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Satellite broadband guide

By Dan Howdle | Thursday, September 10th 2020

If you're looking into whether you can get internet through a satellite dish, chances are you're either getting awful speeds from ADSL and/or fibre, and you've already looked into the possibility of getting hold of a mobile broadband router and using 4G or 5G signal instead.

If not, we suggest you do before continuing to investigate satellite broadband as it does come with some significant drawbacks, which we will talk about later on. If an internet satellite dish is your only remaining choice, however, then please do read on. We'll begin by defining exactly what constitutes 'satellite broadband'.

What is Satellite broadband?

Where a standard ADSL or fibre broadband connection arrives at your home through some sort of cable, be that telephone, cable or fibre-optic, and mobile broadband arrives wirelessly via your mobile network, satellite broadband (as its name suggests) delivers internet via satellites orbiting the Earth, allowing you to get internet in remote areas.

Satellite broadband is not to be confused with satellite TV deals from Sky, which also deliver broadband. Sky Broadband uses the same cables as every other provider to deliver its internet packages, and it is only the TV element which is broadcast via satellite. To be 'true' satellite broadband, it must adhere to the following criteria:

  • Is delivered by a specialist provider and installer – You won't find a direct satellite internet service offered by providers with household names (much to the chagrin of satellite broadband providers). It is a specialised, niche service and as such is delivered by specialised, niche providers such as bigblu or Broadband Everywhere
  • A dish on your home – Satellite broadband requires a dish to be fitted to the exterior of your home. This is not to be confused with a TV dish from Sky. If you have Sky TV and also want satellite broadband you'll need two separate dishes
  • A paid subscription – You will need a contract to receive satellite broadband. You cannot simply buy a dish off the shelf, point it upwards and hope for the best. Your provider will provide your dish and install it for you – you will then pay monthly for your service. This means you won't have to choose the best satellite dish or compare satellite receivers. It's all done for you
  • A connection to a satellite in orbit – Your dish must have a clear view of the sky, and although that amounts to a lot of options in terms of placement, it's worth finding out which direction the dish will need to point to get an idea of where on your home it will have to be placed

Do I need satellite broadband?

Satellite broadband is very niche, and few people opt for it in the grand scheme. There are a number of factors as to why this is, but the number one reason is that most of us can get a decent ADSL or fibre connection that is more capable and costs less. Or failing that a mobile broadband connection to a 4G or 5G network. Here is when you might need satellite broadband and when you probably don't.

When you need satellite broadband

First off, you're going to likely live remotely. Where not only is there either very slow or non-existant ADSL or fibre broadband available, but where also the 4G or 5G mobile network signal is too weak to be a workable solution.

Secondly, you must be in a situation where both traditional ADSL and fibre, and mobile broadband solutions are not a workable alternative. When it comes to practicality, expense and downsides, satellite broadband most definitely comes in third place here. So be sure you've explored all other avenues.

When don't you need satellite broadband

If you're looking for a connection for your caravan, camper or boat, satellite broadband in this context is unworkable. There are types of satellite broadband out there for seafaring vessels, but the ones we are talking about here amount to a dish on a house. If you need an internet connection for a narrowboat or houseboat, a caravan or camper, mobile broadband is the best option.

You have exhausted all other possibilities. I.E. you really do live in a cairn on the side of a mountain in the Scottish Highlands where there are no fixed lines and no mobile signal. In this handful of cases, satellite broadband will be your best and only option.

satellite dish on an old house

Pros and cons of satellite broadband

There are some positives to talk about with satellite broadband. But you'll note that here, in the following list we're only covering the downsides. Because the upsides are rather obvious and will fit in a sentence: With fast satellite broadband, you'll get up to a 33Mbps, reliable connection for which you can pay monthly, and it matters not whether you live in an isolated barn conversion, farm house, or treehouse.

No matter where you are, you can be connected, provided you're not in the shadow of a mountain cutting off the required portion of the sky from line of sight.

  • Comparatively expensive – How much does satellite internet cost? Well, things have gotten steadily better here, but the price is still very high compared to regular ADSL and fibre packages offering similar speeds, while the installation costs tend to be much higher, and packages always come with quite measly data limits. There is no such thing as free internet over satellite
  • Slower than fibre – When it comes to download speed, high speed internet via satellite is about the same as an entry-level fibre package at 33Mbps. Which is pretty good to be fair, and should allow you to do almost anything you desire on the connection. However, fibre, especially that offered by Virgin Media, is of course much, much faster than a fast satellite internet service
  • All satellite broadband packages limit data – Though there are some that won't actually cut you off at your limit, but rather slow your connection to a crawl, all satellite internet access carries data limits like those you would find with a mobile phone deal. Streaming Netflix and the like will make short work of these limits, and of course the more you need, the more you pay. An example package costs £55 for 30GB per month – that's roughly six movies worth of data. We did say it's expensive!
  • You need a dish on your home – If the country home aesthetic is important to you, you may have to weigh up how much you care about a satellite dish being bolted onto it
  • High latency – Because you're beaming to a satellite and back again, anything that requires low delay (or latency) is pretty much off the cards. Is satellite internet good for gaming? No. Using satellite internet for gaming is nigh-on impossible in any game that requires fast reactions. Can you game with satellite internet at all? Yes, but only with slow, turn-based games such as chess, card games or golf. Streaming on satellite internet, using social media and so on will all be fine, however

