High-speed internet service can seem like a rare commodity with satellite internet. You may feel like you can never get a connection that’s fast enough.
But what does speed actually mean? Internet speed refers to the rate at which you receive data from your service provider. For example, a plan with 25 Mbps download internet speed is capable of sending you 25 megabits every second (a bit is the smallest unit of internet data). Download speeds are measured separately from upload speeds.
The speeds that satellite providers advertise represent the maximum “bandwidth” of your internet connection. Bandwidth is what your connection is capable of delivering. Your actual speed at any given moment can vary depending on the type of connection, the time of day, and environmental factors.
So how much bandwidth do you need? Take a look at our recommendations in the table below.
Note that these figures refer to download speeds (data coming to you from your internet service provider). Satellite upload speeds (data sent by your device) are much lower than download speeds, which can hinder tasks like file sharing and videoconferencing.
Satellite-based internet is possible thanks to technologically advanced systems that hover over 22,000 miles above the planet. The ViaSat-2 system weighs more than seven tons and has a wingspan of 158 feet.4
These huge systems are called geostationary satellites because they match their speed to the earth’s orbit to maintain constant positions above the ground. When you type in a web page, broadband satellite systems request data from ground-based network operations centers (NOCs). Then the NOCs send the requested data back to the satellites through radio waves.
As a customer, you’re equipped with receiver dishes, which are pointed toward the southern sky to receive radio signals sent by the satellites. Routers connected to the receivers convert the signals into readable data and send it to your modem via Ethernet cables.
The biggest advantage of satellite internet is that you can get it nearly anywhere. Businesses in remote areas that need rural internet often have limited choices. Earth-orbiting systems can cover huge swaths of the planet to provide near-universal coverage.
Other broadband internet connections, such as cable, DSL, and fiber-optic, aren’t commonly available in rural or remote areas. That’s why satellite internet, which is faster than older technology like dial-up and cheaper than cellular plans, is the best option for most rural offices.
Still, satellite internet has its downsides. In most cases, it’s much slower than wireline options like cable, DSL, and fiber-optic internet (although new satellite technology is starting to change that). Plus, data allowance limits make it difficult—and expensive—to be a frequent internet user.
Satellite internet also suffers from reliability and latency issues. Speeds sometimes fall below what service providers advertise. High latency, or the time delay in data transfers, is another weakness stemming from the thousands of miles stretching between your office and the satellites.
Although satellite is usually the best internet choice for businesses located in rural areas, it may not be the only one.
Depending on what’s available near your office, you may have access to one of these internet types:
Fixed wireless: Some ISPs can connect your business to the internet through land-based radio towers. AT&T provides fixed wireless internet in some areas.
Mobile/cellular: You may be able to get internet access via mobile hotspots provided by wireless providers. But be careful—mobile data can cost more than it’s worth.
T1: T1 is an older technology that delivers internet service through copper wire cables. But unlike DSL internet, which also uses phone wires, a T1 connection is solely dedicated to one location. This makes T1 super reliable. But it’s also extremely expensive—despite only being capable of speeds up to about 1.5 Mbps.