In response to calls for it to be broken up BT recently announced a new plan to deliver a minimum of 5-10Mb broadband speeds for those who cannot get fibre. Often that applies to rural users, many of whom are currently stuck on sluggish ADSL (with a few thousand still lumped with dial-up internet). When it comes to fixed line services rural homes and businesses may have few affordable alternatives, but there is another option which can deliver fast broadband right now without enormous expense.
What is satellite broadband?
Satellite broadband does not rely on landlines or transmission towers, instead communications are handled by orbiting relays which communicate with dishes and modems on the ground. The big selling point is that satellite internet will work just about anywhere. The basic requirements are for you to be within the footprint of the satellite (which for UK providers is the entire country) and to be able to mount a dish with a clear view of the sky. That flexibility makes it a very interesting proposition for rural users who have no other options for fast broadband. No matter how remote you may be, satellite can give you a rapid modern internet service.
How fast is satellite broadband?
Many satellite broadband providers can now deliver download speeds up to 22Mb with an upload rate up to 6Mb. That compares well with other types of home broadband – the average UK speed is around 14Mb, and many ADSL fixed line connections struggle to breach 10Mb. It’s plenty quick enough for typical home use and will also suit small businesses. If you do require a faster connection there are specialist satellite services which can offer quicker rates, but this is far more expensive. However, one important factor to bear in mind about satellite internet is the high latency. Latency is the time it takes for data to be sent and received, measured in milliseconds, and because satellite internet is beaming those 1s and 0s into space its latency is far higher than other types of broadband communications. A fixed line home broadband connection could have a typical latency of 50-100ms, while on satellite it could be around 700ms. This isn’t something you’ll always notice, it won’t affect the likes of web browsing, email or file downloads, but does have an impact on anything which requires rapid and constant communication such as remote desktop access, VOIP (such as Skype) and online gaming. If you’re unsure if this will be a problem, discuss your needs with the satellite ISP first. They will be able to explain exactly what kind of performance you can expect and suggest workarounds for specific applications. What does satellite internet cost, and how can I get it? Satellite broadband compares quite favourably to other types of home broadband, at least in terms of monthly fees. Prices start at around £20 per month, and remember that you don’t need to pay for phone line rental either.
Paying more will net you a bigger data usage allowance, which is something anyone will need to consider carefully when choosing a package. You can find out more about data usage in this mobile broadband usage guide. While fixed line home broadband is commonly unlimited satellite will very often have some kind of restriction on the amount you can download and upload, with additional charges for exceeding the cap. However more providers are now offering unlimited usage at night so if you can save big downloads for the later hours you can reduce your monthly spend. The big cost is in the setup: the dish and modem must be purchased or hired, and an engineer will usually need to install it. If you decide to buy outright you can expect to pay around £300, while rental fees might add around £5 per month. The dishes are small, roughly the same size as a Sky TV minidish. They’ll need to be installed on the outside of your property, with a cable running to the modem inside. The modem will also usually be connected to a wireless router at the same time so your connection can be easily shared around the home.