internet available to everybody, as long as they are on top of the earth, within the line of sight.
As of now, it isn’t possible to get hands on to high-speed internet through the DTH networks, as they are good enough only for watching the television. The future, however, is bright for satellite internet, if Elon Musk’s plan that I just discussed becomes a reality. We will find a similar infrastructure as the number of devices is increasing, and we must find a better way to connect more devices.
So, that was all about the problems of satellite internet. Do you have anything to say? Feel free to comment on the same below.