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Alternatives to consider before signing up

Before deciding to buy satellite broadband, be sure and check alternative broadband solutions. The expense and other drawbacks of satellite broadband mean it really should be the last resort. That's not a slight on the largely excellent satellite broadband providers out there, by the way. They themselves ask 'Have you checked you can't get 4G?' on their own websites more often than not. More, it's a warning that the technology is inferior at doing what it does compared to a traditional ADSL, fibre or 4G/5G connection.

Here are the other technologies you should be sure you've investigated first.

  • ADSL broadband – The slowest of the fixed-line broadband family, ADSL (or non-fibre broadband) can still deliver enough juice for a small household with only one or two of you. But, if you can get something faster such as fibre, we urge you to do that. Speed requirements are going up all the time. ADSL packages are always unlimited, too
  • Fibre broadband – Has fibre optic cables covering part of the journey to the exchange. That means it can deliver much faster speeds. If you've got ADSL and it's too slow, however, you should ask your provider what speed you will get on your existing line if you plan to upgrade, as slow/bad lines are often still slow/bad even if you upgrade to fibre
  • FTTP broadband (pure fibre) – Still pretty rare in the UK, FTTP (or fibre to the premises) is the best fibre connection there is, as no part of the chain of cables leading back to the exchange is made of copper. For this reason, speeds offered by FTTP can be quite extraordinary – up to 1,000Mbps most of the time
  • Mobile broadband – Or 'wireless internet'. Is where you use a mobile network's 4G or 5G data signal to connect your home to the internet. There are now dedicated home routers available from the likes of Three, Vodafone, O2 and EE that behave exactly like a regular broadband router, with the only difference being they are not connected to a fixed line, but instead to a mobile network. You cannot get 'wireless internet' through a satellite dish – the two technologies are not the same
  • Fixed wireless broadband – This is where a provider has installed equipment on a tall structure somewhere near you – often a church spire. This equipment delivers a line-of-sight signal (meaning you need to be in view of the structure) to another piece of equipment on your home, which then passes it to a router. Very few locations, mostly small villages, have this, but worth checking just in case

Satellite broadband installation process

Apart from the obvious aspect of having to have an engineer come along and fit a satellite dish to your home, the process doesn't differ all that much from how it works when you take out a regular broadband contract. Satellite internet installation costs are high, so be prepared for that.

First, you'll need to get in touch with your chosen satellite broadband provider. They will advise you on the most suitable package to suit your needs. Seconds, you will have to pay for installation and activation up front in most cases. They will also ask you at this point to set up your monthly payment plan.

Finally, on an agreed day, at an agreed time, installation and connection will take place. Installation time may vary depending on what the engineer has to work with – if there are any particular difficulties associated with your property. By the time the engineer leaves, you will be connected to the internet via satellite. Everything will be done for you and you won't have to worry about how to connect your router to satellite internet.

Who provides satellite broadband?

There are actually quite a large number of permanent and temporary satellite broadband providers for you to consider. They all claim to have the best high speed satellite internet offering, so take your pick.

  • bigblu
  • Broadband Everywhere
  • BroadbandwhereverT
  • Freedomsat
  • NotSpot
  • PSC
  • Satellite Internet
  • WiSpire

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Frequently asked questions

Is satellite internet a good option?

Yes, but only if there are no other options available. If you cannot get an adequate speed via ADSL or fibre, you should look to 4G or 5G mobile broadband before considering satellite. Satellite broadband is expensive, limited and carries high latency.

Who is the best satellite broadband provider?

Different providers carry different offerings. So when it comes to satellite broadband we recommend shopping around. Prices, data limits and performance can differ dramatically, as not all providers use the same satellite or identical technology.

Can I get broadband through a Sky satellite dish?

No. Though Sky broadband delivers its subscription TV service via a satellite dish, its broadband offering is delivered via a fixed line, just like other providers.

Is fibre broadband better than satellite broadband?

Yes. In almost every way. It's cheaper, faster, more reliable, and carries far lower latency. Satellite broadband should only be considered as a last resort.

Is satellite broadband best for rural homes?

Yes and no. Yes, provided there are no other means of getting internet to remote locations. It is the best solution when you have no other options. If there are other options such as fixed-line broadband or mobile broadband, you should choose one of those instead.

How big is a satellite dish?

The sizes vary between providers, but almost all satellite broadband dishes measure less that one metre in diameter.

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