What Is Satellite Internet?

Satellite internet is popularly known for being expensive and slow. It was traditionally used by individuals at sea and in remote rural areas. Let’s go through the various problems satellite internet users face and how some players like Elon Musk are trying to fix this problem through Starlink.

What is Satellite Internet

There are just a few differences between satellite, terrestrial, and satellite internet access. The first difference is the route they use to transfer information. In most cases, when you try to access a website, your device communicates with your router which then sends a request for what you want to access to your Internet Service Provider’s server. The server then links with the server of the website your device requested for.

This type of connection is facilitated mostly by suboceanic and subterranean cables, apart from the initial part of the connection. Many people use Wi-Fi in their homes on their laptops and phones. The cables used can handle large instantaneous data transfers. Allowing you to download large files and stream Netflix without complications.

With satellite internet, there are a few extra steps since we cannot hook them with cables. When you connect to the satellite internet, you first need to set up a modem and dish in your home. When you try to access a website, the request travels through the modem to the dish which sends it to the satellite via a beam.

The satellite then forwards the request to the network operations center of your satellite internet provider. It is the NOC in this case that sends the request to the server which sends a response to the satellite. The satellite then sends it down to you through your modem and dish.

Challenges With Satellite Internet

Because you need more equipment to set up and use satellite internet, you will always spend more than you would have with the other types of internet. Satellite internet also costs more because satellites cost a lot of money. They are not only sophisticated machines, the cost of sending them to orbit and maintaining them when they are up there only increases the expense. All these factors combined make satellite internet cost more than terrestrial internet.

The high cost is not the only challenge with satellite internet though. Speed is a real challenge. Satellite internet has lower data throughput and the distance between the earth and the satellite is big enough to cause significant delays.

Most satellite internet works with satellites in geosynchronous or geostationary orbit over the equator. The benefit of using this orbit is that they remain in the same place even as the earth keeps changing positions. If a satellite is in a geostationary orbit in Africa, it will stay there. You can always depend on it to stay there, meaning that you can depend on your internet.

The disadvantage is that geostationary orbits are very far from the earth’s surface. Approximately 35,000 km, slightly smaller than the earth’s circumference. Because your data is sent over a long distance. It slows down similarly to when you connect to a VPN on the other side of the world.

Another challenge is latency which defines how long it takes data to move from one point to the next. Satellite internet tends to have very high latency.

Satellite Internet Users and Providers

Because of the cost and speed limitations, satellite internet users are mostly people who are not able to acquire a cabled connection or those whose Wi-Fi cannot reach them. Because of that, it is used on airplanes, in rural areas, and on ships far away from the shore. These are areas that have no cable or places which only have dial-up internet which is way worse than satellite internet.

The market for satellite internet is very small and so are the providers. The two major satellite internet providers are HughesNet and Viasat which mainly operate in the United States, but there are lots of other smaller companies in the US and around the world. However, with Elon Musk joining the market with Starlink, satellite internet access is about to change.

Starlink promises lower latency and faster speeds by deploying low-earth orbiting satellites, about 1,000km from the earth’s surface. When you compare this to geostationary satellites 35,000km from the surface of the earth, you can already tell Starlink will have better speed and ping.

The challenge Starlink will face is constantly having to move its satellites to make sure there is enough coverage. There is no clear indication of how users will be affected, but so far everyone seems to be okay with Starlink because of its low ping, and faster speeds. Whether Starlink will be a market disruptor will only be seen as time progresses. One thing that is for sure is that for as long as not everyone in the world is connected by cable, satellite internet will always be around.

Satellite Internet Service and VPN Compatibility

VPN and satellite internet are technologies that were never designed to integrate. The issue of latency and speeds associated with satellite internet greatly affects VPN performance. VPNs required connections with high bandwidth and low latency to effectively function. Satellite internet suffers from high latencies because of the great distance data has to travel when the connection is established. Most satellite internet services support low upstream bandwidth making uploads slower than downloads and not faster compared to dial-up internet. VPNs need high bandwidth for both incoming and outgoing traffic.

Even with the limitations, with the best VPN for satellite VPN, the two may work together in a sense. The following will however apply:

  • The overall VPN performance will be poor. Using VPN on satellite is like using dial-up internet.
  • Satellite internet providers have no user support for VPN issues.
  • Satellite internet providers use a feature called IP spoofing to boost performance, but the feature will prevent VPN from establishing a connection unless the VPN can bypass it.
  • Compatibility issues with personal firewalls between the VPN and satellite internet.

Contact your satellite internet provider first to find out if your VPN protocol will be able to work with them first. While you will not get any kind of support, they will provide you with compatibility information.

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